How Odisha's Resettlement Plan for Satabhaya's Climate Refugees Went Off Script

How and when did Satabhaya go under sea? The Quint speaks to the former residents of the region.

7 min read
Hindi Female

"Satabhaya, in Kendrapara district of Odisha, was once a bustling area. Now, it is devoid of life, with a few things strewn around here and there. They are remnants of the life that existed here. Everything that once stood in the area has been washed away due to coastal erosion," Ranjan Panda, a researcher, environmentalist, and activist, told The Quint.

In 2008, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had announced that villagers – or climate refugees – from Satabhaya would be shifted to Bagapatia village (which is about 12 km from Satabhaya).

Fifteen years later – though he kept his promise – the resettlement process has not exactly been smooth.

The resettlement began in 2017 after several delays, when the Odisha government relocated 571 families from Satabhaya to 17 grid-like lanes in Bagapatia.

It is India's first resettlement colony for people affected by climate change, officials from the chief minister's office (CMO) had said.

But now, in Bagapatia, villagers say they have no source of livelihood and have no access to proper health and drinking water facilities.

How and when did Satabhaya go under sea? The Quint speaks to the former residents of the region.

Bagapatia is India's first resettlement colony for people affected by climate change.

(Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

Last month, Patnaik sanctioned Rs 22 crore for the development of the area, after private secretary to the CM, VK Pandian, visited the resettlement colony and held discussions with the residents.

After the visit, an official from the CMO noted that the sanctioned fund would be utilised for the construction of houses, drinking water, electricity connection, road, and other facilities for the displaced people.

How and when did Satabhaya go under sea? The Quint speaks to the former residents of the region.

A school in Bagapatia for children who are from Satabhaya.

(Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

The Quint spoke to the climate refugees in Bagapatia about their 'resettled' lives, the trauma of losing their homes in Satabhaya, and what the future holds for them.


What Happened in Satabhaya?

According to a 2022 study, historically, Satabhaya panchayat has had seven villages. In 1971, a deadly cyclone hit the village, and since then, six of the seven villages – Gobindapur, Mohanpur, Kanhupur, Chintamanipur, Badagahiramatha, and Kharikula – have been gradually disappearing into the sea one by one.

"Today, as the rate of coastal erosion swiftly escalates, Satabhaya faces a fate similar to that of its six brothers," the study noted last year.

How and when did Satabhaya go under sea? The Quint speaks to the former residents of the region.

The Panhubarahi temple in Satabhaya.

(Photo: Twitter/ @Kshitishsinghs)

The sea erosion in Satabhaya has been well-documented over the years. In the late 1960s, the winter palace of Shivendra Narayan Bhanja Deo, the scion of the royal family of Rajkanika, was washed away in the sea.

In 2012, the 110-year-old Panchubarahi Upper Primary School in Satabhaya met the same fate, prompting the district authorities to build a thatched house as a substitute the next year. However, in 2015, that too was devoured by the sea.

The marching sea also caught up with the 400-year-old Panchubarahi temple in the Satabhaya gram panchayat in 2021.

But life in Satabhaya wasn't always like this. Sricharan Malik, 28, has fond childhood memories of his village, which falls under the Satabhaya gram panchayat.

"I remember the elders in our village telling us that the sea was nearly 4 km away. However, now it is a whole different scenario there," he told The Quint. His family was among those relocated by the government from Satabhaya to Bagapatia in 2017.

Ranjan Panda, who has been visiting the area for more than 25 years, said that during his last visit (in November 2022), the sea had pushed itself in at Satabhaya by 1.5 km.

Arpit Biswal, who is currently a resident of Cuttack, but hails from Satabhaya, remembers witnessing the erosion over the years.

"I have seen houses perishing, trees sinking under the sands, and the mighty sea approaching day by day and sort of knock on our doors," he told The Quint.

Odisha has, indeed, witnessed a dramatic rise in sea levels over the past decades. A 2022 paper found that between 1966 and 2015, the sea level along Odisha's coast rose 0.19 cm each year.

And for Kendrapara district (where Satabhaya is located), the study predicted that if the sea level rose by 1 metre in the future, it could submerge 29 percent of the district.


Is the Natural Process of Erosion Only To Blame?

"The submerging of Satabhaya can be attributed to the combined effects of coastal erosion as well as anthropogenic activities that exacerbate coastal erosion, which includes reckless industrialisation, building of artificial structures, mining, and destruction of natural protective barriers such as mangroves, etc," said Panda.

In Satabhaya's case, the construction of the Paradip port is also responsible for the erosion, he claimed.

According to the book, The Ecology of Sandy Shores by Alexander Claude Brown and Anton McLachlan, infrastructure along the coast obstructs the movement of sand along the coast, known as longshore drift. When structures like ports are constructed, they cause the sand to accumulate on the south of the ports, while the north remains deprived of the sands that it would have received through longshore drifts. Without the sands, the ocean ends up eroding the existing beaches and coastal areas.

A 2015 study in Odisha found that "shoreline changes due to the coastal structures" associated with the three ports of Paradip, Dhamara, and Gopalpur are "apparent." Satabhaya lies just north of Paradip port.

Panda explained that Paradip was covered with dense mangrove forests in the 1950s.

"In the 1960s, the government denuded the mangrove forests to build the port. Mangrove trees protect the coastline, and due to the chopping of mangrove trees, Paradip, for the first time, faced sea erosion problems in the 1960s. To protect the Paradip port, the government stone-packed seaside areas to prevent the sea from devouring the port town. But the seawall in Paradip aggravated the erosion problem in Satabhaya," he elaborated.


Why Resettling Is An Uphill Task

Barring one or two families, all of Satabhaya's residents have now been resettled in Bagapatia.

The thoroughness of the relocation, however, belies the fact that the Odisha government initiated it only after the residents had demanded the same for years.

"The demand for relocation has been an old one. In fact, we asked the state government to relocate us after the super cyclone of 1999, when there was a lot of loss of property and people," Prasanna Parida, the sarpanch of Satabhaya, told The Quint.

Ranjan Panda added that the number of people the government has resettled in Bagapatia from Satabhaya is less than the total number of people who left Satabhaya voluntarily, in order to move to safer areas.

He added that what makes rehabilitation and resettlement of such people an uphill task is the lack of a specific policy regarding it.


"The resettlement and rehabilitation policy in our country compensates for land when it is taken over by the government for projects such as a road/highway project. But then, there is no such mechanism for people who have been displaced by coastal erosion, as is the case of Satabhaya. Which is why we are advocating for a damage and loss policy," he explained.

"In this case, the government has had to pool in resources form different programmes, which is putting a strain on these programmes as well. For the houses that the government building, the government has pooled in resources from the Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana under which people have been provided with 10 decimals of land and some money to build in their houses."

The Quint reached out to Odisha's Environment Ministry as well as VK Pandian, from the CMO, who had visited Bagapatia recently. The article will be updated with their responses as and when they revert.


Problems With Resettlement Process

Panda listed out several issues with the resettlement process.

  • "First, the site chosen for the resettlement programme is not appropriate place. It is marshy and swampy, as a result of which people have had to spend significant sums from the relocation packages the government had given them on preparing the land for construction." The relocation package amounted to Rs 1.5 lakh for each family – this included Rs 1.2 lakh that was provided under the Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana, Rs 12,000 provided under the Swachh Bharat Mission to fund the construction of toilets, and Rs 10,000 provided to be used to fill up the land. "However many residents of Bagpataia told me that the last amount was insufficient – most said that they spent between Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 on the land-filling work," he added.

  • "Second, there is a lack of livelihood support. In Satabhaya, their main source of livelihood was farming, fishing, and rearing animals. In Bagapatia, they have not been given enough space to rear their animals, and have not been allotted agricultural land," said Panda. "The government has resettled us, provided us with funds to build a house. But we now want them to starting arranging us for ways to earn our livelihood," said Sricharan Malik. "This is causing many to migrate to places like Kerala to eke out a livelihood," claimed Debabrat Panda, associate director at NGO ActionAid that visited the resettlement colony.

How and when did Satabhaya go under sea? The Quint speaks to the former residents of the region.

The buses that carry people from Bagapatia to Kerala. 

(Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

  • Panda also said that the settlement lacks a healthcare centre. "They have to walk about 10-12 km to get to the nearest health centre," he claimed.

  • There is also the issue of land ownership. According to Panda, none of the families that were allotted plots in Bagapatia own land titles (pattas) to them, which they need if they want to apply for loans for expenses such as building houses.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from explainers

Topics:  Climate Change   odisha   Naveen Patnaik 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More