Daitari Nayak (75), says people are not giving him any work as they think manual labour is below his dignity after he was awarded the Padma Shri. (HT PHOTO)
Impoverished tribal farmer Daitari Nayak who was awarded the Padma Shri this year for digging a 3-km long canal through a mountain in Odisha wants to return the award saying it has proved to be a roadblock to make a living.
Nayak, a 75-year-old farmer of Talabaitarani village in mineral-rich Kenojhar district was awarded the Padma Shri early this year after his exploits of digging through the Gonasika mountains came to the fore. Armed with a hoe and a crowbar, Nayak dug through the moutainous roads between 2010 and 2013 that resulted in irrigation of 100 acre land in his area. Padma Shri is India’s fourth highest civilian award.
But the honour that followed seems to have pushed him to penury. ‘’Padma Shri award did not help me in any way. Earlier I used to get work as a daily labourer. People are not giving me any work as they think it is below my dignity. We are now surviving by eating ant eggs,” said Nayak. “I am now selling tendu leaves and ‘amba sadha’ (mango papad) to run my house. The award has lost all value for me. I want to return the award so that I can get some work.”
Nayak said it was difficult to run his large family with the meagre Rs 700 old age pension that he gets every month. The Indira Awas Yojana house he was allotted some years ago is lying incomplete forcing him to stay in his old thatched house. A frustrated Nayak has now hung the Padma Shri medal in his goatshed.
Nayak’s son Alekh who is also a labourer said the promises made to his father including construction of a road and stop erosion of the canal were not kept. “We were promised by officials that the rocky canal would be made a concrete one. Nothing happened,” he said. “My father is also frustrated that he is not able to anything for the people such as getting clean drinking water.”
Congress spokesperson Satya Prakash Nayak said the tribal farmer’s plight has showed how hollow was the promise of Odisha government to farmers. “Naveen Patnaik started Kalia scheme for farmers. But his administration cannot do anything for a farmer who dug up a canal for irrigation. This is pathetic,” said Nayak.
Keonjhar district collector Ashis Thakre said he would inquire into the causes as to why Nayak wants to return the award. “We would address his grievance and try to persuade him against returning the award,” he said.-ht