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Economy

Cyclone-ravaged Orissa village gets self-reliant after building a dam
Jatindra Dash
BHUBANESWAR 27 MARCH
UNDETERRED by the havoc wreaked by last year's super cylcone, residents of a tiny Orissa village have in a remarkable self-help effort constructed a dam on a river whose waters are irrigating nine villages in the area.
The residents of the Betali village in the Bhadrak area have constructed the 400 metre-long and 6.1 metre-high dam on the Baitarani river which is helping irrigate 10,600 acres of cultivable land in the area, say villagers. "No funds were received either from the government or from any voluntary organisation to construct the dam,” says Chittaranjan, convenor of the Lokmandal, an organisation of social activists which has been teaching villagers how to solve their problems on their own.
"We are also raising prohibition issues and issues of land belonging to tribes people,” he says. The organisation has around 22,000 members, most of whom work in 16 districts in coastal and tribal Orissa."We had gone to this village soon after the cyclone last year to offer food for work,” says Mr Chittaranjan. "We saw people there are very energetic and hard working. Since they did not have other sources of income for their survival we suggested ways in which they could make a living. We had given the idea of a dam which when constructed on the local Baitarani river could provide them with bread and butter. They raised the money and contributed physical labour,” he said.
"They started the construction on December 22 last year and it got completed and became operational on January 27, within 36 days. Every day more than 800 people from the villages worked together day and night. People of Betali, mostly farmers, were starving after the devastation caused by the cyclone, says Mr Chittaranjan. "The crops were washed away and the houses were damaged,” says Dibakara Sahu, 55, who had to take care of an 18-member family. "The construction of the dam came as a big help to us, adding that he had been able to grow vegetables on his four-acre land because plenty of water had been made available from the dam. We earn Rs150 to Rs200 every day by selling vegetables in the local market,” he claims. Sahu is not alone. Most villagers in Betali and its eight neighbouring villages have reason to smile as they know they will survive even without government help. "Before the construction, our lives were in danger and we were almost without hope, but now we are happy,” Mr Sahu says.
"My one-and-a-half acres of land would have remained infertile but for waters from this dam,” says Sahadev Jena of Betali. "The land is now being used and we have been producing vegetables,” he says.— IANS
"While people are migrating in large numbers to other states in search of jobs, the villagers of Betali have shown how to be self-reliant and live with dignity," says Mr Chittaranjan. "Now people of Betali and its neighbouring villages have come together and decided to make it a permanent construction by raising funds on their own, without depending on anybody," he says. "Villagers in large numbers are coming forward and are trying to live with out depending on government help,” says Bijoya Parida, a former village council chief.
"The government has been spending millions of rupees but the return is zero. People can solve their own problems and that has been proved by the Betali experiment,” he says.—IANS



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