Thousands of the tourists from across the country are thronging the place daily to lose themselves in the midst of the serenity of the reservoir and its surrounding jungles.
The tourists don’t mind not being allowed boating and navigation in the reservoir as the dam site itself is a piece of sparkling artwork of God. It continues to sparkle although the day as the sun hovers over it, splattering its radiant rays. In the evening also, the reservoir wears a new look as the moon descends in the sky over it, showering soothing beams.
The tourists enjoy the beautiful scene of tribals sailing in the motor launches, singing their songs. Over 30,000 people live in 151 villages that were cut-off villages following construction of the dam.
What is quite interesting to know is that a passenger in the motor vessel has to pay only 10 paisa towards ferry charge. It means, if a passenger travels the whole 80 kilometres water path in the reservoir, he or she has to pay only eight rupees.
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 facts about the local people, the dam and behavior of the people in the past and present.
Read: Odisha News
“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.