In fact, the 151 cut-off villages were once safe haven for the Maoists of three states Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Most of the people, who did not have the opportunities to see the outer world, often sided with elements of Left-Wing Extremism (LWE). Catla fish, locally called Bhakur, in the sizes of 50 to 60 kilograms were found in plenty in the reservoir. (Image: DC)
Balimela: Perhaps, this may well be recognised as the world’s cheapest ferry service. One travels 80 kilometres on water on a motor launch and pays only eight rupees. It implies that it costs a passenger only 10 paisa per kilometer.
Yes, you heard it right.
In Odisha’s Balimela reservoir, people living in 151 cut-off villages pay only 10 paisa per km to travel by motor launch.
According to Augustin Barla, the junior engineer of Balimela dam project who is in charge of the ferry service, the state government is providing water transport services at Balimela dam ferry ghat under Chitrakonda block at highly subsidised prices as the passengers hail from poor financial background. They earn their livelihood by selling forest produce and vegetables.
"Majority of the people living on small islands in the dam project and its adjacent areas are very poor. Most of the people belong to various tribal communities like Paraja, Gadva and Bhumia. They cannot afford actual charges for water transport. Hence the government has been providing ferry services at a nominal cost purely as a welfare measure for over five decades now," says Barla.
As many as six motor launches are ferrying the passengers. Each vessel has a carrying capacity of 65 persons, including five crew members. The vessels have been named after famous gods, hills and culture of Odisha. The names of the vessels are Jagannath, Lingaraj, Dalkhai and Nilakantha (all names of gods); Malyabanta (a famous range of hills) and Maharaj (king).
Each vessel has a capacity of 65 persons, including five crew members.
According to an estimate, a vessel incurs an expenditure of nearly Rs 10,000 for a to-and-fro trip. This expenditure includes nearly 100 litres of diesel and salary of the crew.
Subash Sethi, a motor launch pilot who has been ferrying people for over 35 years now, shares interesting fact about the local people, the dam and behavior of the people in the past and present.
"When this Balimela dam was constructed in the 1960s, many hilltop villages got disconnected and remained inside the reservoir like islands in seas and oceans. Hence, the government started ferry services for them. Each passenger pays 10 paisa per kilometer. Sometimes, they pay just Rs 5 even if they travel the full distance of 80 kilometres and express their inability to pay the remaining Rs 3. Though I don’t know the water transport fare at other such ferry ghats, I believe this could be the cheapest here at Balimela," says Subash.
In fact, the cut-off villages were safe haven for the Maoists of three states — Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — for decades. Most of the people, who did not have the opportunities to see the outer world, often sided with elements of Left-Wing Extremism (LWE).
In fact, it was a tough challenge for government agencies to work in the area. Scores of people, including policemen and central security personnel, died while fighting LWE elements there. The area is now limping back to normalcy after a bridge over the Gurupriya river was constructed, linking at least 30,000 people with the mainland.
The launch pilot Subash adds that catla fish, locally called Bhakur, in the sizes of 50 to 60 kilograms were found in plenty in the reservoir. However, these days large catla fishes are sparsely seen.
"People in the cut-off areas are now in the phase of transformation. The district administration has ensured good roads in almost all villages. People are getting quick healthcare services. Education network has been strengthened. The mobile phone network which was a dream for the local people is now a reality. Students have learnt to get access to education contents through internet services," says Malkangir district Sub-Collect Akshya Khemundu.