Friday, September 23, 2011

Cost of development

In the name of development, industrialists who are hand in glove with corrupt govt officials and politicians are exploiting the nature, robbing it of the minerals.

Avdhesh Mallick/Raipur

The Chhattisgarh Government has sets its eyes on land in Bastar, Raigarh, Ambikapur, Janjgir Champa, ostensibly for industrialisation. It is drafting policies and persuading the farmers and the tribals to give away their lands. Rapid industrialisation will be followed by development, they say. It will improve living status as well as purchasing capacity of the living population of the area. But these colourful pictures do not add much when it comes to Siltara. The nexus of corrupt officials, corporate and leaders have not only taken away the lands of farmers at a low rate but also turned their habitats and their fertile agricultural lands into industrial dumping ground. The villagers who gave up their agricultural fields to set up industries have become paupers and are facing severe financial crisis and health hazards. Here is inside story…
Siltara a gloomy picture:
Just 13 kilometres away from the capital of mineral rich state of Chhattisgarh you have one of the most industrialized areas of Chhattisgarh known as Siltara industrial area. Spread over an area of approx. 1185 hectares Siltara has received an investment of Rs 716 Crore with more than 48 established industries including sponge iron units, ferro alloy units, and cooking gas bottling plants. Government and corporate both claim that industries have given employment to 2772 people and the area is developing fast. While moving on the roads of Siltara industrial area part 1 and 2 both you will find the claims of government and corporate are true up to an extent until you approach the inner sides of Siltara. While just moving two kilometres inside the area you will find a village, having kuttcha roads, broken and ill managed drainage system. You may often spot women and children travelling, one or two kilometres carrying water pots on their heads to have potable drinking water made available by some factory unit on their premises. Fly ash and other industrial waste are dumped on roadsides, playground and fields. Owner of the lands on which mega industries are standing are destitute.

Farmer to industrial contract labourer:
Babulal and Usha Sahu resident of village Siltara said they had given more than five acres of land to Adhyogik Vikas Nigam (AKVN) at the rate of Rs 21,000 per acre in 1993 with a promise that when the industry got established on their land and become functional, one member of their family will be given permanent job, but till this date no job has been offered to us, finally to meet daily needs we engaged ourselves as contract labourers. Labour contractors often intimidate us not to come on job when we ask for full wages, said Babulal. Usha said the day they when we were instructed not to come on job face lots of problem in getting two times meals a day. She said, we are paid Rs 100 per day only whereas we must be paid more than Rs 150.
Sobhu Ram said that he had given more than four acres of ancestral fertile land in 1993 but got no job, none of his family member had been offered job, except this certificate of District Industrial Centre. Pointing towards the industry he said do you see the big SARDA industry, do you know on whose land it was erected? He proudly says it is on our ancestral land. Only saddest part of it is the company owner is reaping out crores of money every year from it, and we original land owners are facing hand to mouth situation. We are original farmers are in debt now; we have lost everything from our old age reputation to status in the village. Is this justice, asks Sobha? The story does not end here when I went into the village. I came across bitter truth.

Victims dying:
Tikaram Yadu said government has acquired five acres of his land and then transferred to Neco Steel and Power to continue its operations, assuring that my family will be compensated well. But see what is my condition, the day on which I do not work, my family starves. My brother was suffering from severe bronchitis, wife is suffering from serious skin disease, and doctor said it is due to industrial pollution. Now, I have left with few acres of land, if I sell that too for their treatment from where I will feed my family, said Yadu.
I am suffering from Asthama, here out of every five is suffering from some ailments either TB, Asthma or skin diseases, few cases of cancer has been found. Whom should we complain, said Shankar Sahu. From Mukhiya to MLA, everyone up are managed by the companies, complained Shankar.
Bhanu Ram Verma said, 'we are poor. our fate is sealed. We are dying slowly and are at mercy of these factory owners. Earlier we were land owners now we are paupers'. Last year many deaths were reported. The doctors of Ambedkar Hospital advised us to leave village as quick as possible. Where should we go leaving our ancestral village, says Raju Sai.

No Medical Facility:
Unfortunate part of this highly industrialised area is, none of the industrial unit has any hospital to take care of emergency cases or normal cases. Whenever there is an accident, factory men wait for the ambulance, if situation become critical they some time rush the victim by factory car or truck to the Raipur Hospital. Often victim collapses on the way, said Mohan Yadu, resident of Siltara. Absence of this essential facility is agitating the factory workers and the villagers alike.
Industry violating laws: The factories are dumping their waste like fly ash and other in open. They keep off their pollution checking ESP units when the factories are in operation mode (running). It has harmed quality of the soil, water and land of the area. Top soil of the village has blackened due to fly ash deposition, crop yield diminished, water got contaminated. Fish and other water creatures in water reservoir and ponds started dying. Cattle in the area are diagnosed with higher contents mercury, arsenic, carbon, iron etc. at dangerous level. Not only this, SARDA Energy and Minerals Pvt. Ltd was caught red handed violating the industrial and environmental norms.
The management was found dumping the industrial waste into community reservoir through a hole in the boundary wall.
When questioned, they replied, as far as flowing of water is concerned, we have own drainage cum water treatment plant, where we do treatment of water, whole water is consumed in our factory. So, there is no chance of leaking water, during rains we cannot do anything to rain water.

Government replies :
Chhattisgarh Environment and Conservation Board, regional officer RK Sharma responded saying that Fly ash and the industrial waste water of sponge iron plant and rolling mills are not considered as harmful to the human body, still I will go and investigate the matter.
When evidences were presented before the commissioner and collector of Raipur, they promised to take action on the matter after the investigation report will be presented to them. Commissioner also promised to call a high power committee meeting in September.

Activists respond:
Social activist Virendra Pandey said, "the culprits are major financier of BJP during elections and will escape."
Bulaki Verma, president of Siltara Industrial Workers Association, says, "if you tour into village you will get hundreds of these types of cases. People are living with injustice without uttering a word against these factories and government. Labourers work without proper safety, no uniform wages, and labour laws got implemented on papers. Not only this, the factory owner has employed goons, and middlemen to silence voices of oppressed people and labourers, which is known to labour department and the high officials, even ministers are aware of the fact of labour laws violations.

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