Western Odisha

Dying stalks villages in Odisha’s Keonjhar district

Lives are misplaced close to one of many State’s richest iron ore reserves to poverty, poor diet and air pollution

Over the previous few months, Sukurmani Munda, a 31-year-old tribal girl in Rugudisahi, a dusty hamlet by Keonjhar’s Gandhamardan mines, one of many largest iron ore mines in Odisha, has been affected by persistent cough and bouts of fever.

A couple of homes away, Raibari Munda (25), too, confirmed comparable signs and misplaced weight quickly earlier than she handed away every week in the past.

Tala Munda, a 46-year-old neighbour of Raibari, additionally died a few months in the past after being “lowered to a pack of bones”.

Ms. Sukurmani says she can’t sleep considering of the horrible finish that awaits her prefer it does different individuals in Rugudisahi and its neighbouring villages. In Uppar Kainsari village, 10 individuals have reportedly died with similar signs since 2020, whereas Salarapenth, one other village shut by, has seen two such deaths.

Although the District Headquarter Hospital is simply 15 km away, most villagers are unable to afford shedding a day’s wage to journey for remedy. Visits by well being employees to the villages have been fitful.

Iron ore is scooped up day-after-day by the big earth excavators of the Odisha Mining Company (OMC) — lease holder of the Gandhamardan iron ore mines and the biggest profit-making public sector endeavor within the State — however little has modified within the lives of tribals like Ms. Sukurmani, who dwell close to the large facility. By one conservative estimate, iron ore price ₹5,000 crore has been excavated from the Gandhamardan mines within the final 5 years.

“We survive solely on pakhala (fermented rice in water) all year long. The one different dish that we are able to afford is a preparation of arum leaves,” stated Ms. Sukurmani. She has been drying up arum leaves for her household’s use until the following monsoon. Mushrooms and tubers obtainable in close by forests are an reasonably priced different supply of meals.

Whereas the land beneath their ft is a large iron reserve, Rugudisahi’s villagers are unable to even entry fundamental wants. The village doesn’t have an anganwadi centre. This 12 months, six college students in Rugudisahi began herding goats after dropping out of college. “Most children under the age of 5 years solely have just one or two pairs of shirts. On most days, they wander about aimlessly in torn pants,” stated Pandav Munda, a tribal.

Iron ore mud mixes into the stream during which villagers bathe. The water is reddish brown.

Keonjhar MLA Mohan Majhi, who visited Raibari earlier than her demise, thinks she might need succumbed to tuberculosis. “Lack of entry to protected ingesting water, and air pollution brought on by iron ore mining, are the main causes behind individuals dying early. Premature deaths have been occurring amongst tribal households who dwell round iron ore mines within the district. I had requested the district administration to ship cellular well being items for treating villagers, however there was no response. Persons are left to die whereas the federal government exchequer is full with money,” alleged Mr. Majhi.

Nevertheless, Ashok Kumar Das, Chief District Medical Officer, Keonjhar, stated, “These villages have been the particular focus of the district well being administration. Now we have invariably discovered excessive liquor consumption by tribal individuals, which could possibly be certainly one of causes behind early deaths. As a result of social stigma and low consciousness stage, they don’t method hospitals within the first place. After the scenario worsens, they arrive to the hospital.”

Dr. Das stated a well being survey was performed in several villages however intensive prevalence of tuberculosis was dominated out.

Tribals additionally fall prey to superstition. In Uppar Kainsari village, 34-year-old Bikash Dehury suffered a painful demise final month after members of the family branded his abdomen with dozens of sizzling iron rods in a determined try to avoid wasting him.

“He was left with items of bones in his physique. We had utilized sizzling iron rod branding in order that he may survive,” stated Sonaram Munda, Bikash’s father-in-law.

Rushani Dehury, spouse of Danabandhu Dehury (35), who died below comparable circumstances, stated he was taken to totally different hospitals earlier than his demise however couldn’t be saved.

Kiran Shankar Sahu, president of the Keonjhar Citizen Discussion board, laments that not even a tiny fraction of the revenue earned by mining firms in Keonjhar has percolated all the way down to the district’s poorest individuals.

“Iron ore price ₹2,65,000 crore has been extracted from Keonjhar and elements of the Sundargarh district, with miners, together with the State-owned OMC, incomes tremendous earnings. In 2017, the Supreme Courtroom ordered the levy of fines on miners for the violation of environmental legal guidelines. Accordingly, the ₹17,000 crore fund of the Odisha Mineral Bearing Areas Growth Company got here into being. It was mandated that the funds must be spent on mining affected individuals. Nevertheless, a sizeable quantity of the fund is mendacity unutilised,” Mr. Sahu alleged.

The District Mineral Basis has additionally been constituted by the order of the Supreme Courtroom, below which ₹5,000 crore has been collected in Keonjhar alone.

Within the Nineteen Eighties, a pyrophyllite stone grinding unit got here up at Madarangajodi, simply 2 km away from Rugudisahi. Villagers nonetheless can’t overlook its devastating impression on the native inhabitants. “Most male members working in that unit had been uncovered to silica through the 25 years of its operation. That they had died one after one other. After years of wrestle, members of the family had been compensated. Individuals worry the same scenario will happen in Gandhamardan,” stated Mr. Majhi, the Keonjhar MLA.

“The presence of minerals has turned out to be a curse for the individuals of Keonjhar,” stated Mr. Sahu.