Odisha: Poverty, Corporate Plunder and Resistance

Prafulla Samantra and Asit Das


Odisha is known for its different aspects in historical periods. It was known for its brave resistance and sacrifice confronting Asoka’s army and ultimately transforming him. Odisha’s literary history, especially its folklores, depicts the glorious tales of its traders and sailing to far off lands like Java, Borneo, Sumatra, etc. It had a thriving trade. It is famous for its temple architecture, traditional culture, music and dance, which includes highly developed craftsmanship and cottage industries. Odisha had a lightly developed silk and cotton fabric industry whose highly skilled craftsmen were working on innumerable village looms. Oriya artisanship is globally famous, including excellent silver filigree jewellery.  Odisha has a glorious anti-imperialist history fighting British colonialism.

Apart from countless Adivasi and peasant revolts, Odisha is proud of its heroes of the freedom movements like Bagha Jatin Laxman Naik and Baji Rout. Odisha has a proud history of anti-colonial resistance like Ranpur and Ganjam peasant revolts.

Odisha was also a test case of colonial plunder.  Its rich mines, forests and lands were ruthlessly extracted to keep the mills of Manchester proliferating, while bleeding Odisha blue by sucking its mineral resources and systematically breaking the backbones of artisans. The peasantry was reeling under landlords created through permanent settlement and other colonial land laws. When Gandhi visited Odisha in 1921 he could see abject poverty and was personally shaken. He declared Odisha’s poverty was epitome of India’s Poverty.

The same state of arrangements almost continued after Independence. Since 1947 Odisha has been the tragic story of neo-colonial plunder. Its new rulers sold out the state’s mineral resources at a throw-away price to different members of national/international big businesses. This ruthless extractive exploitation of Orissa’s natural resources has been accelerated after the onset of economic reforms in 1991. Since then there has been a record growth on MoUs in steel, alumina, aluminium, sponge iron, bauxite, mines, thermal projects, captive mines, etc.

Odisha, of late, has been in the headlines for starvation deaths and suicide by farmers. In February this year, Hindustan Times came out with a two-part news report of 50 people dying of hunger in Bolangir district – it is from this district that we frequently get news of farmers committing suicide. The suicide of farmers is being reported from all over the states including relatively prosperous coastal districts.

These widespread starvation deaths and farmers’ suicides are a direct result of anti-farmer, Adivasi and Dalit policy of successive State Governments since liberalization.

However, the current Chief Minister, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, who is enjoying his third term, has gone out of his way to appease national and international big capitals. The entire mineral, forest, water, and fertile agricultural land are handed over to national and multinational corporations to ruthlessly loot the state and pauperize local populations. Today Odisha is the symbol of starvation deaths, farmers’ suicides, large-scale labour migration, destitution and poverty. Its own rulers are throwing away the natural resources to the multinational sharks for their super profit. But Odisha also has become the beacon of hope for the struggling workers and peasants of this country in their heroic struggle against the predatory mining and industrialization of the state uprooting the toilers of the soil. Massive people’s resistance is going along the length and breadth of the state. Some prominent ones are Kalinga Nagar, Niyamgiri, anti-POSCO (Korean Steel Company), and anti-Vedanta University people’s struggles.

A Social Profile of Odisha

Since Independence, different rulers in Odisha have sold the mineral resources cheap, and have given very low priority to agriculture, which has resulted in a phenomenal drain of mineral wealth and absolute impoverishment of broad masses of Oriya people. Sixty years after Independence, the Social Indicators of Odisha are abysmally low, leading the country in chronic poverty and starvation deaths, massive labour migration, displacement, under-nutrition, high maternal and infant mortality rate, etc. Though Odisha is very rich in natural resources like land forest, and minerals, its indices in human development are very low, perhaps the lowest in India.

Odisha has 60% of bauxite reserve, 25% coal, 28% iron, 92% nickel, and 28% manganese reserve in India. It has rich forests, agricultural land and a long coastline with the most beautiful beaches in the world.

This natural endowment has not at all benefited the broad masses of Odisha, the farmers, urban and rural poor, Adivasis and large number of unemployed Oriya youth. It is one of the poorest states in India in a wide variety of socio-economic indicators. It has the lowest per capita income and very high below poverty level compared to all-India average. Odisha’s Human Development Index compared with other states is 27.

The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) indicates Odisha’s per capita income according to the prices of the year 2003 was Rs.12,388.00 while the all-India average per capita income was Rs.23,359.00. The census for the year 2001 indicates that while the people below poverty level were 26.10%, in Odisha it is 47.15%. Suresh Tendulkar committee puts Odisha BPL – 57.2 and all-India – 37.2% BPL, the Saxena Committee puts Odisha – 84.47%, for all-India – 50%.

In the year 2008, the all-India maternal mortality rate was 254 per thousand, while in Odisha it was 303 per thousand.

Life expectancy for India in the year was 62.3 years for males and 63.9 for females, while for Odisha it is 57.6 for males and 57.8 for females. These figures were given in a reply by the Union Health Ministry in Rajya Sabha.

Odisha’s literacy rate is also lower than the national average. For all-India it is 64.84%, while for Odisha it is 63.08% according to the 2001 census. Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar account for the highest infant mortality rate; in Odisha,  in the year 2003 according to UNICEF it was 57 per thousand births, which is one of highest in India. 65% of infant and neo-natal mortality rate in India, over 46% children under five years in Odisha are malnourished. Chronic poverty is rampant in a broad majority of Orissa’s population.

In the BPL survey in 2002, in 76,84,371 households in Odisha were found below the poverty level out of which 30,28,526 households were reported seasonal and casual labourers. 50% of them migrate for work. The poverty level is 85% in the southern region in Orissa. An overwhelming majority of the Adivasis, Dalits and large majority of rural labourers, small and marginal farmers, suffer from chronic poverty and malnutrition. Unemployment and under-employment are very high in Odisha i.e., 8%, while for India it was 6.80%  in the year 2009.

The share of agriculture work force in the year 1999-2000 was 68.9%, while the national average was 57.4% during the 10th plan period. Daily unemployment rate in rural Odisha was 7%.

Inspite of the big noise created by the ruling BJD in Odisha, which boasts of attracting investment and boosting growth, the number people below poverty line and unemployment is increasing, the annual rate of growth in the year 1993-94 to 2003-04 was 1.75% compared to the all-India grant of 6.19%. The National Infrastructure Index was 107, while for Odisha it was 75. The State Domestic Product growth in the 1993 to 1994 was 4.28 in Odisha, while the national growth was 6.20%. The development policy pursued by successive government in Odisha after Independence produced massive poverty and displacement in Odisha. The National Advisory Council estimates 90 lakh people have been displaced from different development projects in Odisha.

Odisha leads in the country for labour migration – due to chronic poverty, and unemployment, millions migrate from Odisha to other states and metropolitan centres. Almost all of them work in the under-paid, exploitative unorganized sector. They mostly work as construction labourers, brick kiln workers, and in textile heavy engineering and diamond polishing sectors. Around 7 lakh Oriya labourers are employed in the diamond cutting and textile industries in Surat.  But the worse labour migration happens from the poverty stricken districts of western and southern Odisha, a majority of them are Adivasis and Dalits. They work as brick kiln workers in various towns especially Hyderabad, under extremely bad working conditions. They work for 12 to 15 hours a day and earn an average of Rs. 50 a day. This has been documented by various studies on migrant Oriya brick kiln workers in and around Hyderabad. The labour migration system in western and southern Odisha is insidious, due to lack of gainful employment and chronic poverty. Labour contractors offer them Rs. 5,000/- to Rs. 10,000/- as advance – to lure them into various unskilled manual contract work in various places outside Orissa. Traditionally, migrant Oriya workers had a secure, organized sector in the jute industries around Kolkata, but after the jute industries work became in oblivion, that scenario has changed. Before the collapse of the textile industries, many Oriya migrant workers who had secure jobs in textile mills of Kanpur, Mumbai and Indore were unemployed, and driven to unorganized manual jobs, which had a severe impact on their families.

The most important reason for labour migration from Odisha, is due to high level of rural unemployment, which is a direct result of the under-developed agricultural sector and massive displacement caused by various development projects.


Though starvation deaths have been reported from west and southern Odisha, especially from the infamous KBK districts (Undivided Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi districts), the recent news item of Hindustan Times reporting 50 people dying of starvation, has made it into a central issue of Odisha. The case of Jhintu Bariha has come up in the Odisha High Court. Jhintu Bariha belongs to Chabiripali village of Khaprakhol block of Bolangir district.

The district administration tried to hide the fact but media coverage, High Court involvement and after a huge cry by mass movements, the Government of Odisha took Jhintu Bariha’s case seriously. Jhintu Bariha’s village is in the foothills of Gandhamardan hills – in this hamlet Chabiripali, the population is 370 out of which 80% are Adivasis. They depend on farming and forestry for their living. Jhintu Bariha’s family comprises his parents, wife, two sons and a daughter. In the drought he lost his crops and by widespread deforestation by vested interests saw a sharp deterioration in Jhintu Bariha’s subsistence especially managing enough food for the household, thus resulting in starvation. On September 6, 2009 Jhintu Bariha’s daughter died, the next day his younger son died, and two days later his wife Vimla Bariha died. Within three days three members of Jhintu Bariha’s family died due to starvation. Jhintu Bariha’s name does not figure in the BPL list. This indicates deep seated corruption and manipulation in the making of the BPL list in rural Odisha, especially in tribal areas. Jhintu Bariha’s father has been allotted a BPL card, but since Jhintu has been separated he does not have a BPL card. Bolangir is in the K.B.K. district. In entire K.B.K. districts, all the A.P.L. and B.P.L. people get 25 Kgs. rice at Rs. 2 a Kilo; but Jhintu could not even get A.P.L. rice from the P.P.S. This shows widespread corruption and the impact on rural poor, the Adivasis and Dalits. The overwhelming majority in K.B.K. districts are Adivasis and Dalits. We will discuss the widespread failure of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) later. Poverty, malnutrition, migration, starvation deaths and recently farmers’ suicide have all become the hallmark of the western and southern districts of Odisha, including districts like Keonjhar, Kandhmal, Gajpati and Sundergarh, which are  predominantly tribal. In these districts thousands die every year due to gastroenteritis, diarrhea, cholera, malaria and tuberculosis, under-nutrition, infant mortality and maternal mortality, anemia is among the highest in the country. The main cause is chronic poverty in these districts. A glaring example is the malaria and cholera deaths in Kashipur Block of Rayagada district, which comes in the K.B.K. region. Kashipur Block also has a high level bauxite deposit. A heroic resistance is continuing by the Adivasis against the displacement, which will be caused by bauxite mining by Utkal Alumina now owned by  Birlas. Kashipur Block has 17 Village Panchayats and 704 villages. Its population is 1,01,541 out of which 60,402 are Adivasis, and 20,767 are Dalits. Over 85% of them are below poverty line. They practice rainfed agriculture, including growing grains like ragi on the hill slopes. Kashipur is known for its malaria and cholera deaths between August 2007 and November 2007. More than 400 people had died in Kashipur Block, Kucheipadar, Dangasil and Maikanch Panchayat, accounting for 300 deaths until mid- September 2007. In August 2001, 12 people had died of hunger and gastroenteritis, extremely low levels of poverty with no access to food grain as the chief cause of starvation and cholera deaths in Kashipur. Kashipur comes under the K.B.K. programme and IFAD grants. The main reason of poverty and starvation deaths is due to widespread deforestation, displacement and loss of land because of various development projects like big dams, mines, factories, townships, etc.

Most of the under-nutrition happens in the predominantly Adivasi areas of western and southern Orissa. Most of the Adivasis used to collect substantial amount of food from minor forests but with widespread deforestation, had to lose agricultural land and forests, and also because of different development projects due to mines. Total lack of basic services like health and education, with their land getting diminished due to displacement with no irrigation facilities, with water sources getting dried up due to deforestation, has further marginalized and pauperized the Adivasis and other rural poor in most of the Adivasi areas including the K.B.K. region.

Destructive development projects, mines and the timber mafia are responsible for large-scale deforestation in Odisha. In the year 2005 Survey of India estimated 48,000 acres of forestland, 31% of the geographical area out of this 28,000 is dense forest and 20,000 acres are degraded and due to various mine, dam and development projects and deforestation further degraded the land in Adivasi areas totally shattering their food security. Starvation deaths never happened in Adivasi areas when they had access to land, water and forest.

Starvation deaths became national headlines in the 1980s in Kalahandi. There was news of distress migration, starvation deaths and selling of women and children in Kalahandi.

In the mid 1980s, 30 people died due to starvation in Kalahandi. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, visited Kalahandi. Narasimha Rao visited Kalahandi in the early 1990s. K.B.K. (Kalahandi, Bolangir, Koraput) the then predominantly tribal undivided districts of western and southern part of Odisha. After the division of the K.B.K. districts, the new districts are Korput, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Rayagada, Kalahandi, Nuapara, Bolangir and Sonepur. K.B.K. came into national focus after the high profile visit of Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. The K.B.K. project was launched and funded by the Central Government.

The K.B.K. districts accounted for 19.80% population and 30.60% of the geographical area. According to the census of 2001, 38.41% mere Adivasis including 4 tribes are classified as primitive tribes – they are Bonda, Diday, Langia Saura and Dongria Kondh. Its Dalit population is 16.25%. 44 Blocks of K.B.K. districts are in the tribal sub-plan area. After Rajiv Gandhi’s visit, Area Development Approach for Poverty Termination (ADAPT) programme was started in 15 Blocks of Kalahandi and Koraput in the year 1988. This programme was a complete failure.

Then in 1993 long term action plan was initiated with central assistance during the Prime Ministership of Narasimha Rao. This was done due to the failure of the earlier programmes and the acute marginalization and poverty caused by drought and deforestation. In 1998, a revived long term action plan (RLTAP) was started for nine years from 1998 to 2007. The total outlay was Rs. 6,251.06 crores. In the year 2000, the Government of Odisha launched Biju K.B.K. with State Government’s funds. The total expenditure of the State Government and Central Government was Rs. 6,801 crores by the year 2012.

According to official statistics, 80% of K.B.K. residents are below poverty line. The K.B.K. plan had three main aims (1) Prevention of drought, (2) Removal of poverty, and (3) Increasing quality and life of livelihood. The main livelihood of K.B.K. districts are farming, forest based collection of forest produce, rearing animals, wage labourer and other hereditary professions. Farming is the main livelihood. Forests provide additional income and food. The K.B.K. districts have an average rainfall ranging from 1,285 mm to 1,667 mm; Rayagada being the lowest 1,285 mm. The actual irrigated area of K.B.K. is around 20% except Sonepur. Other districts have less than 20% irrigation. This irrigation system includes big dams, medium river dams, minor irrigation projects, lift irrigation, bore wells, open wells, etc. Odisha claimed in the year 2007 that in the next 5 years the irrigation potential of K.B.K. districts will be increased to 35%. The pertinent question is what about the rest 65% of the land. The most of the arable village lands are in the hands to 4 to 5% money lenders and landlords known as Gauntias in western Orissa. Those people employ labourers to till their land. The rest of the rural poor, mostly Adivasis and Dalits, are landless or have little land. Though there are abundant Government lands, no serious effort has been made by the State Government to distribute the Government land amongst landless and other rural poor. In these areas there are laws according to which tribal lands cannot be transferred to non-tribals, especially money lenders, liquor traders and landlords with active connivance of the bureaucracy, who are mostly from coastal districts and other non-tribal areas. There is widespread prevalence of various forms of slavery and bondage due to usury and land grabbing. Most of the Adivasis and Dalits in K.B.K. lead a sub-human existence. Development projects, mines and deforestations have marginalized them further. In K.B.K. plan there is no provision of providing land to the landless and small farmers. Many poor families have possession of land but until today the Government has not given permanent pattas for those lands. It is due to this reason that the farmers are reluctant to invest in those lands for improvement, hence the productivity is low. In K.B.K. districts no land settlement is done till date. The priority of the Government should be to allot permanent pattas to the farmers who are tilling forests and other lands since generations. Years of deforestation and lack of maintenance of land have resulted in rapid deforestation and drying up of water sources. So many lands are becoming unfit for cultivation. At the household level preventing soil erosion is quite expensive, almost impossible. The task of preventing soil erosion is linked with forest conservation and conservation of rain water. But K.B.K. plans have no provision for soil conservation. No provision has been made for rain water harvesting. Most poor people in K.B.K. and other Adivasi districts like Sundergarh, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar depend on forests for different fruits, roots, leaves, berries, seeds and Mahua flowers. Wherever there are forests, the local people get 20 to 40% of their annual income.

Deforestation, soil erosion and lands lost to development projects have taken away this income and deprived them of food items from forests. Bringing the income down and pushing up the poverty line, lack of political will, selling of the natural resources for national and international big capital, lack of any pro-rural, pro-farmer commitment, hunger, starvation, displacement, and growing poverty levels show that K.B.K. plans were a super flop while the State Government is selling its mines, forestlands and water to multinational corporations forcing millions of Adivasis, Dalits and other rural poor out of their land, livelihood and habitats, makes the K.B.K. plan a big joke. If one looks at the financial outlays of K.B.K. plan during Narasimha Rao’s tenure, it started off with Rs. 4,600 crores. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. raised it to Rs. 5,500 crores. During June/July 2006 when the Government of India’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs decided to lower the allocation, Naveen Patnaik to score a political point started Biju K.B.K. with a grant of Rs. 600 crores. All these Central and State Government plans were for providing livelihood, employment and irrigation and other amenities for 80 lakh people of 12,300 villages of 8 K.B.K. districts within 9 years.

Almost a decade after the launch of K.B.K. plan, widespread hunger, poverty, starvation deaths and distress migration show how the K.B.K. plan was a cropper and totally irrelevant to the needs of Adivasis, Dalits and other rural poor in the K.B.K. region. The main factor of poverty and destitution of K.B.K. districts are feudal exploitation, senseless industrialization, land alienation, deforestation, mining, big dams and massive displacement of the local population. Though government owns almost 75% of agriculture and forestland in K.B.K. districts, no effort has been made to distribute these among the rural poor in those districts. One of the most important factors has been land alienation of the Adivasis, through money lending, usury and other unscrupulous and exploitative measures by the landlords, money lenders and liquor mafia, most of whom are non-Adivasis. This ruthless appropriation of tribal lands happens inspite of a number of tribal land protection laws of the State Government.

For exploitative land alienation and land-hold people in the K.B.K. district, one can look at the example of Patraguda village in Bissam Cuttack Block of Rayagada district.

Patraguda is in Bissam Cuttack Block of Rayagada district. Adivasis in this village are 90.4% and the Dalits 5.03%, i.e., around 96%. The rest 4% are upper caste traders, landlords and money lenders. Out of a total of 217.41 acres of privately owned land of Patraguda, the Adivasis own only 7.40 acres of land and Dalits 0.4 acre. The rest above 85% of the land is owned only by 4% of upper caste landlords and money lenders.

After Independence, there have been fierce struggles by the Adivasis against the landlords snatching their land though ruthless feudal exploitation and money lending.

For the past two decades there have been heroic struggles by Adivasis in Malkangiri, and Raighar of Rayagada district in Muniguda Block, led by the different mass organizations of Adivasis and in Narayan Patna Block in Koraput led by Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. K.B.K. region also witnessed massive deforestation, loss of agricultural land by big dams and industrial projects. People have built resistance to these destructive projects which will uproot them from their habitats and ruin their livelihood. In Kashipur Block the Prakrutik Sampad Suraksha Parishad is leading a one-and-half-decade-old struggle against Utkal Alumina. The Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri hills of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts are struggling against the bauxite mining project of Vedanta under the banner of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samity Manch. The farmers of Lower Suktel in Bolangir district are fighting against a big dam. The Adivasis of Deomali are fighting against the proposed bauxite mining in Koraput. Apart from K.B.K. plan, there are other official development agencies in poorer districts of Odisha like the Western Odisha Development Council of Government  of Odisha established in the year 1999 which  has been working for the past 10 years, its annual grant has been increased to Rs. 300 crores from Rs. 100 crores. The other projects are Odisha Scheduled Tribe Empowerment and Livelihood Project (OSTELP) and Western Odisha Rural Livelihood Project. Odisha Scheduled Tribe Empowerment and Livelihood Project (WORLP). OSTELP was started in the year 2004 October and will go on until 2014 for 10 years. Its financial allocation is Rs. 464 crores funded by DFID and IAD. OSTELP covers 7 districts like Koraput, Kalahandi, Malkangiri, Gajpati, Kandhamal, Rayagada and Nabarangpur. 30 Blocks are covered under the scheme which has 94.5% Adivasis and 67% of them are below poverty level. Western Odisha Rural Livelihood Programme (WORLP) has been functioning since the year 2000 in Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Nuapada. These programmes have completely failed to provide a dignified livelihood and stop migration due to widespread corruption, apathy, lack of political will, usury, landlordism, and massive deforestation and displacement caused due to destructive anti-people industrialization and development projects for the super profits of national and international big businesses through a totally servile and corrupt political class.

Apart from K.B.K. districts, starvation deaths are also reported from Gajapati, Kandhamal and Sundergarh districts. K.B.K. and other districts like Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Sundergarh, Kandhmal and Gajpati are predominantly Adivasi areas where more than 80% are below poverty level. Central Schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is a total failure here due to corruption and lack of political will. Most of the funds are siphoned off by contractors, traders, politicians and bureaucracy. Irregularities and pilferage are the rule rather than exception in the implementation of NREGS in Orissa. Totally going against the spirit of the employment guarantee act, contractors and machines are widely used in NREGS in Odisha. Even after four years of implementation of MGNREGS, The National Level Monitor report of March 2010 says that MNREGS  in Odisha has totally failed to create awareness about their employment rights amongst the rural poor in Odisha. It says that people who work under the scheme are totally unaware of their rights. Though they are paid their wages very late they, do not demand compensation. Giving the example of Rayagada district, it says that not only the people but Panchayat and block level officials and elected representatives also do not know about this law. The report says that in Odisha the rural poor are not demanding work and those who are working do not work according to their own free will. According to National Level Monitors, there is over-writing in muster rolls. It says there is a need for proper record keepinging at the village level, and the present record keep is inadequate and faulty. The same is the case in Khandapara Block of Nayagarh district where there is no entry of work done in the job cards, there are no photos in the job card. The National Level Monitor report says that the money allocated for MNREGS in Odisha is diverted to other heads. The report says the Odisha government does not conduct social audit of MNREGS in Odisha. In Kashipur Block of Rayagada district no work has been provided, none of the job cards in Bhadrak district in Odisha has photographs of beneficiaries. According to the report though 80,252 families have been registered under the scheme, they have not been provided with job cards. Though funds have been provided for 1,24,653 mandays, no money has been disbursed for this. Delayed wages were shown in 58,191 muster rolls whose total amount is Rs.41,58,79,958.00. In the entire state only 23126 families have been provided work for 100 days, likewise 30,11,618 families have got work for less than 15 days. 4,63,087 muster rolls out of 4,76,096 muster rolls do not have the entry of the date of payment. 84,669 muster rolls do not have the description or the measurement of the work done. 14 Panchayats of 5 Blocks in three districts do not have any registration for work. 477 villages of 104 Blocks in 22 districts have not demanded any work. According to the Management Information System (MIS) of Odisha, only 2.81% of job cards have photographs and only 11.6% workers have an entry of job description in the job cards. 283 villages of 61 blocks in 12 districts have no record of ongoing work. The CAG report says 670 households in 16 Gram Panchayats of Narla Block in Kalahandi district were not registered for NREGS and BPL list.

NREGS is a total failure in Odisha, therefore, it has proved to be totally irrelevant for stopping migration and starvation deaths. Most of the starvation deaths happen due to lack of food caused by widespread deforestation, mining, low growth of agriculture, etc. In these conditions the Adivasis and other rural poor in western and southern Odisha consume non-food products like mango kernel, which does not supplement the nutritional intake, resulting in starvation death or death through cholera, malaria, etc. The main reason is acute poverty, landlessness and lack of access to natural resources. In July 2001 in the Panasguda village of Kashipur, 7 people were reported dead due to the consumption of poisonous mushrooms; in the same block 4 people died in Bilamala village, they had not access to food grains hence were eating only mango kernel. By August 25 such deaths had reached the figure of 19 in the same block. More than 46% children in Odisha are under- nourished, 88% women in western and southern Odisha are anemic. 60 years after independence the Adivasis are forced to eat mango kernel, bark of Salap tree, wild mushrooms, tamarind seeds, etc.

Farmers’ Suicide and Agrarian Crisis in Odisha

Around 43 farmers have committed suicide in Odisha since 9 months. This indicates a severe agrarian crisis has gripped Odisha.

Though farmers’ suicide has been reported throughout the state including coastal districts, most of the suicides happened in western and southern Orissa. These deaths are caused due to various factors, neoliberal policies, indebtedness, loss of access to land degradation, water sources, forest, distress sale, etc. Most of the farmers have committed suicide due to indebtedness when they could not pay back due to very low price of agricultural produce, high input costs, and total lack of access to water resources and forests. Exploitative and insecure land tenures are a big factor in agrarian distress and farmers’ suicide.

Most of the farmers who commit suicide are marginal farmers and share croppers who committed suicide due to failure of crop and inability of to pay back the debt to the money lender.

Shri Banchanidhi Pradhan of Srichandanpur village of Sankhemundi Block of Ganjam district committed suicide by consuming poison. His age was 65, he died on 29th October 2009 at Berhampur Hospital. He is survived by three sons who work outside, his two daughters are married. He own 25 acres of land and cultivates on 5 acres additional land as a share cropper. He had borrowed money to buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides which cost him Rs. 3,000 per acre. Since his crop failed, he could not pay back to the money lender. His total debt accumulated to Rs. 40,000, which he could not pay, hence he committed suicide.

Sunil Sutar of Gutuma village committed suicide in October 2009. He owned 2 acres of land and cultivated 2 acres more as a share cropper. Due to irregular rain his paddy crop failed. He had borrowed from State Bank of India and village S.H.G. He could not pay back the debt so he committed suicide. It is the same story everywhere.

In Bolangir alone, 5 farmers have committed suicide in a single month – October  2009.

The above suicide is the symptom of deep growing agrarian crisis during the neoliberal era where the natural resources of the state are handed over to multinational and national big business corporations.

Odisha has been registering a very low growth in agriculture below the national average.

The main factors are, overwhelming majority is small – marginal farmers and share croppers. A large chunk of the land, more than 60%, is rainfed and is in hilly and forest areas. Only few places in coastal districts, Bargarh and Sambalpur are irrigated. Deforestation has degraded the soil and dried up the water sources in the rainfed areas. Lack of effective land reforms, neoliberal policy of withdrawing subsidies and exposing agriculture to national and international market forces, total lack of irrigation, almost 60% of areas in Odisha are rainfed but due to lack of political will, small, medium and lift irrigation service in India has totally collapsed. The State Government, under the pressure of DFID and World Bank, has lowered the official expenditure on minor and lift irrigation. Due to the privatization of Odisha State Electricity Board the electricity price for agriculture has gone up. A very important factor in agrarian distress and land alienation in tribal areas is indebtedness, and rampant usurious money lending.

Due to the lack of secure land tenure most of the Adivasis, share croppers and marginal farmers borrow from the money lender in an exorbitant rate of interest. Under the globalization regime, when input cut goes up and the market price goes down, then farming households collapse. One of the biggest reasons of farmers’ poverty in Odisha is distress sale, since the official remuneration prices are low and the system is ineffective in Odisha. Most of the small and marginal farmers in Odisha are exposed to the market sharks. The share croppers do not have any security in land tenure so they are unable to get credit from institutional sources hence they are forced to borrow money from the village money lender at an exorbitant rate. The share of share croppers in the agriculture sector in Odisha is quite high. Another reason of agrarian crisis in Odisha is lack of land reforms like distributing ceiling surplus land amongst landless and giving security of tenure to the share cropper. Semi-feudal exploitation is a common feature in agrarian relation in Odisha. It is the most important factor in Adivasi land alienation. In Odisha so far 1,42,616 people have got 1,59,384 acres of ceiling surplus land -  out of them 51,934 are Adivasis who got 66,303 acres and 48,794 Dalits got 51,109 acres. Likewise 4,62,537 Adivasis and 32,706 Dalits got pattas for homestead land, 3,84,364 acres are given to Adivasis and 1,75,577 acres to Dalits as lease. According to Section 23 of Odisha Land Reforms Act 33,242 people were allotted 36,496 acres of land out of which 22,970 are Adivasis and 20,827 are Dalits. According to official statistics 10 lakh acres have been distributed in Odisha. This does not include homesteads. This is quite inadequate given the scale of landlessness in Odisha and no one is sure whether the distributed land is in actual possession of the landless. Adivasis have been loosing land to money lenders, liquor traders and landlords since generations.

Mining and Displacement

Mining and displacement caused by mega projects like big dams and senseless industrialization is one of the most important factors in the present predicament of Odisha.

Mining is a very large factor in large-scale deforestation in Odisha. From 1980 to 2005 the Government of Odisha has given permission for mining in 15,386 hectares of forestland.

Odisha’s contribution is second in India regarding the income from mining sector in India. According to the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) in the year 2004-2005 out of the total minerals extracted, 10% was from Odisha, the market price of which was Rs. 5,820 crores at that time. Metals comprise the main component in the mineral extraction in Odisha.

There have been a lot of charges in the mining sector in Odisha. If one takes into account the market price of 1997-98, it has increased three times. In 1997-98 the price of total minerals extracted in Odisha  was Rs. 2,237 crores. From 1997-98 to 2001-02 it grew by 6%, but from year 2002-03 it grew at a phenomenal rate by 27%.

According to income from minerals, Odisha’s main two mineral resources are coal and iron ore. In the year 2004-05 the income from coal was 46%, and 35% from iron or other main minerals – one chromite 12%, and the other bauxite 2%. Due to stiff resistance in bauxite mining areas like Kashipur, Niyamgiri and Gandhmardhan, exploitation of bauxite is not high in Odisha until Nalco bauxite mining and alumina complex was established in early 1980s. In Panchpatmalli in Koraput district, the local Adivasis are resisting bauxite mining by Hindalco and others.

According to IBM, Odisha had also extracted minor minerals worth 45 crore US dollars in the year 2004-05.

By the year 2004-05 mineral extraction was in done in 99,952 hectares. In the year 2005, 605 leases were granted in Odisha  for mining, out of which around 45% was not functional. Odisha  Mining Corporation controls around 20% of mines. Most of the districts, except Jajpur and Angul, are predominantly tribal, they have been evicted from their traditional habitats through predatory mining. Mining is one of the major reasons for the pauperization of Adivasis; but they are putting up stiff resistance to mining in Niyamgiri, Deomali, Khandadhar, Kashipur and Keonjhar. Indoctrinate mining has caused widespread deforestation, soil erosion and degradation, and drying up of water sources. Mining in Odisha is a stark indicator of extractive exploitation of Odisha, mines are the open veins where Odisha bleeds blue. It was ruthless in colonial period – still ruthless now.

The mining trade is extremely exploitative in Odisha, where successive rulers of Odisha have given mines to national and international big capital at a throw away price. After the economic reforms in 1991, the process has accelerated and reached its most shameless height since Naveen Patnaik is ruling the state. The Government of Odisha gets a pittance from the profit made by mining. The plunder, corruption and political deals are one of the major causes of Odisha’s poverty and displacement, the case in point of how generators of Odisha were cheated are the trading practices of iron ore and bauxite.

For both these minerals, the Government of Odisha  gets royalty from Rs. 20 to 25 a tonne, while the international price is about Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 per tonne.

Khandadhar iron ore mines, which will displace about 30 villages, are being given as  captive mines to POSCO who will make super profit only from mining, apart from its steel plant at Jagatsinghpur. POSCO is facing stiff resistance from both these places.


A conservative estimate puts the number of displaced people from Independence to the end of the millennium at about  1 crore. It is overwhelming! It is one-fourth of the present population of Odisha.  Almost 80% of the people displaced are Adivasis and Dalits. Most of the displacement took place in the areas of Adivasi districts of west and south Odisha, including districts like Sundergarh, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj, which are predominantly Adivasi districts, where most of the large dams, mines and factories are located. Infact, the Adivasis are the biggest losers in the anti-people development policies by Central and State Government.

The following Table shows the amount of land and village lost due to mega projects.

Projects Acquired Land

in Hectares

Total Displaced


1. Irrigation large dams 20,493 900
Medium dams 14,403 118
Large dams proposed 12,160 92
2. Industries 48,358 177
3. Mines 10,947 N.A
4. Sanctuaries and wild life parks 81,155 771
Total 1,91,679 2,170


Source – Kundan Kumar “Dispossessed and displaced: A brief paper on tribal issues in Orissa.”  epgorissa.orgApril 2007.

The large dam at Hirakud on Mahanadi River was the first mega development project in post-independent Odisha,  which submerged more than 1.53 lakhs of fertile agricultural land and displaced around 350 villages in the then districts of Sambalpur. Nobody knows their fate now.

The undivided district of Koraput is the tragic story of tribal displacement and destitution in India.

The proud Adivasis of Koraput, who were once the lords of the forests, now work as casual and manual labourers in different industrial centres and their wives work as maid servants. First they were displaced in the Kolab and Machkund dams, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at Sunabeda in the 1960s and again in Nalco Alumina Refinery and mines at Damanjodi and Indravati Dam in the 1980s and 1990s.

Rourkela Steel Plant displaced hundreds of Adivasi villages in Sundergarh district in the early decades after independence; Rengali Dam displaced more than 250 villages in then undivided Sambalpur and Dhekanal districts. It was supposed to be a multipurpose dam, after spending thousands of crores and displacing lakhs of farmers it could irrigate only 10% of the proposed command area.

After Biju Patnaik became the Chief Minister of Odisha in the early 1990s,  thousands of acres of Adivasi land were acquired for setting up the steel hub at Kalinga Nagar. Vedanta Aluminium Limited has displaced scores of villages in Lanjigarh Block to set up the alumina refinery polluting and poisoning the entire area which has an adverse impact on local agriculture.

Thousands of acres of fertile land all over the state were acquired for thermal power stations and other projects.

People of Baliapal fought against the national missile testing range in the 1980s and successfully stopped it, thus preventing the displacement of hundreds of prosperous villages.

People of Gopalpur in Ganjam district under the banner of Gana Sangram Samity fought a heroic battle against TATAs in 1990 and successfully stalled it, though TATAs still have 3,500 acres in their possession.

In the early 1990s the fishermen of Chilka fought against the privatization of Chilka Lake for industrial shrimp cultivation.

After economic liberalization, the successive governments of Odisha,  especially after Naveen Patnaik became the Chief Minister, have signed hundreds of MoUs with national and international corporate houses.

43 MoUs have been signed for steel plants alone, which will require 4,013 million tones of iron ore for a total installed capacity to produce 58.04 million tonnes of steel.

Decades of destructive development projects have totally pauperized and dispossessed the rural poor in Odisha, overwhelmingly the Adivasis and Dalits. It has deprived them of  land, water and forests. Without any sources of gainful employment in their own villages, they migrate to other states to work as contract and casual labourers. The loss of agricultural land and drying up of water sources has endangered the food security of the rural poor.

But the people of Odisha have seen through this suicidal development trajectory and predatory industrialization. All over the state they are up in arms against displacement and imperialist globalization.

The Donghria Kondhs are resisting bauxite mining by Vedanta in Niyamgiri hills. The farmers of Dhinkia, Gobindpur, Patna and Nuagaon are fighting against the TATA’S proposed steel plant by POSCO in Jagatsinghpur district under the banner of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity. In Kalinga Nagar, the Adivasis under the banner of Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch have put up a heroic resistance against the TATA’s proposed steel plant. The adivasis under the banner of Vishthapan Viredhi Janmanch have put up a heroic against the TATA’s  proposed steel plant.

The Adivasis of Kashipur are fighting against bauxite mining and alumina refinery for the past 15 years under the banner of Prakrutik Sampad Suraksha Samity. There is a struggle going on against bauxite mines in Deomali in Koraput district, and also against displacement caused by a big dam at lower Sukhtel in Bolangir district. The Adivasis in Narayan Patna Block in Koraput district are fighting against  bondage and alienation of their land. They are fighting to get back their lands from money lenders, landlords and liquor mafia.

The farmers of Puri are fighting against Vedanta International University, which needs 8,000 acres of agricultural land.

They are fighting under the banner of Vedanta Viswavidyalaya Sangharsh Samity. Since past two year the farmers of western Odisha under the banner of Paschim Odisha Krishak Samanway Samity, are agitating against the diversion of Hirakud dam waters for industrial purposes.

To appease their masters in national and international corporate sector, the Government of Odisha has unleashed brutal repression on the mass movements, including illegal detention of activists. Odisha is famous for firing bullets on peaceful mass movements who are fighting for their land and livelihood. The police fired on the peaceful crowd in Maikanch, in Kashipur Block of Rayagada district and killed 3 people who were protesting against Utkal Alumina in Kashipur. It has detained scores of activists of Kashipur struggle for months on false criminal charges. Shukru Majhi was murdered in Lanjgarh where the fight was going on against Vedanta Aluminum. Shocking the whole state, the police shot dead 14 Adivasis at Kalinga Nagar on January 2, 2006. People had gathered to protest against forcible conservation of the boundary wall by TATAs in the year 2008. Amin Banra, an activist of Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch, was killed in cold blood by goons of TATAs in Kalinga Nagar.

The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh of Narayan Patna is fighting for restoration of land appropriated from the Adivasis by local money lenders, landlords and liquor mafia.

Since the past six months inhuman combing operations are going on in Narayan Patna where the cobra, central paramilitary forces and state armed police go on demolishing Adivasi homes, sexually assaulting Adivasi women, destroying their household belongings and brutally beating up the male members.

On 20th November 2009 the police cold bloodedly killed two Adivasi activists when they had gone to Narayan Patna police station to protest against the combing operations and sexual abuse of women. Two activists of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh were shot dead in front of others when they were arguing with police about their atrocities.

The advisor of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh Gananath Patra was arrested two months ago on false criminal charges. Abhayasahoo and hundreds of other POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity  arrested thousands of villagers of anti-POSCO struggle on false criminal charges. In Jagatsinghpur and Kalinga Nagar they cannot move out of the village even for medical treatment and other household work for fear of getting arrested.

Since the past three months a reign of terror has been unleashed in Kalinga Nagar. The people there have been peacefully agitating against the construction of an approach road. Instead of negotiating with the people, the state government has reacted with brutal force. There has been a virtual blockade in Kalinga Nagar for the past few months. 29 platoons of armed police, 2 platoons of NSG, 70 police officers and 7 magistrates were deployed in Kalinga Nagar a week before the police brutally fired on peacefully agitating men, women and children. On 28th March 2010 the District Collector of Jajpur told the people of Kalinga Nagar that the district administration is willing for a negotiated settlement of the issues raised by them. However, shockingly on 30th morning the police forces entered the village of Baligotha and started to fire indiscriminately on unarmed men, women and children. More than 30 villagers were injured; 7 of them are still battling for life. This explains how brutal force is used in Odisha to evict people from their habitat and handover mineral rich areas including fertile agricultural land to national and international big businesses. For the past few years hundreds of people have been arrested in Kalinga Nagar, Jagatsinghpur and Narayan Patna on false criminal charges. This anti-people white terror is perpetrated on the peasants, workers, Adivasis and Dalits of Odisha to handover thousands of acres of fertile land, water and forests to the profit-hungry corporations displacing millions from their homes and habitat.

What we are witnessing in Odisha and other places in India is a blood sucking predatory and primitive accumulation through violent dispossession under the neoliberal regime. To facilitate this colossal corporate land-grab, the Government of India has launched Operation Green Hunt to handover the rich mines, forests, water resources and agricultural land to national and international corporate houses. Operation Green Hunt seeks to open up mineral resources for appropriation and plunder. As per the Ministry of Mines, the states that fall under the proposed area of Operation Green Hunt, Andhra Pradesh Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Bengal, account for 59% of the country’s mineral production. In the period 2006-2009 environmental clearance was given to 120 projects to either expand existing or to open new mines in Jharkhand and Odisha. These mineral rich areas are home to the poorest of the poor – mostly Adivasis and Dalits. The state has launched a brutal repression to suppress all the democratic movements which oppose handing over their land, water and forests to profit-hungry corporations. But the peasants, workers and Adivasis of Odisha have refused to buckle under state pressure; they have put up stiff resistance to corporate plunder and forcible eviction all over the state. Niyamgiri, Jagatsinghpur and Kalinga Nagar have become advanced outposts of anti-imperialist resistance, which inspires all the progressive and democratic forces fighting neoliberalism in India.

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