January 28, 2008
Jharsuguda, 360 km off
The town, till recently famous only for its airport built during World War II, is home to the likes of Vedanta Alumina, Bhushan Steel and Power, SPS Power & Steel, SMC Power Generation, Jain Steel & Power, Action Ispat, Eastern Steel and Power, L&T, NTPC and still counting.
“If you know how to take along local people with you and if you are equally concerned about their livelihood, you shouldn’t have any problem when you need land for industry,” says a senior Vedanta official.
The company has already built “Ma Sambaleswari Nagar”, the rehabilitation township for 148 displaced families and is building a state-of-the-art hospital. A spokesman at the district collectorate, which acquires land for the government, points out: “These places were never known for their fertile land. So, if the local landowners find that they actually stand to gain by offering their land to industry, why would they resist?”
We (BT lensman and I) get a feel of what the local people have in mind, as we get down from our hired car at a village called Bhashma, on the banks of river Ib. The locals muster around us to find out if we are prospective landbuyers. They also ask us if we plan to carry out some development work like bridges—quite a contrast to the reporter’s experience some months ago at Singur.
They animatedly tell us that their neighbours have already sold their land for a good price to “some company”. The group of locals, however, is not clear how this land will be used.
Jain Group’s Sen elaborates on that. “There will be a modern township— possibly the first satellite township with a nine-hole golf course in the state on the banks and surrounding the river,” he explains.
Not surprisingly, the locals are hardly complaining. Says Shapath Pathan: “We were working with a local brick field for small daily wages. But with these large companies coming up with large projects, things look brighter for us.”
Another local Sushil Dash seconds him promptly: “At the end of the day, what matters most is how comfortable we are with what we earn and how much we can send to our families.”
The surprises don’t end here. As we stand at what the locals call “The China Town” at Jharsuguda, we encounter a large number of Chinese engineers and support staff.
As we move towards Jharsuguda Airport, built during World War II and now almost defunct except for private jets used by large industries, the sprawling facility also offers a story of transition. Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has already announced plans to upgrade facilities at Jharsuguda Airport, an official at Jharsuguda Development Authority says.
This township will have provisions for 24-hour solar energy supply and an eco-friendly environment. As the first flight from this mineral-rich district of western Orissa promises to take off shortly, so does the place itself.
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