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Villagers fast to demand rehab

Balangir, Dec. 12: The Lower Suktel Irrigation Action Committee today once again began a hunger strike in front of the district collectorate here demanding proper rehabilitation of the displaced villagers and immediate start of the project work.

Five activists of the action committee, including president Gopaljee Panigrahi, sat on “fast onto death” in front of the district collectorate. Earlier, the agitation by the committee had been called off after government assured that the project work would begin from September 27. But, the government could not start the work as members of the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad and some villagers of Pardhiapali had opposed it.

The committee sources said that this time the agitation would not be called off until their demands were fulfilled. Secretary of the committee Santosh Pradhan warned the district administration that despite Panigrahi’s bad health he had resorted to ‘fast onto death’.

“The action committee has been fighting for the project for a long time. The government only gives the assurance, but the project work never starts. During the hunger strike from August 27 to September 15, the committee president, along with some others, fell ill and were admitted at the district headquarters hospital. As Panigrahi’s health deteriorated, he was shifted to the VSS Medical College and Hospital in Burla. He has not yet fully recovered. Yet he has to sit on hunger strike again to ensure that the project comes up,” said Pradhan.

Panigrahi said the government and the people representatives of the area were playing with Balangir residents by not showing any interest for the project to begin.

“It seems neither the government, nor the MPs and MLAs of Balangir have any interest in the project which will increase irrigation in the district. In the past, we agitated at least six times for the project and last time during the 20-day hunger strike, several of us had been hospitalised. Under pressure, the government then announced a date to start construction of the spillway of the project and was successful in ending the agitation. But the government couldn’t begin work because of protest by anti-dam activists and went back. Now, we realise the government cheated us. This time this is ‘do or die’ for us as we begin the final fight. The agitation will only be called off only when work of the project begins,” Panigrahi said.

The project, which was initially budgeted at Rs 217 crore, is now estimated at Rs 1041 crore. Official sources said that the project would fully submerge 16 villages and 10 partly. It would render homeless around 14,380 people of 4,160 families. Until now, colonies for Suktel oustees have been identified and plotted in two places in which nearly 2,300 people can be accommodated.