|Protests against displacement by industries in Orissa show no sign of losing steam.|
Kabita Sahoo inside her house, burnt during clashes between anti-Posco activists and the police at Balitutha village, on May 16.
In a State where more than two-thirds of rural families live below the poverty line and other social indicators are as dismal, the process of industrialisation that began at the turn of the century ought to have been a cause for optimism. But, of late, people have been fighting tooth and nail the many proposed industrial projects in Orissa because they threaten to take away their fertile lands and livelihood sources. The latest flashpoint was on May 15 at Balitutha, the main entry point to the project area of Posco-India Private Limited in Jagatsinghpur district, where the police fired rubber bullets and resorted to lathi-charge against hundreds of men and women who have been holding a dharna against the South Korean company's steel project since January 26 this year.
The protests against displacement in the State have shown little sign of losing steam despite publicity campaigns by private companies “to be partners in progress” or Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's frequent statements on television about peaceful industrialisation. Highways of the State are replete with billboards of private companies announcing sponsorships, scholarships, health camps or skill development programmes.
The hard sell is no more evident than in capital Bhubaneswar where workshops and seminars on Orissa's ‘development' in various sectors have become a regular feature. Both the government and the private sector feed the media with information that suits them the most. Leading editors in the State are invited for exclusive briefings or meetings with corporate bigwigs.
In the far-flung districts where there is much opposition from people to industrial projects, company executives seem to have won over many local journalists; it is not surprising for a visiting journalist to find scribes canvassing for the projects. The Internet is a major tool used by corporate communications departments and public relations firms to issue press releases that squarely blame people's organisations for the delay in the implementation of industrial projects.
The major projects facing strong anti-displacement protests in the State are Posco, Tata Steel, and Vedanta Aluminium Limited. In Jagatsinghpur district, Posco faces opposition from the people of three gram panchayats for its proposed steel plant with a capacity of 12 million tonnes. In Kalinganagar, Tata Steel is trying to acquire 3,200 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) for a six-million tonne steel plant.
Vedanta has plans to extract bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills at Lanjigarh for its alumina refinery situated near by. Besides, a foundation run by Anil Agarwal, the founder-director of U.K.-based Vedanta, is making all-out efforts to establish ‘a world-class university' alongside the Puri-Konark marine drive. The State government, however, is nonchalant about the anti-displacement agitations. Indeed, the administration seems to have been left free to help the companies acquire land through various means. Using police force against the agitators has become the order of the day.
On January 2, 2006, 14 tribal men and women opposing ground-levelling work on the land allotted to Tata Steel in Kalinganagar were killed in police firing. Later, criminal cases were registered against those leading agitations against various companies in different regions, and many of them were arrested.
The next phase of action against those opposing industry-induced displacement started in Kalinganagar in March this year when the people of affected villages and activists of the Bisthapan Birodhi Janamanch were attacked indiscriminately. More than 700 armed policemen were deployed in the Kalinganagar area to facilitate the construction of a common corridor road. The local people say the road will primarily be of use to Tata Steel if the plant is established there. On March 30, hundreds of policemen entered Baligotha village in Kalinganagar and fired rubber bullets at the residents and beat them up for opposing the construction of the road. Apparently, many people who were injured did not go to hospital fearing arrest. A few days later, members of the pro-industry group attacked workers in the same area. A local journalist was hurt while covering the incident, and his camera was snatched away.
The police action then shifted to villages where people refused to vacate their land and homes for the Tata project. On May 12, the police opened fire in Chandia village and a tribal person was killed. The body of the victim, Laxman Jamuda, was cremated under mysterious circumstances, and the police refuted the villagers' claim that the death was caused by police firing.
Rabindra Jarika, secretary of the Bisthapan Birodhi Janamanch, is, however, firm about continuing the protest. “We will not allow destruction in the name of development at any cost. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik cannot carry out industrialisation at gunpoint,” he said.
As efforts were on in Kalinganagar to carry forward the displacement process, on May 15, hundreds of policemen went berserk at Balitutha when they tried to chase away people who were holding a dharna against the Posco steel project. Many people were injured in the incident, which occurred in the presence of senior administration officials. The police were acting under the instructions of the State government, which was making a desperate attempt to facilitate the implementation of the project, already delayed by five years.
Those sitting in dharna at Balitutha had created a ‘laxman rekha', resolving to prevent the entry of any official, the police or Posco employees to the gram panchayats of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakunjang. The proposed project is likely to affect 20,000 people in these villages.
The local residents who ran for their life on May 15, however, returned to Balitutha on May 19 with the same resolve to resist the project and attended a public meeting organised by the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. The Samiti has been opposing the steel project since the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the company and the State government in June 2005.
The leaders of six opposition parties – the Communist Party of India (CPI), which is backing the Sangram Samiti; the Communist Party of India (Marxist); the Samajwadi Party; the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Forward Bloc – addressed the meeting. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan condemned the police repression and warned the State government against using police force to acquire land for the Posco project, which would affect thousands of families. “Use of force will only add strength to the agitation,” he said.
Rabindra Jarika, Bisthapan Birodhi Janamanch leader, leading a rally of tribal people against displacement in Kalinganagar area, on May 22.
Sangram Samiti president Abhay Sahoo criticised the State government for not taking the village committees into confidence and for submitting wrong information to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests with regard to the use of nearly 1,200 acres of forest land in order to help the company get the final forest clearance for the project. The government said no one lived on the forest land when there were tribal people living there and cultivating the forest land. Under the existing laws, villagers living on forest land have genuine rights over the land on which they have been living for generations together, he added.
A day after the meeting, the Chief Minister held a discussion with the Lok Sabha Member from Jagatsinghpur, Bibhu Prasad Tarai of the CPI, and four legislators of the ruling Biju Janata Dal from the area. He gave them a proposal that Posco would be asked to exclude 300 acres of private land under Dhinkia panchayat from the 4,004 acres of land earmarked for the steel plant. The CPI rejected it.
Bardhan, who was camping in Bhubaneswar, told the media the next day that the State government should shift the project to another place. Although he welcomed the government's willingness for talks between senior officials and those opposing the project, he said there would not be any deviation from the demand for the shifting of the site.
He also demanded that the State government issue a White Paper on the Rs.52,000-crore Posco project stating how much Orissa would lose in terms of land, captive iron ore and water from the Mahanadi river; the impact the project would have on the people and their livelihoods; and the impact of the proposed captive port of Posco on the existing major port at Paradip.
As for the agitation against Vedanta Aluminium's proposed bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, which is considered sacred by the Dongria Kondh tribal community, and the pollution the company's alumina refinery is allegedly causing, the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti is hopeful that the Centre will deny mining clearance to the company in view of the latest reports by three experts who were sent to the area by the Union Environment Ministry. The tribal people of Niyamgiri had failed to resist the construction of the company's refinery, but they are now united in their fight to save Niyamgiri from being mined (see “Battle for survival”, page 37).
Similarly, hundreds of families and many people's organisations in Puri are strongly against the acquisition of 6,000 acres of land for the Vedanta University project. While there are many cases pending in different courts against the project, those opposing the venture are sticking to their stand against handing over a vast expanse of land for the establishment of a university in alleged violation of coastal zone management rules. Acquisition of land for the proposed steel plant project of ArcelorMittal with a capacity of 12 million tonnes also faces opposition in mineral-rich Keonjhar district, which has been in the headlines for large-scale illegal mining.
But even as protest continues in different places against the handing over of thousands of acres of land, displacement, diversion of water meant for irrigation to industries, illegal mining and pollution of the environment, the companies, with the help of the local administration and political leaders, are trying hard to divide people in the name of development in order to achieve their goals. The main opposition parties in the State, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which express their opposition to displacement now and then, have not been able to force the government to resolve the issues of land acquisition and displacement. Meanwhile, the district administrations concerned are making serious efforts to facilitate land acquisition for the industries.
The Chief Minister reiterates that his government favours peaceful industrialisation and warns that no one should take the law into their hands. He has also been saying that not a single drop of water meant for irrigation will be diverted to industries. He has been attending most of the ceremonies organised at the State secretariat for the signing of MoUs to set up new steel plants, alumina refineries, ports, thermal power plants and other such ventures.
He has also been assuring companies and promoters of all cooperation from the government. He also reviews regularly the progress on different industrial projects such as Posco.
But he has not visited any of the villages opposing the industrial projects – even the tribal hamlets of Kalinganagar since the 2006 police firing or Lanjigarh or the coastal villages in Jagatsinghpur where innocent people have been facing the wrath of the police and pro-industry groups.