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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tribals of Orissa's iron-ore-rich Keonjhar have a sorry tale to tell

By Pankaj Yadav

Keonjhar, Dec 20 (ANI): It's a sad tale of about 16 lakh tribals in Orissa's Keonjhar District. Despite being the top revenue-generating district in the state, through the export of iron ore and other minerals, Keonjhar's residents are at the receiving end of an indifferent treatment from the state government, claims local MP Ananta Nayak.

The number of unwed mothers, the number of HIV/ AIDS cases in the district have been on the rise, so has soil erosion. Most of its people suffer from malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition, pre and post-natal deaths, and the district is also home to the highest number of student dropouts from primary schools, as per official records of the past three years.

A second time MP from the district, Nayak, a tribal himself, says he has approached every authority, right from the State Chief Minister, Navin Patnaik to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and even UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, but has failed to get the desired results.

He claims that his district produces nearly 36 percent of the country's quality iron ore, 30 percent chromites, and about 40 percent manganese deposits, and provides raw materials to several steel plants in the country.

But, thanks to the apathy of the state government, there are no basic facilities or infrastructure available to the local populace. Everyday, as many as 15,000 trucks pass through the nearly 150-km long single road (National Highway # 215), leaving absolutely no space for other vehicles to pass by. Resultantly, nearly 1100 road accident deaths have been reported over the past three years, says Nayak.

Lately, in order to launch a movement against the 'suppressing attitude' of the state government, which happens to a BJP-BJD alliance, the locals have grouped themselves under the banner of the Keonjhar Citizens' Forum.

Himansu Sekhar Kuanr, the secretary of the Forum, describes how poor and indifferent the response from both the state and Centre Governments has been. According to him, very soon, the Railway Ministry would inaugurate a railway line that would be used only for transporting iron ore and other minerals.

"When we approached one of the Railway Board members with the proposal that at least one passenger train should be sanctioned on the newly laid rail line, we were abruptly told that this could not be done", adds Himansu.

He further says that in order to meet its greed for foreign exchange, the state government is exporting most of its minerals to China, who in turn, is simply dumping it for future use.

"But the big question before us is that what we would leave for our future generations, after a few years the mineral deposits would be exhausted," says Himansu.

Giving details of miseries the people in Keonjhar are going through, he says that in last three years, 1186 people have died in road accidents involving trucks carrying iron ore to the Paradeep Port and thousands have been left wounded;

-- 27 people died inside ambulance being not able to reach hospitals

-- In the past three years 640 students couldn't reach the secondary school examination centers due to sever road congestion, and more than 2000 people were issued with non-bailable warrants because they couldn't attend the court dates in time.

-- Millions of tons of iron ore is being transported on road to Paradep Port for export, rendering the entire district unsafe for public mobility since there is no alternative route;

-- Around 76 percent of the people in the district live below the poverty line, despite it being rich in valuable mineral deposits.

The Keonjhar Citizens' Forum, a non-political body representing the cross section of the people of the district, is sincerely trying to bring these facts of human miseries and detriment act of national interest at various levels for the last four years.

"But, to our dismay this colonial exploitation and political apathy towards Keonjhar is not coming to an end," says Himansu.

Forum members come to the Capital at least twice every year at their own expense, around the time when the Parliament session is on. And, their MP's official bungalow in South Avenue acts like a perfect abode for the cash-stricken tribals! (ANI)

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