Strange Case of Lanjigarh where Govt Works & CSR takes Credit

By Tapas Muduli:  The Lanjigarh Block consists of twenty-six Gram-Panchayats out of which two Gram-Panchayats, Tirlochanpur and Basantapada have the highest number of Dongria Kondhs. The Kondhs are the ‘first’ natives of the hinterlands of the Niyamgiri Dangar (Hills). They consider themselves, rightfully so, the royal descendants of the Niyam Raja (The King Lord of Niyamgiri).

In recent history, Niyamgiri mining pushback has been the rare legitimate community voice, action which has successfully protected forests, flora and fauna against relentless, murky mining war machine. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this is this century’s biggest/protracted war on organized mining mafia fought by marginalized indigenous communities.

The strange case of Lanjigarh where Govt works & CSR takes credit

The government’s developmental support in the area is worth mentioning and extolling. Forest is where the trillions of our economy are stored and this is where the steel and aluminum barons hover around, hoping to prey someday. Its so lucrative that its worth the wait. Never mind the occasional community uprisings and local skirmishes. That’s a small risk quotient for them, weighed against supranormal profits they are going to rake in.

The government of Odisha has been developing the area and the quality of life for the natives on Mission mode. The area and its people exist today only because of the government. Today the extraction industries can no longer hark on the development story which they once promised to the people and the state. Government is directly executing comprehensive development programs for the communities, across age groups and demographies. In the absence of any civil society organisations working for the communities, the local governments, both Rayagada and Kalahandi, have taken the wind out of the sails of the corporates. The CSR of local big industry has been rendered marginal, fringe and namesake. The NGOs working at Lanjigarh are the contractors (technically they are) of the local industry and have ceased to be social change organizations, in sprit.

On the other hand, the government workers and agencies like the KKDA and DKDA (Kutia Kondh Development Agency) and (Dongria Kondh Development Agency), Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Programs (OPELIP) are located in the middle of the communities, they speak the local Kui dialect, and respect the local clan system, which makes the eco system conducive to bring about changes.

The CSR teams of the local industry have outsiders and English/Hindi speaking, laptop brandishing professionals who grossly lack local community connection. Dongria Kondhs are the original inhabitants of the forest for centuries. They are progressive beyond imagination, in their social norms and practices. Males and females have equal social standing. Remarriages are common for divorced or widowed women and men. They are not bound or shrunk by religions dogmas because for them the Supreme is Nature. The Kondh communities have places designed like youth-dormitories/hostels for adolescent boys and girls, as a part of their cultural indoctrination and education. In this mixed group they are oriented to social taboos, myths, legends, stories, riddles, proverbs along with singing and merry making and learning the content and happy ways of the tribe. In the tribes, we find the happiness, which we search lifetime among Happiness Indices, Human Development Indices, and the labyrinths of social and scientific studies.

The strange case of Lanjigarh where Govt works & CSR takes credit

The CSR professionals working in this area need a work certificate endorsing their work in ‘remote, tribal, aspirational district’ of Odisha. This reference will catapult them to the highest echelons of their careers and make their foreign university application look invincible. What about the local people, who are the actual true referees? For the young social work professionals, working in Lanjigarh is a guarantee for better placements, global studies and a secured career. That’s all. All the development work is implemented by the government agencies but the credit for the outreach and the social work is taken by the local CSR. Strange but true. The CSR honcho, the locals say, takes more interest in the expansion of the industry (large scale investments) than community development, for reasons quite unknown.

In a recent research of Quality of Life of Community (Dongria Kondhs), an extensive and rapid field visit-cum-study was conducted in different pre-selected villages of Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district the month of April (Chaitra) in 2022.

The strange case of Lanjigarh where Govt works & CSR takes credit

Out of two selected villages from Basantapada G.P., one village is adopted by the industry and the other village by Kutia Kondha Development Agency (KKDA), Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Programs (OPELIP) agencies. Practically the entire development work in both the villages are done by the government agencies. People are aware of this but when it comes to photographs and showing under the CSR work in glossy annual reports, the industry shows all this confidently as their work. But everyone in the area are tight lipped about this. All the villages from Tirlochanpur G.P. are dominantly inhibited by Dongria Kondhs, Kutia Kondhs and Harijan masses but they don’t get any support from the industry. The industry by now, and with all this publicity, must have bagged many national and international CSR awards.

Phuldumer village is situated at the lower foothills of Niyamgiri Dangar/Hills. This village is also known by Phuldumer- Harijanpada, because most of the households are Harijan/Domb and belong to Scheduled Caste, except a few households belongs to Dongria Kondhs. The village has a total population of 21 individuals (both adults and children). Males are nine in number and females twelve. There are eight households, out of which, only three belong to Dongria Kondhs. The residents have got Swachh Bharat Abhiyan toilet facilities, Solar Panel electricity supply to individual houses and Solar-pump system connected with overhead water tanks.

Government has supported but the operations of the Solar pumps has not been maintained by the CSR and so due to non-functioning of Solar Pumps during rains, the villagers made their own hand-pumps by collecting funds from the community. No drainage or garbage disposal system is demarked. The village doesn’t have any schools and only one Anganwadi Centre exists in the Government building. The industry CSR covers the entire area and all the work under its portfolio, while the development has happened only due to the government implementations. Can the CSR not help the government schemes and make them more effective. While the government is making large scale capital expenses, can’t the CSR do the maintenance, at least? Is it such a big ask, when they are getting all the benefits from showcasing the entire community work as their own work?

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The strange case of Lanjigarh where Govt works & CSR takes credit

Palberi is the village situated above Phuldumer (Upper), in the mid-lower foothills of Niyamgiri hills. There are no well-defined roads, except the visible footpath, through the emerald green hilly forest. The only way to reach this village is by walking through the nature for 1 Km. The village is inhabited by the Dongria Kondhs community with no other community residing. The total population of the village is 20 individuals. The female population is eleven and male nine including both adults and children. There are  eight households.  The Block Development Office of Lanjigarh (BDO, Lanjigarh) has provided each household the Solar Panels and battery to support the electricity needs. The CSR has not supported the maintenance of the solar panels and the villagers are forced to sell the batteries to automobile garages of Lanjigarh at throwaway prices. The villagers had requested the CSR team but no drainage or garbage disposal system is in place and they throw their garbage and other wastes at the outskirts of the village. The village doesn’t have any schools.

Ambaguda has one functional Solar-powered pump and water tank system and two bore-wells, and both are provided by BDO Lanjigarh. Electricity is available in this village. But the villagers have been requesting the CSR team for Street lamps/Lamp posts but in vain. Toilets are dysfunctional because of lack of maintenance. In many projects, the industry CSR team publicizes its partnership with the government but the field reality says a different story.

In Gandhani, various works are implemented and completed by KKDA, starting from Modern Cattle Sheds to Drainage system. The BDO Lanjigarh has provided Solar-powered pump and water tanks which are well maintained because of community ownership. The KKDA provides the villagers with various crop seeds like potato, chilly, brinjal, tomato, maize, ragi along with horticulture plantations like hill brooms, cashew and mango. The youths of this village were engaged as drivers in tractors and passenger vehicles. Street lamps/Lamp are needed and the CSR has never been cooperative.

The strange case of Lanjigarh where Govt works & CSR takes credit

At Dengasargi, the BDO Lanjigarh office has provided Solar-powered pump and water tanks, Tap water facilities, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan toilets along with proper demarcated drainage system. Households’ wise electricity facilities are available, but the street lamp posts are yet to reach this village. They are yet to be done because this was supposed to be completed by the CSR. The males of this village are engaged in various collections of items from Niyamgiri Dangar, alongwith other Dangar works. Very less percentage of community members are engaged in other jobs like construction worker, trowel, garage mechanics and drivers of passenger vehicles. None of the community members are engaged in any jobs at the industry. So much for developing and employing local skills and talents.

The District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) has implemented several schemes of Central and State Governments in the rural areas including poverty alleviation by involving agencies, people as well as Panchayati Raj Institutions to work from the grassroot level in block and the districts. They perform timely rural monitoring, Inspection and Supervision of development works, field visit to innermost villages, and demand reports from involved agencies to check the level of successful development. The various schemes that DRDA Kalahandi works in Lanjigarh block are PMAY (Construction of IAY Houses), NRLM (Assists Rural BPL communities), MGNREGS (Ensures wage employment), BPGY (Construction of BPGY Houses), and AGAB (Infrastructure Development in Rural Areas).

The major development works by PWD include providing good infrastructure, widening of S.H. and PMGSY roads, bridges and buildings. Lanjigarh Block comes under PWD Bhawanipatna Sub-division, and the roads connecting Lanjigarh from both Kalyansinghpur and Muniguda directions are in need of maintenance. Why can’t the CSR look after the maintenance? The roads connecting to various villages are also in the same condition.

The industry CSR has selected few Gram-Panchayats and village areas, as per their convenience and that too for limited work only. It is shocking to realize the apathy of the company towards the local communities, even when its sheer existence depends on the rich mineral resources available in the area.

The strange case of Lanjigarh where Govt works & CSR takes credit

The provisions like better roads, markets, parks, gardens, town halls, multipurpose playgrounds, public transport system, recreation centers, public toilets, cinema halls, gyms, shopping malls and various other development aspects are the core foundations of any well-developed industrial estate, which is completely missing here in Lanjigarh. The indstry is only concerned about mineral extraction and its employees/staffs, and for rest of the communities they are not sensitive.

Even they don’t bother about providing employments and try improving the quality of lives of the native PVTGs communities residing here for generations.  Under the developmental provision of “so-called” Lanjigarh Project Area Development Foundation (LPADF), the CSR has provided for only six Gram-Panchayats, out of total twenty six Gram-Panchayats with Child-care centers, claiming to provide pre-schooling facilities by supporting childcare, education and nutrition to children aged 2 to 6 years.

There are many ground level examples and will be mentioned in the forthcoming series of articles. Hats off to the Government for good work in the tribal areas and specifically at Lanjigarh and Niyamgiri.

Writer Tapas Muduli is a Community Social Worker, based in Rayagada.

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