On January 13, 1957, the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Hirakud dam, calling it the temple of modern India. It has submerged more than 360 villages (1,23,000 acres of land) and displaced 26,561 families. Out of these displaced families, around 11,000 families and their successors have been residing in the periphery of the Hirakud reservoir in 34 unsurveyed villages.
The dam's primary objective was to control flooding in the Mahanadi delta. Secondary objectives included providing water for irrigation and drinking, generating hydropower, aiding fisheries and navigation.
The government of India had promised all basic amenities to those displaced. This included agricultural lands with irrigation facilities, education and health services in the resettled areas. They were also to be employed to compensate for what they lost out on but these promises have not been fulfilled even after six decades.
Since 1995, the displaced, with the help of a people's organisation, Budianchal Sangram Samiti (BSS), started fighting for their land rights and had actively participated in several people's movement activities. The people demanded and asked the government to convert 34 unsurveyed villages located on the bank of the Hirakud reservoir into revenue villages along with other demands. Without converting the unsurveyed land into a revenue village, it was not possible for the displaced to benefit from government schemes such as Indira Aawas (housing project), kisan credit card, caste certificates, resident certificate, land certificate, etc.
On March 28, 2017, the government finally gave permission and declared the surveyed land for the displaced as revenue villages. After a struggle for more than 50 years, the unsurveyed villages got converted into revenue villages.
India is the third largest dam builder in the world with more than 5,100 large dams built to date. Since 1947, the construction of 4,300 large dams has displaced more than 4.4 million people across India. There are lakhs of such displaced people still struggling to live a decent life. "Even though we have won the battle of converting the government land into revenue villages, a lot needs to be done," says Gopinath Majhi, the general secretary of Budianchal Sangram Samiti.