Twenty-eight-year-old Sricharan Malik has fond childhood memories of his coastal village in northern Odisha. Living in one of the seven villages under the Satabhaya gram panchayat, Sricharan’s family and other villagers depended on farming, cattle rearing and fisheries for livelihood. Despite being cut off from the closest town due to patchy roads, the villagers were self-sufficient and led a peaceful life surrounded by the Bay of Bengal, lush paddy fields, a river and marshy forest land.
However, Satabhaya is no longer home for Sricharan and numerous others. Living in the gram panchayat had become risky after rapid coastal erosion. Sricharan says village elders remembered the sea being nearly four kilometres away in their childhood. Over the years, the region has also increasingly become cyclone prone.
According to the National Centre for Coastal Research, Odisha lost 28 per cent of its 485-km-long coastline between 1999 and 2016 to seawater intrusion. CEEW analysis found that Kendrapara district has recorded a 3X and 2X increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme floods and cyclones, respectively, since 2000.
In 2018, the state government relocated over 530 families from Satabhaya to Bagapatia. Sitting in front of the house allotted by the government as part of the Indira Awaz Yojana, Sricharan has mixed emotions. “Our lives are secure now, but our means of livelihood is lost. We now have to pay for everything, including drinking water,’’ Sricharan says while being grateful to the government for the new house.
Families relocated from Satabhaya due to coastal erosion have been allotted homes in Bagapatia. Photo: Shawn Sebastian
With a lack of access to agricultural land and fisheries and no means available for cattle rearing, most youngsters were forced to migrate to states such as Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi in search of livelihoods, primarily as wage labourers.
Sudarshan Raut, a social worker and the former Sarpanch of Satabhaya, appreciates the rehabilitation efforts of the government. However, he points out that the government must go beyond saving lives as unemployment rates have spiked in the community.
“We have a safe shelter above our heads, and our lives are secure. Now, we need livelihood support and infrastructure development in Bagapatia to stop the outward migration,’’ Sudarshan says. The villagers have made a plea to the government to provide two acres of land for all the families who were displaced, he adds.
Young men play a round of cards in Bagapatia. Ever since the resettlement, unemployment severed-forcing many young to migrate out for work. Photo: Shawn Sebastian
Sarda Malik, a 47-year-old farmer, also lost his two-acre paddy field to coastal erosion in Satabhaya. Like several other young adults in the village trying to support their families, his son is also a migrant labourer in Kerala. Sarda hopes that his son can return home before long. He feels that gaining access to agricultural land can help secure their livelihoods in Bagapatia.
Meanwhile, Sricharan, who was on a one-month break from his workplace in Kerala, has to return soon. This time, he is taking his younger brother along as it will help his family with additional income.
“It’s always sad when the train departs from Odisha. “Once there are employment opportunities or land to farm here, I wish to come back and live with my family,” Sirchan says.
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