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Upgrading a vision for a better life

Khirabhati Chhachan (right, talking to Sibaram Das, left) is one of the leaders of the town's self-help groups, and acts as their informal spokeswoman. Unusually for a tribal person, who typically stay close to their traditional lands, with Sibaram's assistance she ventured to a neighbouring state for microenterprise training. Khirabhati now passes on the knowledge she gained to other community members, and hopes to set up her own beauty parlour business soon. Another 100 women are involved in mushroom cultivation. (P. Sen/UNV)Khirabhati Chhachan (right, talking to Sibaram Das, left) is one of the leaders of the town's self-help groups, and acts as their informal spokeswoman. Unusually for a tribal person, who typically stay close to their traditional lands, with Sibaram's assistance she ventured to a neighbouring state for microenterprise training. Khirabhati now passes on the knowledge she gained to other community members, and hopes to set up her own beauty parlour business soon. Another 100 women are involved in mushroom cultivation. (P. Sen/UNV)National UNV volunteer Sibaram Das works with the Capacity Development to Operationalize Orissa Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy project in eastern India. (P. Sen/UNV)National UNV volunteer Sibaram Das works with the Capacity Development to Operationalize Orissa Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy project in eastern India. (P. Sen/UNV)
27 June 2010

Jharsuguda, Orissa State, India: Overshadowed by the cooling towers and chimneys of a newly-built power plant, the surrounding area has become a bleakly industrial landscape. Life has changed for the tribal people living here in Orissa, but UNV volunteers are helping ensure that their rights are upheld.

Industrialization and displacement in Orissa and neighbouring states is a highly politicized issue. Not only are original inhabitants, often from India's marginalized 'Scheduled Tribes', asked to leave their ancestral lands and rural lifestyles, but as the factories go up there is a swathe of immigration from neighbouring areas. This has been a cause of tension, and even violence and conflict.

UNV volunteer Sibaram Das is himself from Orissa, and not only understands the issues but speaks the local dialects too. This gives him a vital connection and insight into the needs and aspirations various stakeholders he works among under the UNDP-supported Government of Orissa Resettlement and Rehabilitation Project. (Click here to see the photo story)

"A lot of my time is spent organizing workshops to help these people stand on their own feet," says Sibaram. "My role as a UNV volunteer is to facilitate and raise awareness about what they are entitled to. I give people knowledge about they can be independent in their new circumstances. We have to upgrade their vision for a better life."

Constructed with the assistance of the Vedanta Alumina Limited Company, Maa Samaleswari Nagar resettlement colony in Orissa’s Jharsuguda district is home to about 145 families belonging to Scheduled Tribes. The dusty but clean streets are wide and open so as to give people a sense of the space they are used to, and the brick-built houses have sanitation and electricity. There is a temple, a school and a kindergarten, and there are various meeting places to help people retain a sense of community.

Jyotiranjan Pradhan is the Project Director for Resettlement and Rehabilitation for Jharsuguda district. A Government official belonging to the Orissa Administrative Service, he oversees Resettlement and Rehabilitation activities in the district.  At the 'Collectorate', the district administration headquarters, he even shares an office with Sibaram.

"Initially, people were very apprehensive about the benefits of moving to the resettlement colony," says Mr. Pradhan, "though as they became more aware they began to cooperate. Sibaram, UNDP and other UNV volunteers helped sensitize them, and gradually the apprehension faded."

The project Sibaram is involved in has a history dating back to 2003, when UNDP and the British Government's Department for International Development (DFID) lent their assistance to the Government of Orissa to formulate a Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy. Since 2006, several UNV volunteers have assigned to help mitigate the impact of displacement due to Orissa's industrialization process on thousands of vulnerable families.

In a nutshell, Sibaram's assignment is about helping to ensure that the 2006 Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy works in practice. He operates at several different levels, from organizing activities for displaced people themselves to liaising with NGOs, civil society, the authorities and the companies.

The latter are obliged to compensate those people who have to move from their ancestral lands when industrial plants are built, and are thus a key stakeholder. UNV volunteers like Sibaram have raised awareness about people's rights and entitlements, providing counselling and ensuring grievances are heard. 

They also share best practices and lessons learned with authorities to improve the resettlement process.  And UNV volunteers encourage displaced people to form voluntary village level committees, empowering them to help each other to develop their skills.  The work thus empowers communities themselves to demand an equitable and gender-sensitive approach from both the companies and the local Government.

The way that UNV volunteers are able to interact with the displaced people, the companies and the authorities is essential to solving the complex issues of displacement in Orissa, continues Mr. Pradhan.

"They are the link," he says, "and Sibaram is an asset. Without UNDP and UNV's assistance it would also have been more difficult to finance the different programmes and exposure visits we needed to implement. It would just have been more difficult for the local Government to take up alone."

With tensions between the displaced people, the companies and the authorities always a potential threat, Sibaram's position can be quite delicate. "To the District Collector," he remarks, "I'm like a UN Ambassador. My presence is required at various meetings, and I've made a useful rapport at several levels – which helps me get the job done."

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)