By Rusen Kumar
As one travels into the heart of the south-western Odisha, Vedanta’s alumina refinery can be seen positioned at the base of the majestic Niyamgiri hills. Pockets of hamlets are scattered beside the main highway without streetlights and possibly no electricity during the night. Yet, as we move closer to the refinery, signs of a developed and nucleated civilisation spring into scene.
Lanjigarh is largely tribal inhabited region in the district of Kalahandi. Today, years after the Vedanta faced the Niyamgiri setback, it has got back up on its feet and embraced the local communities amongst whom it thrives. Much has changed manifestly in all these years as one encounters signs of development concentrated around the plant and explores further as one moves along.
A rehabilitation colony presents itself as one approaches the foothill of Niyamgiri. Named as Niyamgiri Vedanta Nagar (NVN), the displaced people of three villages namely Borbhata, Kinari and Sindhbahal have been resettled and rehabilitated since the project phase. Today, 116 families have occupied houses out of 123 constructed – each family having access to a 45 sq. mtrs. pucca house with toilet, water and electricity facilities.
These come along with certain basic facilities for the entire settlement such as black-top road, drainage system, market complex, school building, child care centre, streetlights and a medical facility.
“We are fortunate to come out of the darkness which made us feel unsafe a decade ago. Today, my family and I have access to electricity, clean drinking water and a good hospital”, says Basudev Majhi, a resident of the NVN.
A Vedanta official informed that till date, the company has spent about 175 crores on various CSR initiatives in the region. It reaches out to 40 core villages covering around 2 lakh people cumulatively through direct and indirect CSR projects. Under the health initiatives umbrella AAROGYA, the services have an outreach of more than 1.2 lakh people annually.
As a result, the area has been declared to have Zero malarial deaths in last four years. Immunization has increased to from 35% to 95% and no there has been no diarrhoeal outbreak since long.
“I was the sole breadwinner for my family before my eyesight slowly vanished. Fortunately for me, doctors at Vedanta Hospital assured me that it could be cured and enrolled me in a free cataract surgery camp. I am also thankful that we do have such a hospital near our homes. Otherwise we had to go all the way to Bhawanipatna (60 kms. away) to get treated”, says 65-year-old Mangulu Majhi from Lanjigarh village.
Vedanta has set up a premier English medium school in Lanjigarh in 2006 in partnership with the DAV Educational board. From 7 students in 2006 to over 1000 students in 2017, DAV Vedanta International School, Lanjigarh is well equipped with smart classes, laboratories, kindergarten etc.
It is also a spectacular achievement in itself that almost 40% of the students studying in the school are first generation learners in their family.
Project AAJEEVIKA, their livelihood program, addresses the need of upliftment of the rural poor residing in villages around plant. It comprises of four pillars – Women Empowerment, Youth Employment, Farming and Non-farming initiatives, and Entrepreneurship Development. PROJECT SAKHI promotes 220 women SHGs with more than 2200 women to encourage for alternative livelihood activities.
Setting up farmers clubs, farming assistance to needy farmers and promoting entrepreneurs in the region are few of the initiatives being implemented by the company.
One of the major visible changes in the landscape that has occurred is the infrastructure development work that has benefitted the locals. Linkage infrastructure such as drinking water supply pipe-line, check dam, school and hospital building, high level bridges, roads, community hall, and electrification etc. have significantly contributed to improve the quality of life of the people.
One key investment that Vedanta has made in the area is to enhance the productivity of the local farmers. Working with the block and district administration (OLIC), Vedanta has recently implemented a Lift Irrigation System in Lanjigarh and Narayanpur to ensure irrigation facilities to approximately 100 acres of land of 114 farmers in the locality, company informed.
Two lift irrigation points with 16 water outlets have been constructed in these villages. The Lift Irrigation Project, an initiative by Vedanta, aims to solve the irrigation issues so that the lands can be utilized to their fullest potential.
The transformation in Lanjigarh is evident and the opportunities for development are also huge. Through a decade of responsible social integration, the revolution in the socio-economic landscape of the region can be seen and felt.
(Rusen Kumar recently visited Lanjigarh under his CSR Yatra.)