Orissa District Gazetteers: Koraput

FOCUS

Before Independence, British administrators in India published imperial district gazetteers, including those for Angul, Balasore, Cuttack, Koraput, Puri and the ‘Feudatory States of Orissa’. This gazetteer, published in 1945, describes various aspects of Odisha’s Koraput district. It surveys the economy, society, politics and administrative setup as well as the district’s history, geography, climate, biodiversity and natural resources.

Koraput was made a separate district on April 1, 1936 – the same day that the Orissa province was established. Before this, it was a part of Visakhapatnam district (Vizagapatam in British times) in Madras Presidency. With an area of 25,576 square kilometres, Koraput was considered the largest district in Orissa. It has since been split up into four smaller districts: Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur and Rayagada.

After Independence, in 1957, the responsibility of compiling the district gazetteers was transferred from the Centre to the states. In 1999 (in Odisha), this responsibility was transferred from the Revenue Department to the Gopabandhu Academy of Administration.

    FACTOIDS

  1. Koraput had four natural subdivisions: the central plateau (3,000 feet and higher); the Jeypore plateau (2,000 feet); the Malkanagiri plateau (400-800 feet); and the valleys and hill ranges in the Rayaghada subdivision (500-5,000 feet). Variations in altitude affected the climate and vegetation.

  2. The district had 5,183 villages and a population of 1,127,862 persons, according to the 1941 census. At that time, only two places were large enough to be considered towns. Some remote villages were temporary tribal settlements with a little more than half a dozen houses.

  3. Kolarian tribes, the gazetteer says, were among the oldest inhabitants of Koraput; Dravidian tribes and the Kondh arrived later. This immigration into the district, it adds, led to rapid deforestation as forestland was cleared for dwellings.

  4. Koraput, which had four rivers (Indravati, Kolab, Machkund and Tel), was subject to droughts and floods. During the rainy season, the area became impassable due to heavy floods as it was in the cyclonic disturbances region and near the Bay of Bengal. In the summer, the plains would dry up and it was hard to get drinking water.

  5. While paddy could be grown in forest clearings, deforestation, the gazetteer claims, had weakened the soil over time. Large trees were scarce in the forests, which were open and grassy for the most part. Shifting cultivation was practiced in the more densely populated areas, which eroded the rich topsoil.

  6. As of 1941, about 4,000.31 square kilometres of forestland had been classified as ‘reserved lands’ and 260.58 square kilometres as ‘protected lands’. Close to 16.5 per cent of the district’s total area was legally protected against deforestation.

  7. Agriculture was the main source of livelihood for a majority of the population. The principal crops included rice, ragi, millets and tobacco. However, the gazetteer observes that there was minimal use of artificial irrigation and manure application to make the soil conducive to cultivation.

  8. On farms, men were employed for ploughing, sowing and threshing, while women were assigned other tasks. The wage rate – two annas for six hours – was the same for both sexes. In factories and for unskilled non-agricultural work, men earned three to four annas a day and women, two to three annas.

  9. The practice of debt slavery (gothi) and forced labour (bethi) were prevalent and liable to abuse.

  10. The district was rich in linguistic diversity. Since it was “isolated from the influence of modern Oriya literature”, it had retained a form of the language spoken almost 100 years before the gazetteer was published. According to the 1931 census, out of every 1,000 people in the district, 552 had Oriya as their mother tongue, 186 had Kui or Kondh, 73 had Telugu, 53 had Savara, 39 had Poroja, 26 had Gadaba, 22 had Koyya, 17 had Konda, 16 had Jatapu, eight had Gondi, two had aboriginal languages and two, Chhattisgarhi and Hindi.

  11. The 1941 census recorded 174,234 Hindus, 10,344 Christians, 2,545 Muslims and 940,632 “Tribals” (83 per cent of the population) in Koraput.

  12. The district had seven hospitals and 16 dispensaries, however the gazetteer states that it could not “strictly be called healthy.” A special allowance was paid to “non-native” officials to compensate for the climate. Malaria was prevalent throughout the district.

  13. The building of roads and railways made Koraput more accessible for travel and trade. The Salur-Jeypore road was the district’s principal road, especially to get and from the large Saturday market at Dummuriput, about 11 kilometres away.

  14. The chief exports included surplus grains, saffron, turmeric, garlic, ginger, honey, horns, hides, skins, timber and bamboo. Imports included salt, chillies, onions, jaggery, coconuts, kerosene, metals and jewellery.

  15. The gazetteer claims human sacrifice or “meriah” was prevalent in the region until the then Governor-General of India set up the special Meriah Agency to suppress the practice. In 1861, the Agency was abolished and its duties were transferred to local authorities.

    Factoids and Focus compiled by Aditi Chandrasekhar.

AUTHOR

R.C.S. Bell, Indian Civil Service

COPYRIGHT

Superintendent, Orissa Government Press, Cuttack

PUBLICATION DATE

01 Jan, 1945

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