It was a sultry afternoon. One normally misses the hustle-bustle in the hinterlands overseeing the Bay of Bengal in coastal Orissa. The literal drift of the sea wind was marginal and we did not see even the minimal movement of villagers barring some youngsters playing cricket on the undulated pitch in the back alleys and a group of people playing cards under the huge canopy of a banyan tree.
Life here, which would normally be a dream-come-true, was visibly stifled by the war within - an invisible war between a grandiose prosperity in the air and a stunning bottom reality.
We were driving through the narrow metal strip running towards Dhinkia, the most discussed Panchayat in Jagatsingpur district that has held the Rs 52,000 crore Posco project to a kind of ransom for the last five years or more. As we were passing a bend near a place called Badagabpur, a large cement board caught my sight. `Posco-India Transit camp` was what the board read. And the emptiness preceding the sleepy camp, as if read `Life Doesn’t Exist Here`. It was indeed perturbing to realise that a camp that houses about 220 people can be so lifeless.
Right opposite the board was a make-shift wooden cabin, perhaps a betel shop, which was closed. There was no absolutely presence of any human soul when we tried to enter the camp except a few stray dogs lazily lounging under the wooden cabin.
A camp that houses 52 families was doused by a silence - a silence that can really disturb. There were three rows of 52 Zinc-sheet topped sheds, like seen in the make-shift project sites meant for the workers. Each shed is a 10x10 ft enclosure for each family of average four to five members. Some tin sheds were covered with thatch to reduce the impact of heat and humidity during the summer. Without seeing the interiors of the rooms one could guess the congestion that ruled within... where a family of 4 to 5 members had remained bundled for the last five years in the face of excruciating heat and dust.
The euphoria around the Rs 52,000 crore Posco project seemed buried in the psyche of these 52 families - their eyes neither provoke any emotion nor anger. Five years of silent war within them had drained out all that they had in the name of hope. The only thing that was clearly discernible was the brazen callousness of a system that can reduce lives to such a state for its political exigencies.
The camp is neither so large nor hygienic. The people were simply dumped here... whose history dates back to only five years when Orissa government had lured them by a dream for a better future... the time when they sacrificed their homes, betel vines and all the moorings in favour of the multi-crore plant.
What a price these families have paid for their support for a project that still remains mired in a kind of warfare. And the clever South Koreans seem distanced from the entire slugfest, leaving the State to bat for them. And the cunning political representatives, mainly from the ruling party, lend very occasional side glances at this camp, prescribing palliatives that have no meaning.
We came across a family of six members which has two old parents and one of them an octogenarian. The old lady was very sick and to survive she had to take medicine worth Rs 80 per day. The old man, on the other hand, had developed neurological problems with paralytic symptoms that need regular treatment.
The problems faced by almost all the 52 families were more or less similar. The government that still claims to be the champion in the field of R&R implementation in India, has left this 220 lot with a paltry allowance of Rs 20 per head a day. And within that budget one has to manage food three times a day, medication and rest.
Education for the children has become an option here. "We have lost our moorings completely. For a family of two to three, the regular income from a betel vine was Rs 300 to 400 per day which was so comforting, but now we are just getting Rs 60 per day for three members. Imagine rice selling at Rs 15 to 20 per kg and vegetables going beyond the reach like us where we are! We feel, we have been simply hoodwinked by the administration," rued Bhagirathi with a cynical fear, who lives with his wife and an unmarried sister.
Given the abject man-made poverty and the sub-human milieu they have been living in for the last five years, the joy of any community or social functions have become a thing of past. The ongoing farce over the land acquisition has completely blocked their vision for a better tomorrow. Imagine, these families are living the lives that of in a ghetto just two to three kms from their real homes!
What a merciless massacre of sentiments and hopes. And let’s look at the relative ease with which the state government had removed them from their place and now, the disregard with which the same hopes are being tossed into invisibility to hide its own defeatist impulses. Why this compartmenting of human beings, each eye in this transit camp asks.
The problem with many displaced people is somewhat similar. These people have also, perhaps, fallen victim to the hypes made five years back. Nothing could have manifested the dark underbelly of our flawed land acquisition better than what the Posco-India Transit Camp reveals. Experts working in the field tag it with the sobriquet `Displaced Development`. Can’t politicians and bureaucrats see the pernicious anaemia the young and old ones are exposed to under the hazardous zinc-sheets? Inadequate sanitation in the camp has grown more menacing for all and think of the kids exposed to the ammonical contagion that aggravates during the Monsoon.
Five years is a long time. The children born here are bound to suffer. Suffer like their elders on whom the Zinc-sheet radiation has taken a heavy toll.
The multitude of unwritten assurances have gone with the wind and now the State must come to recognize it and ignore the unseemly display of triumphalism of development and stop self back-patting at the state capital.