When 75-year-old Kalindi Charana Behera was a child, the sea was three full kilometres from his house. Today, his five-acre farm land is deep under water and he had to shift his home nine times to keep the sea from swallowing it up.
Behera is not alone. Almost all the 600-odd families of the Satabhaya gram panchayat, in Orissa’s Kendrapara district, have shifted at least four times.
The panchayat comprised seven villages. Today, only Satabhaya remains. Hundreds of houses, more than 2,000 acres of paddy fields, temples, a 125-year-old high school and a summer palace of the local royalty have gone under.
The last village, Kanhupur, disappeared in 2011. Satabhaya escaped by relocating twice. The price it paid was in farmland. The acreage has shrunk to 200.
“It is a disaster that is gradually affecting the villagers. Unfortunately, the government is not seriousness about rehabilitating them,” said environmentalist and convener of Odisha Water Initiative Ranjan Panda.
The state government, which woke to the situation a decade ago, still doesn’t have a plan. In 2002, chief minister Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation of a rehabilitation colony at Bagapatia, 10 km from Satabhaya. But the land acquisition process started eight years later. “And even now, the area has a large chunk of private land that we need to acquire before building can begin,” said Kendrapara collector Niranjan Nayak.
Fed up with the delay, a majority of around 3,000 people moved to neighbouring Okilpada. Those left behind are so poor, they have nowhere to go. Development has been caught in a time warp. Kerosene oil and a few solar panels provide light at night. The local school runs from a mud hut. A mud walkway flanked by crocodile-infested mangroves connects Satabhaya and Okilpada.
One either walks or takes two-wheelers. The source of livelihood is shrinking. The paddy fields are flooded with saline water. And fishing is restricted as Satabhaya comes under the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary and the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary.
“We are nobody’s people. Maybe we are too small a number to be counted as a vote bank. Maybe the government thinks we will just move along as Satabhaya goes down the sea,” said Sajani Jena, 39, a daily wage labourer.