Ground Reports

The Killing Fields Of Kendrapara And Bhubaneshwar's Apathy: A Ground Report

Jaideep Mazumdar

May 28, 2024, 06:02 PM | Updated May 29, 2024, 02:10 PM IST

The Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in Kendrapara
The Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in Kendrapara
  • These villagers in Kendrapara have little to no protection from attacks by snakes, crocodiles and other wild animals.
  • On top of that, they charge the state government with apathy and corruption.
  • Sumati Pradhan, Anjali Raut, Pinki Biswas and Kaushalya Mandal are dead.

    Sumati died of an attack by a wild boar when she had gone out to defecate one early morning two winters ago.

    Pinki died of a snakebite when she ventured into the fields at daybreak early July last year for the same purpose. 

    Kaushalya Mandal had gone to the river (one of the canals of Brahmani river) near her village to fish when she was attacked and killed by a crocodile.

    Anjali Raut’s mangled remains were recovered from the Brahmani--she was attacked and killed by a crocodile two years ago--where she had gone to collect crabs. 

    These deaths are a consequence of the disregard for the plight of the poor of Odisha by the government in the state. Had the state government allowed the smooth implementation of the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ that would have led to construction of toilets, Sumati and Pinki would not have had to go out before daybreak to respond to nature’s call and get killed. 

    Had the state government allowed the proper implementation of the Modi Government’s ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’, Chhabi Mandal would have been alive. Anjali’s death represents a failure of the state government’s much-touted ‘Mission Shakti’ whose ostensible aim is to provide proper livelihood opportunities to women. 

    These, and many other failings of the BJD government, are behind the distress of the people of Kendrapara who are dependent on farming and fishing for their livelihood. There are no industries, and absence of irrigation means farmers can only grow one crop a year. Crop failure is common. 

    "The BJD government has prevented the implementation of all Central projects which they cannot claim credit for artificially. They haven’t allowed Ayushman Bharat (health insurance), water supply schemes, building of toilets etc. The BJD government only allows the ones that it can take credit for falsely by passing them off as their own. But even those are mired in corruption,” BJP’s candidate for Kendrapara, Baijayant Panda, told Swarajya

    Kendrapara is a coastal district of Odisha and is often battered by cyclones. Coastal erosion is a massive problem and many villages have been washed away by the sea, adding to the miseries of the people. 

    To get a first-hand account of the myriad issues faced by the long-suffering masses of Kendrapara, I travelled more than nearly 130 kilometres northeast of Bhubaneshwar to Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in the Satabhaya Gram Panchayat under Raj Nagar administrative block of Kendrapara district. 

    All the 769 families of this village are victims of coastal erosion. Their original village was Satabhaya, it no longer exists today. THey were shifted further inland, about a kilometre from the coastline, by the government some seven years ago.

    They were given small plots of land (10 decimals or 4350 square feet per family) and Rs 1.2 lakh to construct their houses, and then left to fend for themselves. 

    “I had 12 acres of land that I used to grow paddy and vegetables on. And I also used to fish. That was enough to run my family. But now I have nothing here and work at a factory in Kerala,” said Gayadhar Raut, 52. 

    He hasn’t been able to complete the construction of his house and lives in a mud hut. “The amount given to us is too less to build a house. And I had to pay nearly Rs 30,000 as bribes to local officials and BJD netas to get the Rs 1.2 lakh compensation,” he added. 

    Gayadhar Raut of Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in front of his incomplete house
    Gayadhar Raut of Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in front of his incomplete house

    Gayadhar’s teenaged son also works at the same factory in Kerala. “I could not afford his education after school. I have two daughters who will have to get married off. Where will I get the money from?” said Gayadhar. 

    Baidhar Pradhan, 47, also works in Kerala. “I had eight acres of land at Satabhaya. Now I have nothing here. My wife stays here with our two minor daughters. And I worry about them a lot because we don’t have a toilet in our house and all three of them have to go to the snake-infested fields to defecate. My wife also goes to the crocodile-infested Brahamanu river to catch crabs and fish. All of them run grave risks,” he told Swarajya

    No family in the village got funds for constructing toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Union Government. Nor has any water supply scheme been undertaken under the Jal Jeevan Mission

    The BJD government in the state has been reluctant to implement projects under these schemes. Its critics allege that this is because it would not have been able to pass them off as their own.

    Even in some pockets where it has allowed implementation of these schemes, it has given only a portion of the full amount due to beneficiaries and allegedly pocketed the rest. 

    The state government, for instance, allows construction of houses under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana (PMAY) because it can then rebrand the houses under its own ‘Biju Pucca Ghara Yojana’ for free. Even here, beneficiaries have to allegedly pay bribes to local officials and BJD functionaries to get money to construct their houses. 

    Baidhar is also worried about the lack of a toilet and piped water supply that forces his wife and daughters to go out to defecate and also fetch water. 

    Baidhar Pradhan of Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in front of his mud and thatched house
    Baidhar Pradhan of Bagapatiya-Satabhaya village in front of his mud and thatched house

    “This entire area is marshy and infested with crocodiles and highly poisonous snakes,” he said. 

    Abhishek Panigraphi, a doctor at the 30-bed Mahakalpara Community Health Centre (CHC), confirmed that the healthcare centre receives many cases of snake bites and attacks by crocodiles and wild boars every year. “During the monsoons, we get more than a hundred snakebite cases a month,” he told Swarajya

    He also said that lack of sanitation--absence of toilets and piped water, consumption of contaminated water and absence of proper drainage--causes a host of skin and stomach ailments among the local people. “Most people suffer from worm infection. Some of the cases like tapeworm infection can turn very serious,” he told Swarajya

    Baidhar confirms that Sumati Pradhan, 28, wife of Giridhar Pradhan who was their neighbour, died of an attack by a wild boar when she had gone out with some other women to defecate in the fields near the jungles before daybreak. 

    “A wild boar was feeding on the paddy and no one saw it. The animal pounced on her and killed her,” said Baidhar. Giridhar left the village and is now settled in Chennai where he works at a factory. “We hear he is much better off there. His minor son and daughter go to proper schools and he earns a decent sum,” said Baidhar. 

    Anjali Raut, 20, was attacked by a crocodile in June 2020 when she had gone to the nearby Brahmani river to collect crabs. “She had gone out with a group of women to the river. The others raised an alarm and tried to rescue her, but the crocodile took her away. A few fishermen managed to hit the crocodile with their oars and it then abandoned her (Anjali). Her body was terribly mangled and she was already dead by then,” recounted Gayadhar. 

    Anjali had been married just a year ago and had no children. Her husband, Arjun, who had been working in Kerala, returned for her last rites but went back soon after and hasn’t returned to the village since then. 

    They say that every year, at least ten people of the village are bitten by snakes or attacked by crocodiles and wild boars. Most survive, some don’t. 

    Ironically, Odisha’s highly controversial bureaucrat-turned-politician--V Karthikeyan Pandian--had promised two years ago to turn Bagapatiya-Satabhyana into a modern village with proper roads, power connections, piped water, a school, primary health centre and concrete houses with toilets. But that has not yet materialised. 

    Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone of an ambitious project to supply drinking water to 220 villages under Raj Nagar and Pattamundai administrative blocks two years ago, But work on this is yet to start. 

    I travelled further towards Mahakalpur and stopped at a busy market area where a number of people had gathered. 

    Khagen Mondal, who runs a hardware store at Hatporia market that falls under Gopalpur-Gupti Panchayat in Raj Nagar administrative block, lost a daughter-in-law (Ruprani) to a crocodile attack on the banks of the Baunsagada river where she had gone to collect crabs. 

    “She had just been married to my youngest son. She had come into our house just six months before,” lamented Khagen, 82. The accident happened in August 2022. 

    Khagen Mondal in front of his hardware store in Hatporia alliance
    Khagen Mondal in front of his hardware store in Hatporia alliance

    “Crocodiles from the government hatcheries are released into the river once they get big. Venturing into the river is getting dangerous. The crocodiles even try to attack the boats of fishermen. Just two months ago, a bask of crocodiles attacked a boat with three fishermen and tried to overturn it. Luckily, the fishermen could fend off the aggressive crocodiles with their oars. The incident has alarmed us,” said Ranjit Mondal, 54. 

    Ranjit Mondal is a resident of Krishnapriyapur village near the Hatporia market. “I have just four decimals of land on which my house stands. I am a sharecropper and my wife goes to the river to fish and fetch crabs. I know its dangerous, but if she doesn’t go to the river, we will not have enough to eat,” the father of two daughters who are awaiting marriage and a school-going son told Swarajya

    Ranjit Mondal of Krishnapriyapur village
    Ranjit Mondal of Krishnapriyapur village

    Basudeb Pradhan, the headman of Krishnapriyapur village, told Swarajya that lack of proper healthcare facilities is a major concern for the local people. “Everyone goes to Cuttack, about a hundred kilometres away, for treatment. The local government-run healthcare facilities lack doctors and equipment and the private hospitals are too expensive. So we have to go to the medical college in Cuttack for treatment,” he said. 

    My next stop is a cluster of villages under Ram Nagar panchayat. This area has a large population of Hindu Bengali refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). 

    “We were resettled here by the government. We got land, depending on the size of our families, to farm. We were given pattas (land deeds) by (then Chief Minister) Biju Patnaik himself. Our grandfathers fled persecution in East Pakistan and crossed over into India. We were resettled here by the government,” said Sujit Kumar Maiti, owner of a hardware store. 

    Maity takes me to the exact spot where Biju Patnaik sat--in the courtyard of the 400-year-old Ramchandi Mandir--to distribute the pattas to the refugees. “My grandfather also got a patta for three acres of land. I’ve heard from my grandfather that he (Biju Patnaik) asked the refugees to work hard and rebuild their lives,” Maiti told Swarajya

    However, all the pattas were suddenly and arbitrarily cancelled by the Naveen Patnaik government in 2011-2012 and the hundreds of acres of farmlands that the descendants of the refugees from East Pakistan used to cultivate were declared as forest lands. 

    “Now, no one has any patta for even the homestead land. Hence, we cannot get any facilities from the government, including residence certificates that are necessary for school admissions, bank loans etc,” said Maiti.

    Sujit Kumar Maiti at the exact spot in front of Ramchandi Mandir where former CM Biju Patnaik distributed pattas to Hindu refugees from East Pakistan.
    Sujit Kumar Maiti at the exact spot in front of Ramchandi Mandir where former CM Biju Patnaik distributed pattas to Hindu refugees from East Pakistan.

    To prevent the locals--they include not just Bengali Hindus but also Odiyas--from farming on what were once their farmlands, the forest department reportedly released snakes and boars in the nearby jungles and prevented them from venturing anywhere near those lands. 

    That has pushed a huge number of people to penury. All the erstwhile farmers have been forced to turn to fishing to survive. 

    “Fishing does not yield much income. The local fishermen work for large boat-owners who pay a paltry amount to them,” said Maiti. 

    Sunil Mandal, 60, a resident of Kharnashi village about three kilometres down a narrow mud track from Ramchandi Mandir, is a fisherman. “For five months (from November 30 to May 1) every year, the government imposes a ban on fishing. But we get no compensation. I work as a labourer during that time,” Mandal, who has three sons, told Swarajya. Two of his sons work at a diamond factory in Surat and one is a driver. 

    Sunil Mandal in front of his thatched Hut in Kharnashi village
    Sunil Mandal in front of his thatched Hut in Kharnashi village

    Dharmendra Mandal, 44, has an identity card issued to fishermen by the Union Government. That entitles him to a compensation of Rs 15,000 for his loss of earnings due to the ban on fishing. “But the local authorities have stopped me from applying for that compensation. We do not get the benefits from any Central government scheme. The local authorities discriminate against us because we support the BJP,” he told Swarajya

    Dharmendra Pandal
    Dharmendra Pandal

    Milan Mandal, 54, said that his two sons have gone to Surat. “About half the young men from this area go to Surat, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai to work as unskilled labourers. Their remittances keep their families like mine here alive,” he said. 

    Milan Mandal, 54, was a beneficiary of the Modi government’s Ujjwala scheme (LPG connections to poor families) two years ago. “But I don’t get the subsidies for LPG refills anymore and am too poor to afford the full price. Before getting the LPG connection, we used to depend on firewood collected from the forests for cooking, but now the authorities enforce the ban on collecting firewood very strictly. We depend on kerosene bought from the black market,” he said. 

    Debashish Nanda, 57, stays in Batighara village, about eight kilometres away from Kharnashi. It’s an island and access is only through a short boat ride through crocodile infested waters. “Communication is a massive problem, especially during the monsoons and when cyclones hit the area. We don’t have any healthcare facilities and just one primary school whose sole teacher is mostly absent since he stays at Kendrapara town which is nearly two hours journey away. 

    (From left to right) Milan Mandal, Jagannath Sardar, Bhaben Mandal and Debashish Nanda
    (From left to right) Milan Mandal, Jagannath Sardar, Bhaben Mandal and Debashish Nanda

    Jagannath Sardar and Bhaben Mondal, both residents of Batigahara village which has nearly 9,000 residents, say that after the pattas were cancelled, locals held many agitations. “Not only were our protests ignored, false cases were slapped against us. Both of us spent months in prison because we couldn’t afford lawyers. We now  believe the Naveen Patnaik government wants us to leave Odisha forever. We are unwelcome here and are being treated as foreigners,” said Sardar. 

    Nanda told Swarajya that the residents of Batighara have been demanding a bridge over a 200-metre span of the river for years, but to no avail. “Many sick and ailing people have died before they could be taken to the Raj Nagar CHC for treatment. At least a couple of people die from snake bites every year because of delays in taking them to the CHC,” he said. 

    Kharnashi village also has a number of families who lost their members to snake bites and attacks by crocodiles. 

    Victims of crocodile attacks at Kharnashi village
    Victims of crocodile attacks at Kharnashi village

    Charan Mandal, 21, lost his mother to a crocodile attack in March last year. Kaushalya Mondal had gone to the river near her house to fish early afternoon along with a group of three other women, all her relatives. 

    “We were walking in a single file in waist-deep water laying nets. Suddenly I heard a Kaushalya shriek and within a flash she was taken to the middle of the river. It happened in a flash. We raised an alarm and my husband swiftly rowed his boat and hit the crocodile with his oar. He brought Kaushalya to the banks but she died within minutes,” said Jharna Mondal, the dead woman’s sister-in-law. 

    Kaushalya’s son Charan, who is yet to get over the trauma of his mother’s untimely and tragic death, told Swarajya that he received a paltry amount as compensation. “I think about Rs 1.5 lakh was announced as compensation, but we got a fraction of the amount. Most of it went to the pockets of local officials and BJD netas,” said the young lad who sings devotional songs and plays musical instruments to supplement the income of his father, Mahananda, a labourer. 

    Charan Mandal with a portrait of hai deceased mother (Kaushalya)
    Charan Mandal with a portrait of hai deceased mother (Kaushalya)

    Chhabi Mondal, 57, shows the scars that she still nurses from a crocodile attack three years ago. “I was catching crabs in calf-deep water when a crocodile held my ankles. I immediately grabbed a tree and could thus save myself. She received multiple stitches and was in a government hospital in Kendrapara for a couple of months. 

    Lalita Bain, 47, also survived a crocodile attack some six years ago. She required 31 stitches and still walks with a pronounced limp. “I was admitted at the government hospital at Kendrapara, but had to buy medicines worth more than Rs 20,000. The doctors recommended regular injections for two years, but I can’t afford them and the government won’t provide them for free,” she told Swarajya

    Kharnashi village has lost eleven women to crocodile attacks in the last eight years. At least double that number have been lucky and haven’t lost their lives, but all of them still suffer from their injuries and can’t dare to go near the river anymore. 

    A little distance away from Charan Mandal’s house live Gournaga and Sabita Biswas, a septuagenarian couple, in their mud hut. Their two-and-half year old grandson, Aryan, lives with them. Aryan calls Sabita ‘Maa’ because he has no memory of his biological mother, Pinki.

    Pinki had gone to the fields near her house to answer nature’s call early one morning in August last year. “She came running back, shouting at the top of her voice, that she had been bitten by a snake. Within minutes, she started shaking and vomiting. She died on the way to the hospital,” Sabita told Swarajya. Pinki had been married to Biswajit, Sabita’s eldest son, for just 2.5 years. Aryan was a little over 1.5 years old when he lost his mother. 

    Gauranga Biswas and his wife with their grandson Aryan and the portrait of Pinki Biswas who died of snakebite last year.
    Gauranga Biswas and his wife with their grandson Aryan and the portrait of Pinki Biswas who died of snakebite last year.

    “We got a meagre amount as compensation, but I had to sign a document saying I received Rs 1.5 lakh,” said Gauranga. Biswajit has been staying at his aunt’s house a little further away in the same village. 

    “He doesn’t come home because the memory of his young wife collapsing in the courtyard of our house still haunts him. I take Aryan to meet him at my sister’s house everyday. We live in utter misery. I ask God why He didn’t take my life instead of my daughter-in-law,” cried Gauranga. 

    It’s not just snakes, crocodiles and wild boars who inflict such harm and trauma on the people of Kendrapara.

    A number of residents of villages under the Koilipur, Gopalpur, Raj Nagar and Ghadiamala panchayats I spoke to complained of massive irregularities in MGNREGA, PMGSY, PMAY and other Centrally-sponsored schemes. 

    Most villagers suffer from a host of water-borne diseases because of lack of potable water. BJP’s Kendrapara candidate, Baijayant Panda, told Swarajya that when he was the Lok Sabha MP (for ten years from 2009 to 2019; he lost the seat to the BJD in 2019), he had initiated 54 water supply projects of one lakh litre capacity each from his MPLAD funds. 

    “But all those are defunct now due to the sheer apathy of the state government. After I left the BJD and joined the BJP, the (state) government sabotaged or neglected the projects just to spite me. But tens of thousands of poor people suffered, and the terrible part is that the BJD is unconcerned,” said Panda. 

    Panda enjoys considerable goodwill in Kendrapara and is remembered for the good work that he did during his ten-year tenure. 

    The people of Chinchiri village under Dera panchayat in Raj Nagar administrative block are his major fans. The area is called Patamundai. 

    That’s because Panda was instrumental in setting up an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) at Pattamundai that is famous for its plumbers. Plumbers from the area can be found not only all over India, but also in the Middle East and other countries. 

    “Kendrapara Municipality is more than 150 years old and at that time only, Britishers imparted skills in plumbing to some local people. That is how it all started. The skills were being handed down from one generation to the next. I thought that if the local people got formal diplomas and proper training, it would help them a lot. That’s why I set up the ITI,” said Panda. 

    Sushant Kumar Pradhan, 41, is a beneficiary of Panda’s foresight. He got formal training in plumbing at ITI and now works in a construction firm in Secunderabad. “I earn more than Rs 45,000 a month. The other plumbers who don’t have diplomas earn much less,” he told Swarajya

    Chinchiri village has 39 households; 45 men from the village work as plumbers all over the country. 

    Panda was also instrumental in getting a rail link to Kendrapara and got 24 mini-stadiums constructed in his constituency from his MPLAD funds. “I had told the people of Kendrapara that industries would be set up after the railway line comes up. But I lost last time and the BJD MP as well as the state government did nothing to get investors interested in setting up industries here,” he said. 

    ‘Kendrapara lies between the Paradeep and Dhamra ports and is a very attractive investment destination for industries. I have promised in my manifesto that I’ll get industries here. Many will get jobs and won’t have to leave their families here and work outside Odisha,” Panda added. 

    Panda canvassing for votes in Kendrapara
    Panda canvassing for votes in Kendrapara

    In 2019, BJD’s muscle and money power ensured his defeat. But this time, the odds seem in his favour.

    The BJD candidate, Anshuman Mohanty, is on shaky ground. There is huge anti-incumbency against his party which has governed the state for 24 years. That is why he was initially reluctant to fight this battle. 

    Anshuman also faces considerable opposition from within the ranks of his own party; many party leaders and functionaries are against him. Since his father, Nalini Kanta Mohanty, is a senior leader of the BJD and was an MLA of Rajanagar (one of the seven Assembly constituencies in Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat) a few times, he is accused of ‘parivaarbad’. The BJD in Kendrapara also suffers from a lot of factionalism. 

    All these, and the goodwill that he enjoys, puts Baijayant Panda in an advantageous position. 

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