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The virtual reality of being Indian

The remoteness of 190 villages in Orissa's undivided Koraput district is an elegy on governance. Over five decades, living in islands inside huge reservoirs, some 20,000 people became virtually non-existent. Excuses apart -- there is no provision that technically defines a situation where people get marooned in a reservoir -- the Orissa government, in particular, and the system, in general, has refused to acknowledge their existence

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

-- THE remoteness of 190 villages in Orissa's undivided Koraput district (see: In search of the missing) is an elegy on governance. Over five decades, living in islands inside huge reservoirs, some 20,000 people became virtually non-existent. Excuses apart -- there is no provision that technically defines a situation where people get marooned in a reservoir -- the Orissa government, in particular, and the system, in general, has refused to acknowledge their existence.

What happens to people living virtual lives? Two generations in the 150 Balimela reservoir villages have grown up illiterate. Now the government, in a rare gesture, wants to open a community-managed primary-level school under its education guarantee scheme. But this cannot be implemented, as there isn't a single matriculate from these villages who can be appointed teacher. The officials of the Upper Kolab hydroelectricity project dismissed the problem of transport in and among the villages the project marooned, saying people would gradually master the use of the country boat. But the people marooned were agriculturists: more than 200 have been killed in boat accidents in just the last few years.

The Machkund and Balimela dams came into being when the country had no rehabilitation policy. From this appalling absence in planning came the equally bizarre decision to completely exclude local people from the project equation. By the time the Upper Kolab dam came up in the 1980s, a rehabilitation policy -- tentative, patchy -- existed, but once more the imperative of project implementation pushed out the human factor. Forty villages got cut off due to faulty reservoir design.

It is an enormous human crisis. Government can't bring these people back to civilisation because such investment does not guarantee financial return: so says the local member of the legislative assembly (MLA), justifying the plight of these people. The 20,000 people have become lifeless statistics. These numbers can never turn into a profitable balance sheet for agents of governance, like the MLA.

A country with over one billion human souls can never afford governance that doesn't factor humanity in all that it does. The absence of humanity is really why 190 villages today continue to live virtual lives.

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