Life has turned a full circle for Posco project villagers

Bhubaneswar: With the scrapping of big-ticket Posco steel project, life has come full circle for people in the proposed project areas as they stoically recall the brief spell of opulence that had once come on their way from the land compensation sum.

Shored up by land compensation doles, villagers who had given away their land either voluntarily or under coercive circumstances, were marked by a ‘deceptive’ change in lifestyle. But with the compensation largesse exhausted since long, a section of land losers have neither the land nor the money awarded to them as compensation.

Grim ground realities have dawned upon them as the land-losers having wastefully spent the money have reoccupied the land to eke out a living from their age-old betel vineyard cash-crop cultivation.

It’s a grossly miscalculated venture by which neither the people could reap benefit nor could it send positive signal to the outer world for industrial scenario in Odisha. The project site selection in a rich agrarian belt was a monumental blunder. Everything has gone awry. It’s ultimately the people who are on the losing side as decade long resistance movement adversely affected the agro-based economy of the region, commented a retired high school teacher, Ramakant Mohanty.

Not long back, trendy and flashy motor bikes and four-wheelers are spotted whizzing past the dusty lanes of Gobindpur village much to the envy of residents of peripheral areas. But opulence was short-lived. The recipients have virtually exhausted the compensation doles in purchasing bikes and four-wheelers even as the posco’s scrapping of the project has brought to the fore grim ground-realities of land-losers.

The largesse in form of compensation from the South Korean steelmaker had transformed the lifestyles of land-losers. Saving little for future, the compensation receivers had tried their hands with luxury which was beyond their reach before the land-compensation-award.

People from Gobindpur village had received huge money when land was acquired from them. Those who gave away their betel groves received the sum and had turned profligate and recklessly extravagant. Now they have nothing for the future, said a prominent anti-posco activist, Sishir Kumar Mahapatra.

Locals had become proud owners of as many as 70 motor bikes. They were virtually on a buying spree leaving little room for saving. The compensation receivers had also procured at least three luxury vehicles, passenger carrier van besides tractors and power tillers. But few have managed to keep intact. Majority of them have disposed it off following dire need of money, he said.

New-found opulence has led to the steady draining of money given away to them against the acquisition land and felling of trees.

“Motor bikes were once overflowing in Gobindpur village. There were hardly two dozen bikes earlier. The figure had reached near one hundred in 2013 when payment was received by people. Nobody had owned a four-wheeler here. 3 brand new four wheelers had marched along the dusty lanes in Gobindpur. But all have vanished as rapidly as they strode on the road”, remarked an Ex-Sarpanch of Dhinkia GP, Nirvaya Samantaray.

However land-loser like Durlav Rout was an exception. “After by betel plot was demolished, I lost my source of livelihood. From the given compensatory money, I had purchased a Passenger carrier van (Tata magic) and tractor. Those had giving me commercial return from which I am supporting my family”.

Social scientists however differed from the people’s version.

“Cash compensation often leads to extreme form of consumerism. Owing a four-wheeler vehicle must like a dream come true for them. Cash compensation has multi-faceted negative effect, particularly for poor and illiterate rural people. People are not well accustomed to managing huge cash. So they are bound to be swayed away by consumerism culture. With flow of money, there would also be social conflict over the share of money. There is every possibility of family ties being broken up over it”, commented a sociology lecturer of a local college, Rajendra Tripathy.