Development Resource & Training Centre (DRTC), CYSD, Bhubaneswar:
A 2-days Workshop on “Water conflicts in Odisha: Issues and way forward” has been organized during 28th – 29th, March, 2011 at Bhubaneswar by ‘Odisha State Centre’ of the ‘Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India’. Environmental activists, thinkers, academicians, Government Officials, Farmer leader’s and Civil Society Organizations from different parts of the state participated in the workshop along with members of the National Steering Committee of Forum to discuss about the ongoing and emerging water conflicts in different geographies of the state.
Inaugural Session: Chairman Prof. Bibhuti Pattnaik and Chief Guest Prof. Trilochan Pradhan:
The inaugural session started with the welcome address by Tapan Padhi. He introduced the chief guest Dr. Trilochan Pradhan and Dr. Bibhuti Pattnaik and other dignitaries. Then he requested the participant for brief self introductions. After this formality, K J Joy of SOPPECOM in his introductory remark briefly described the evolution, objectives and contributions of the forum. In his description he informed that the Forum (Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India) is a very loose network of institutions and individuals, which started five years back, engaging with and trying to understand serious issues of water conflict around the different geographies of India. In the first phase the forum tried to understand the water conflict and started documenting the various issues of water conflict in the country. In the second phase it is engaged to develop different approaches and methodologies towards conflict documentation, resolution and prevention. Apart from working with two state centres at Odisha and Kerala to document and to attempt methodologies for engaging with active conflict, forum has also put together two working groups for taking up studies towards conflict prevention. One group has deliberated on the entitlement and allocation for life, livelihoods and ecosystem, and its report has recently been released by Mr Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and forest, Govt of India. Another working group has been working on institution, legal aspects related to water and conflict resolution.
He also informed that the forum is regularly guided by a national steering committee and a national advisory committee comprising of activists, academicians and environmentalists, working on water issues in different parts of India. He also touched upon the objective and process of Forum’s engagement with Water Conflicts in Odisha, through Baitarani Initiative of Shristi, which subsequently elaborated by Project coordinator of the state Centre, Pranab Choudhury.
After Joy’s introductory remark, Project coordinator of the State Centre, Pranab Choudhury, presented about the work of the Forum in the state, objectives and an overall situation of water conflicts across sectors, geographies and basins in the state. There had been a spurt in water conflicts of late, he said, in response to state’s development trajectory as a result of increased citizen concerns, media appreciation and political patronizations. Now revolutions around state’s rivers have become common and social movements around water are spreading fast with reverberations and linkages with anti-industrialization and displacement campaigns. Informing about the twin objectives of workshop in this backdrop, he briefed about the agenda of sharing and discussion on 27 conflict case studies documented through local resource persons and about the session planned on sharing and discussion around the action research work on engaging with Hirakud water conflict.
Thereafter, the chief guest, Padmabibhusana Prof. Trilochan Pradhan, Ex-Vice Chancellor and senior academician highlighted on the need of protection of agricultural land from the construction of bigger dam project and reiterated the need to create more barrages. He also outlined many issues on water conflict and the role of water on the growth of civilization. Again he held that the rivers are nature’s tray for water and they carry the socio-cultural and religious sentiment of the people throughout the years. Floods are not bad always, he pointed out. It deposits minerals and other micro-nutrient that helps in agricultural output. He suggested for a comprehensive river mapping system with regular update. Towards the conflict resolution he said creating awareness is not enough but we need to have pragmatic engagement to solve the ongoing and potential problems.
The inaugural session was presided by the noted odia novelist and socialist Prof. Bibhuti Patnaik who remarked that the growing water conflicts may lead to the Third World War and the present trends indicate the beginning of the process. He cited the example of POSCO, a South Korean steel company, entry of which has led to many violence, disturbances and movements in Odisha. He described Dams with particular reference to Hirakud reservoir are modern temple but such temples are not presided by the deities but by the devils. When dams constructed the most affected are poorer section of people of SCs and STsCommunities. He quoted the story of a tribal Sambharu, a dam-displaced who used to work as a labour in the dam construction, as told by a retired engineer from the dam. Sambharu showed his courage and exposed his chest to withstand the force of impounding of water to plug of a difficult leak during dam construction. Later after the completion of dam and flow of its benefits to downstream, the engineer got promotion and was transferred to state capital. There one day, he found a old tribal showing monkey-dance in the public to eke livelihoods, who he could recognize as the same Sambharu. By telling the story, Mr Patnaik, tried to reiterate the cost that the displaced has paid for the dam construction and how it has further dispossessed them, while transferring benefits to handful few. The inaugural session ended with the vote of thanks by P R Choudhury.
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