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HomeIndiaSpectre of loss of life stalks villages in Odisha’s Keonjhar district

Spectre of loss of life stalks villages in Odisha’s Keonjhar district

Lives are misplaced close to one of many State’s richest iron ore reserves to poverty, poor vitamin 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 greatest iron ore mines in Odisha, has been affected by persistent cough and bouts of fever.

Just a few homes away, Raibari Munda (25), too, confirmed related 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 “reduced to a pack of bones”.

Ms. Sukurmani says she can not 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 dropping a day’s wage to journey for therapy. Visits by well being employees to the villages have been fitful.

Iron ore is scooped up on daily basis by the big earth excavators of the Odisha Mining Company (OMC) — lease holder of the Gandhamardan iron ore mines and the most important profit-making public sector enterprise 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 value ₹5,000 crore has been excavated from the Gandhamardan mines within the final 5 years.

“We survive only on pakhala (fermented rice in water) throughout the year. The only other dish that we can 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 out there in close by forests are an inexpensive various supply of meals.

Whereas the land beneath their toes is a large iron reserve, Rugudisahi’s villagers are unable to even entry primary wants. The village doesn’t have an anganwadi centre. This 12 months, six college students in Rugudisahi began herding goats after dropping out of faculty. “Most kids below the age of five years only have only 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 by which villagers bathe. The water is reddish brown.

Keonjhar MLA Mohan Majhi, who visited Raibari earlier than her loss of life, thinks she might need succumbed to tuberculosis. “Lack of access to safe drinking water, and pollution caused by iron ore mining, are the major reasons behind people dying early. Untimely deaths have been occurring among tribal families who live around iron ore mines in the district. I had requested the district administration to send mobile health units for treating villagers, but there has been no response. People are left to die while the government exchequer is full with cash,” alleged Mr. Majhi.

Nonetheless, Ashok Kumar Das, Chief District Medical Officer, Keonjhar, stated, “These villages have been the special focus of the district health administration. We have invariably found high liquor consumption by tribal people, which could be one of reasons behind early deaths. Due to social stigma and low awareness level, they don’t approach hospitals in the first place. After the situation worsens, they come to the hospital.”

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

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

“He was left with pieces of bones in his body. We had applied hot iron rod branding so that he could survive,” stated Sonaram Munda, Bikash’s father-in-law.

Rushani Dehury, spouse of Danabandhu Dehury (35), who died below related circumstances, stated he was taken to totally different hospitals earlier than his loss of life 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 corporations in Keonjhar has percolated right down to the district’s poorest individuals.

“Iron ore worth ₹2,65,000 crore has been extracted from Keonjhar and parts of the Sundargarh district, with miners, including the State-owned OMC, earning super profits. In 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the levy of fines on miners for the violation of environmental laws. Accordingly, the ₹17,000 crore fund of the Odisha Mineral Bearing Areas Development Corporation came into being. It was mandated that the funds should be spent on mining affected people. However, a sizeable amount of the fund is lying 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 not neglect its devastating affect on the native inhabitants. “Most male members working in that unit were exposed to silica during the 25 years of its operation. They had died one after another. After years of struggle, family members were compensated. People fear a similar situation will take place in Gandhamardan,” stated Mr. Majhi, the Keonjhar MLA.

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

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