Orissa is where
the steel giant proposes to invest. Mahesh Bhat travels
to the state’s industrial belt to find it is an infrastructural
If the potholes
don’t get you, the dust will and if the dust doesn’t, then
the mother of all traffic jams certainly will. We were on our way to
Joda from Bhubaneswar. Joda is an iron-mining town in Orissa’s
Keonjarh district and borders Jharkand. The 300 km journey was smooth
till about 15 km from Joda. There were thousands of trucks lined up
on either side of the road to Joda and other vehicles were plying in
between. It took us six hours to cover the last 15 km. This is a daily
feature in Joda, according to residents. “This is not life, it
is more like a jail sentence” says NB Mishra, a resident.
We were driving on
National Highway 215 that connects the towns of Panikoili and Rajamunda
in Orissa. It passes through Joda and Berbil. Though it is a national
highway, there is no road. It is worse than a mine. The 15-20 km on either
side of the highway to Joda is a huge pothole. Thousands of trucks ply
between Joda and Paradeep. It is so difficult to travel on this road that
recently it took someone two days to bring a dead body from Rourkela.
People have no choice but to travel by two-wheelers, caked in dust. We
reached Joda well past 9 PM and the next day we went to Serenda, a few
kilometres away. It was 8am and the traffic jam was so severe that we
had to abandon our Qualis and go on a two-wheeler. At places, even two-wheelers
could not move any further. By the time we returned the jam had cleared,
trucks were moving but the dust was rising sky high. There was a thick
dust cover on us when we reached Joda.
Joda has been an
iron-mining centre since the 1950s. The Tatas, the Birlas, the Jindals
and just about everyone has a large presence there. A railway line would
have eased the transportation problems. It took several decades for
the government to start building one. Work is on now but the date for
its completion is not in sight. With the increase in demand for iron
and steel, mining is on in full swing.
Of Life: A truck on the road from Joda to Berbil, NH
It is so difficult
to travel on this road that recently it took someone two days
to bring a dead body from Rourkela to Joda. People have no choice
but to travel by two-wheelers
Dirty open sewers,
stench, dust and traffic jams are Joda’s hallmarks. It seems that
the mining companies and government have done precious little to improve
the living conditions here. However there is a body called a Peripheral
Development Committee (PDC) headed by the district collector which comprises
government officials and elected representatives. This panel decides
the developmental work to be done in a 25 km area around the mines.
Mining companies fund these activities to an extent. Residents say confusion
reigns between the mining companies and the PDC and nothing gets done
as a result of it.
has earned so much revenue from this area but does not do any developmental
work,” says Laximdhar Prushti, a leader of the Mines and Forest
Workers’ Union of Berbil. Physician Arvind Panda is more vocal.
“My feeling is that the lung function capacity of the people living
on either side of NH 215 or the people travelling regularly on this
road is only 40-60 percent. I really do not think that they can live
beyond 60,” adds Panda. Industrialists who come here want to earn
money and not put anything back into the land that has given them the
riches, he says. The big companies conduct health camps and distribute
free medicines once in a while and is just an eyewash, says Panda.
People in the area
also fault their elected representatives for not doing anything to improve
the area. District Collector Sushil Kumar Lohani said that the upgradation
of the road is the responsibility of the National Highways Authority
of India (NHAI) and the tender for converting the road into a six-lane
highway will be floated in September this year. And the work would be
taken up in due course. He also stated that rectification work of the
Joda-Berbil section of NH 215 was awarded to contractors in 2005. At
that point a tender scam came to light in Orissa and all the contractors
who were awarded the project were put behind bars and the project stalled.
The unprecedented demand for iron ore has resulted in the increase of
truck traffic exponentially, says Lohani.
Iron ore is mined
and shipped across the country and the world. The condition of the road
leading to Joda remains pathetic, so does the quality of life of the
people. It is significant to note that the mines border the 5,800-hectare
Sidhamatha reserved forest, which is elephant territory. In fact, nh
215 cuts across the elephant corridor. The official website of the Orissa
government states that there are tigers here as well. The state of the
forest and the tigers, is for anybody to guess.