*    IRN – Kerala



Initiatives & Activities IRN-ORISSA

Over a period of three years of Fellows of SWARAJ carried out a study, analysed generated awareness about the issues related to damming of rivers, pollution of river waters and its effects on the people, living in river basins of Tel, Maha Nadi and Koel Karo and Shankh-Brahmani River Valleys. 

After a series of discussions, the team chalked out a plan to carry out a field tour from the origins of River Tel to the point of its confluence with River Maha Nadi.  Hence, this plan of programme was named as Tel River Eco-Expedition and Study (TREES) Programme.



The past and present context relating to various development models, particularly, big dams, mega power projects, constructed in adivasi belts, were elaborately discussed among the participants in these meetings. The following are some of the observations in the context: -

A good number of rivers have originated from the central highlands, comprising hill ranges of Vindhyas, Satpudas, and Sahyadris.  Most of these rivers forming natural networks with tributaries and branches provided water on their way flowing through Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh and ultimately empting into the Bay of Bengal.  Majority of the adivasi populations live in these parts of the country.  For ages these aboriginal and other indigenous people have been dependant on these rivers and forests to eke out a sustainable livelihood.

Influenced by western development models and supported by WB, IMF etc, government framed policies comprising construction of big dams, mega power projects, and mining projects in this belt. Consequently, vast areas of forests, habitations of a great number of indigenous people and a number of species of flora and fauna, were destroyed, perished or displaced.

If we think about the region comprising Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, we can see that many big dams, barrages and the like have been constructed on upper parts of the Maha Nadi, Tel, Shankh, Koel, Brahmani, Indrawati, Severna Rekha and other rivers.

By construction of these dams and barrages, not only was the water is siphoned away from the area; but so were many other natural resources siphoned away to other regions. Though some people in the lower part, i.e. command area of the dams, got benefits of irrigation and electricity, thousands of indigenous people were displaced from their homes, hearths and homeland.  They were displaced and despatched to new colonies, which were established in comparatively less fertile area. 

Some others were given some money in the name of compensation by under-valuation of their properties, but many others were left uncounted, uncared for and to wander around to cry in the wilderness or to migrate as labour, or rickshaw-pullers or were compelled under the circumstances to take to become sex workers for survival.  Contrary to expectations of benefit, these big dams failed miserably in controlling flood or providing irrigation.  Due to reckless destruction of forest in the catchments area or watershed areas, there is increasing siltation, which has lowered the expected life and productive capacity of these big dams.

In additions, many industrial units have been installed on the shores of these rivers.  Although these industrial units are using water of these rivers and the canals of river projects, they are not checking or treating waste, effluents, arsenic residue, which adds to pollution of the same water resources.  All these development models or so-called modern temples of development have given birth to a large number of burning problems and critical issues.



1-        Deforestation and depletion of minor forest produce,

2-        Loss of bio-diversity and extinction of species of pants, animals, birds,

3-        Flood, Siltation and water–logging,

4-        Displacement and Migration,

5-        Land-alienation and Land-encroachment,

6-        Loss of traditional occupation and cottage industries,

7-        Pollution of air, water, soil,

8-        Land degradation by mono-cropping, excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides,

9-        Galloping unemployment and

10-     Anti-people and anti-nature polices such as NEP.

Big dams and mega projects have created imbalances in different regions.  There are benefits for some people in some pockets by supply of water, power, grains and affluence; whereas the unprivileged and the deprived, who were/are living in the water-catchments areas, have been facing acute problems of scarcity of water and lack of all other basic needs of life.

Due to reckless deforestation ground water level has gone down.  On the other hand, surface water of these areas has been polluted due to carelessness of industrial units and mining operations.  Consequently, life saving water has become scarce and is used as marketable good. 

As stated earlier, two geographical regions of Orissa, one on Tel – Maha Nadi river basin and the other on the Koel-Karo, Shankh-Brahmani valleys are covered under Indian Rivers Network.



River Tel is the biggest tributary of the biggest river Maha Nadi in Orissa. The River Maha Nadi originates from Bastar Region of Chhatisgarh. Many big dams have been already constructed on the river and many more dams are still proposed to be constructed. 

One such longest dam is constructed across River Maha Nadi is at Hirakud, measuring up to 25 km length with five km. Length of the dam is of concrete structure.  This big dam had displaced lakhs of indigenous people, many of whom are not yet rehabilitated even after 40 years. 

Another such big dam is proposed to be constructed on its tributary named Tel in Santhal block, where there is an ordinance factory of the Defence Ministry producing gunpowder, arms and ammunition.  Here, the adivasis were displaced and many of these may again displace in their lifetime if the Tel Dam is constructed.  And then more industrial units are expected to come up on the Tel River Valley, as many vested interest groups have been trying to encroach on the land on the banks of the river. 

Under such circumstances, an initiative has been taken named as TREES (Tel River Eco-Expedition and Study) Programme, which has been working on the issue since the last three years.


1.         To study and analyse critical issues in connection with damming of the river, pollution of water and land-encroachment on river banks,

2.         To generate awareness about these critical issues among the people;

3.         To identify and orient local volunteers/activists to organise, facilitate and capacitate local people in talking these issues;



1.         Establishing contacts and rapport building with people in these rivers basins by field visits, letter-writing;

2.         Awareness Generation and Critical analysis on the issues through meetings and workshops;

3.         Collection and Dissemination of relevant information related to policies, which are affecting the life of the people, land, water, etc.

4.         Capacitation building of potential community leaders and youth through training camps to be prepared for action programmes to face the onslaught of the New Economic Policies under the process of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG).



Contacts Established With The Villagers And Volunteers:

Rapport building programme was carried on by visits to 118 villages situated on the banks of River.  Five activists of five Voluntary Organisations - SHED, MEET, PAHAD, VISHAL MAITRY and LOK VIKASH PARISHAD - forming two teams and led by Mr. Ravi Kamala and Mr. Kanhu Charan Mohanty, travelled through the villages and contacted youth, women’s groups, teachers and community leaders.  Volunteers discussed with the people about past and present contexts and issues.  They collected information with respect to land, forest, water etc.



By discussions with villagers, community leaders and teachers it is found that 31 rice mills have been installed on these banks of the river.  All these mills dispose off waste, into the river.  Consequently, the inhabitants of this river basin have been suffering from chronic stomach problems such as diarrhoea, dysentery and certain gastro – intestinal disorders.

-           Many cattle and goats died by drinking polluted water,

-           Some villages said that many outside parties and influential persons had encroached on local forestland and other common land. It is important to note that, although there is some information and apprehension about issues relating to their common land, further they need to know and be aware of the all aspects of the policies, issues and their effect on their life and environment. 

-           It was suggested that a thorough study programme, with analysis and sharing of information was very much required.  The villagers eagerly expressed their willingness to co-operate with the volunteers, if a detailed study could be carried out during Padayatra (Foot march) through their villages.

-           As a follow-up, letters and contacts should made with the community leaders and local volunteers from time to time.

-           During the severe floods of 2001 the people in many of these villages suffered, as they were not accustomed to such severe flood in the past many years.  Our colleagues visited some of these affected villages to help these people to rehabilitate them by arrangement of seeds of grains and vegetables from various agencies.

Interventions In Issues In Koel, Karo And Shankh-Brahmani Valises;

After spending a period of time TREES programme and another period of time in cyclone affected area, Mr. Kanhu Charan Mohanty concentrated in a action programme to check pollution of river Karo at its place of origin in Tensa valley in Sundargarh District of Orissa.

The River Karo joins with the South-Koel in Jharkhand.  South Koel enters Orissa and joins with River Shankh at Veda Vyas near Rourkela from where it is named as Brahmani. 

All these rivers are highly polluted and there are already a number of dams and barrages on them. Besides, more dams are still proposed to be constructed.  The indigenous people have been struggling for their existence in their homeland and to protect their common-property resources. 

In Jharkhand, indigenous communities have been agitating against the damming of Koel-Karo.  Inspired by the activists of Koel-Karo Movement, the team Tensa valley started organizing the adivasis against the pollution of Karo caused by excessive mining operations. 

To cite one of the examples, the Jindal Company has taken over vast areas of forest and hills on lease and is carrying out opencast mining of iron ore, which is one of the most pollution-making processes. 

In this process, the most valuables patches of evergreen and deciduous forests having great number of Sal Trees have been clear-felled.  The Sal forest if destroyed cannot easily regenerate.  These Sal Trees help to increases ground water table.  Thus, the people and animals have been facing acute scarcity of safe drinking water.  Due to open-cast-mining operations and crosser machines, the environment including air, water and soil has been polluted excessively.

In the earlier years, the local adivasis were engaged in these mines. The mine-owners have today installed labour saving devices through machines with automatic systems.  As a result, many local adivasis firstly female-labourer, are retrenched. Besides, adivasis are facing scarcity of safe drinking water, loss of fertile agricultural land and loss of forest-based work, which was their secondary occupation. 

Under such circumstances, indigenous people including Bhuiyans and Mundas are organised to be aware of these issues and to take action.  Being educated by the Fellows of SWARAJ, under IRN the local tribal youths and women of 12 villages of Koida Block, submitted memorandum against mine-owners and crosser machines-owners to take proper care measures and to check pollution of the Karo river.  As a result, the Jindal Company has constructed some canals for separate use the water the river for its mining industries.

Mr. Ravi Kamala toured 12 adivasis villages in Tensa Valley with Mr. Kanhu Charan Mohanty and other local volunteers.  The villagers shared their experiences and gave information regarding the policies, provisions of mining rules.  They elaborately discussed about the implications of New Economic Policy and its connection with automation and modernisation of mining operations, which adversely affect the environment and the life of these indigenous people.  The Fellows also shared their experience and information about the people’s successful action programme and inspiring struggle in other parts.

By Mr. Ravi Kamala & Mr. Kanhu Ch. Mohanty


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*    IRN – Kerala