Bhubaneswar is unrecognisable from the medium-sized town that I used to know. True, it was expanding even then, but it was a controlled expansion, with four storied apartments being the tallest buildings to be seen in the city. Now it has grown beyond recognition, and what used to be one end of town is now the heart of the new city. Flyovers, widened roads, lots of bright lights - all make me feel more of a stranger here than I thought I would. What is lovely, however, is the very large number of trees in the city - one would never imagine this to be the same place where practically no tree was left standing after the super-cyclone of 1999. Taxi drivers, hotel attendants, auto-rickshaw drivers - all tell me that they would vote the present state government back to power. There is little tolerance to corruption they say, and the Chief Minister has a clean image.
|Breakfast at a Chandikhole eatery|
We bypass Cuttack and on to Chandikhole for a quick breakfast, after which we turn west towards Jajpur. On this road there is not a single hill left - each one has been ravaged for stone - and stone crushers line both sides of the road that we take. The day we drove there, being Vishwakarma Puja, all the crushers were silent, some decorated with garlands of flowers. If the earth could speak, she would protest this savaging, I am sure. The hills are left as jagged, ugly pillars of stone - were these too difficult to cut down? or will they, too, vanish in another year or two?
|View of a hill on the road to Jajpur|
|The new road to Keonjhar through what was pristine forest|
The effect of the mining ban is also visible in Keonjhar town. Once an attractive small district headquarter town, it had boomed with the mining industry, with lots of garish hotels having sprung up. Most of these now stand nearly vacant, and the town has a depressed, dull air about it. The economy, which had come to depend heavily on jobs and activity generated by mining, is now in the doldrums.
Far away from the district headquarters in Saharpada block, I visit a creche bring run by an NGO in Kucheibeda village. The people are landless here, and the village is deserted when I reach there in the early afternoon, with the adults having gone out to the forests to collect minor forest produce. Children under 3 are all asleep in the creche, and a quick look at their weight charts shows me that all of them are malnourished to varying degrees.
Their life has certainly not changed for the better in the past decade.