India update: OrissaPublished by MAC on 2007-01-13
India update: Orissa
13th January 2007
At the core of the mounting unrest, sometimes open revolt, among Adivasi and other rural communties in eastern India is competition between industry (especially foreign-based) and agriculture - not just for land but also water. Even where compensation has been agreed with displaced families, rarely are the promises fulfilled.
Little wonder, then, that - a year after the horrendous events of early 2006 - the tribal peoples' blockade at Kalingangar continues, while new protests are erupting elsewhere, virtually every week.
Arcelor Mittal's Orissa steel plant runs into controversy
15th January 2007
Barely a few weeks after Arcelor Mittal signed an MOU with the Orissa government to set up a 12 million tone steel plant in the Keonjhar district of Orissa, the project has run into controversy.
Phulamani, an affected tribal, says, "We will not allow Mittal steel to come up here. We will not give away our lands as they are our only source of livelihood. No matter what money the government or Mittal steel gives we will fight against it till the end."
This is just one among the angry voices of the thousands of villagers at Patna Tehsil in Keonjhar district of Orissa where the 40 thousand crore worth 12 million tonne Mittal steel plant is proposed to come up.
These angry villagers from the 17 villages demonstrated a protest rally to Keonjhar District Collector's office demanding that their land should not be acquired for the Mittal steel plant for which the Orissa government has already signed an MOU with Mittal steel.
BB Mohapatra, Collector at Keonjhar, comments, "In the memorandum they gave us, they demand that since it is a multi crop fertile irrigated land this should not be handed over for the project."
Hrudayaballav Rout, a member of the Bistaphan Birodhi Manch, says, "This is the ultimatum we are giving to the government. If they want to set up plant, they should look for barren land not ours."
But what has made the matter worse is the Chief Minister's decision that he would be providing only one crop land for SEZ [Special Economic Zone]. Mittal Steel has sought SEZ status for the project where the lands the people say are multi crop, fertile and irrigated.
The Chief Minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, says, "In rural areas we will give only one crop land for SEZ and we are going very carefully on the matter. In the Mittal steel case we will go according to rules."
Though the Orissa government is yet to demarcate the exact land that would be acquired for the project, the Patna Tehsil area has been chosen for the project which is one of the biggest ambitious project of the Orissa government apart from South Korean steel plant Posco at Paradeep in Orissa.
The Orissa government has been telling that it has the best Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy for the affected people. But going by the protest in Keonjhar against the Arcelor Mittal project it seems the affected people do not believe the claim of the Orissa Government.
Government willing to talk: Naveen
Statesman News Service
BHUBANESWAR, Jan. 15: Orissa Chief minister Mr Naveen Patnaik today said the government was willing to hold talks with the Bisthapan Virodhi Janmanch leaders on the Kalinga Nagar issue but maintained that the High Court order of clearing the road blockade could not be linked to such talks.
Mr Patnaik was reacting to an open letter issued by the Janmanch offering to discuss with the government.
The Janmanch has been leading the tribal resistance movement in Kalinga Nagar and has been blocking the Daitari-Paradip Expressway since 2 January 2006 after 13 tribals had been gunned down by the police.
Mr Rabindra Jarika, secretary of the Janmanch, who issued the letter, clarified that the blockade was to force the government concede demands of the people. He had also stated that it was continuing because the government had failed to fufill their demands.
In the backdrop of the High Court order, Mr Jarika stated that since August all vehicles, baring trucks, were allowed to use the road and hence, the common man was not subjected to any difficulty.
He had also iterated the demands and said at least three of them ~ action against the then district collector and SP, withdrawal of cases against tribal leaders and political level discussions ~ needed to be fulfilled the pave the way for talks.
The chief minister, who is yet to visit the spot since the dreadful 2 January, has, however, been steadfast in his stand of talking to all concerned, including the Janmanch leaders. In fact, he had invited them for talks and one round of discussions had taken place last year.
Today, he made it amply clear that the High Court order could not be a matter of discussion or negotiation with the Janmanch, implicitly indicating that the government would abide by the order and clear the blockade.
A people facing second displacement
Statesman News Service
SAMBALPUR, Jan. 15: There seems to be no end to the misery of Bamaloi grama panchayat people, who ~ led by the Sambalpur Zilla Durniti Nibarana Mahila Mancha ~ have been staging a protest and sitting on a relay hunger-strike in front of the Sambalpur collector's office for the past one-and-a-half month braving cold.
Most of these people were dispossessed of the land for Hirakud dam project.
And they now face spectre of another displacement due to a proposed aluminium project which they fight tooth and nail. "We are yet to make our backbone straight following the displacement from our parental homes submerged under Hirakud reservoir. Another one will ruin us," said Mr Parikshit Kissan.
From an interaction with the villagers, who ~ facing all odds ~ are continuing their relay hunger-strike, it has become clear that they do not oppose the project to come in. What they demand is the exclusion of Bamaloi grama panchayat from the project area.
"Our demand is genuine since a second displacement is totally inhuman for a people," said Mr Bhagabati Kissa and Mr Gochandan Rohidas who requested the local and state administration to give a second thought to the project location and leave their grama panchayat.
"But no one listens to us and we are sitting under open sky from 24 November 2006 to make our voice heard," they said.
The collector of Sambalpur, Mr LN Nayak, said that he had already made second round of discussion with the people. "But they are yet to make specific demands," Mr Nayak said. Apart from land, they are also facing dust and other environmental problems in their villages. "Once they make their demands specific, it would be easier to sort out their problems. However, we are going to end the strike soon by considering their genuine demands," Mr Nayak said.
Realities belie claims on rehabilitation
Statesman News Service
JAGATSINGHPUR, Jan. 15: The reason behind increasing number of resistance movements against land acquisition for mega projects in places such as Kalinga Nagar, Keonjhar, Kasipur and Lanjigarh is the disgraceful track record of the state government in rehabilitating and resettling the displaced people.
And the criminal neglect in handling such issues right from the four-decade-old Hirakud dam oustees' rehabilitation problem to the more recent Oil refinery project or NINL have all sowed the seeds of distrust towards government among the people. Not a single soul is willing to buy the latest R&R policy promised by the Naveen Patnaik government ~ claimed to be one of the best in the country ~ as has been proved by the latest in the series of resistance movement.
While most of those facing displacement cannot relate to the half a century-old Hirakud project issue, they do have glaring instances virtually next to their plot of land. They have seen, like in Kalinga Nagar area, people ousted by NINL or Mesco turning into migrant labourers, rickshaw pullers or even beggars.
Promises were even made at that point of time and are once again being reeled out now by the government. But locals are unwilling to be bitten twice and they refuse to trust or believe the government. The latest resistance brewing in the proposed Essar steel project area is a bright example of this. Families living in the proposed Essar Steel project area have vowed not to concede their land holdings, adding yet another bother to the district administration which has failed over 18 months to acquire land for the Posco project.
They want the Naveen Patnaik government to come and search for the families who had been displaced by the administration for the OSWAL Chemical and Fertilizer Plant which has now been taken over by IFFCO. "Let the government tell us about the whereabouts and plight of the families who were displaced for the project," villagers said.
People living in Bijayachandpur, Mushadiha, Nuagada and other villages of Kujang block were displaced for the Oswal plant. They were initially provided with work under Balaji Construction Company. Some of them worked as contract labourers and a few years later, the company retrenched them.
Mr Sudrasan Swain, one such victim, said he used to earn Rs 6,000 to 7,000 per month but after he had been retrenched he is struggling to sustain his family. "My wife is forced to work as a domestic servant," he said.
When IFFCO took over the factory, these people were retrenched and hence, the IFFCO did not consider their demand for jobs. There are at least 90 such families which have been left in the lurch. Now the locals have formed Orissa Krushi and Gramin Mazdoor Association to oppose displacement and land acquisition for the proposed Essar Steel plant. Secretary of Mazodor association Mr Benudhar Jena draws people's attention to the plight of the 90 families which are struggling for livelihood and as per rules, do not even figure in the proposed list of displaced people . Meanwhile, the farmers of Bijayachandpur, Udyabat, Biswali, Paradipgarh, Bhutmundai and Nuagarh have united and formed Paradip Krushak Manch under the presidentship of Mr Kapil Chandra Samantray. The Manch held a meeting in Paradip and threatened to stop the steel project if their demands were not fulfilled. They have demanded proper rehabilitation and resettlement. They want even the encroachers to be put under the rubric of the displaced since several families are living on government land in Bijayachandpur and Udayabat.
Orissa farmers protest diversion of irrigation water to industries
Bargarh (Orissa), Jan 13 (ANI): Thousands of farmers in Orissa have protested against the State Government's decision to release dam water to industries.
Farmers from Sambalpur, Bargah, Bolangir and Jharusuguda were joined by renowned social activist and Magsaysay Award winner Rajinder Singh, who came down heavily on the government for diverting the Hirakud Dam water from agricultural fields to industries.
"It feels like Hirakud Dam is only servicing the polluting and exploiting industries because the government is ready to release water for the industries. This is a new concern for the area because if water is provided to the industries what will the farmers do. How will they till their lands?" Singh said.
Around 5,000 farmers, who gathered under the banner of the Krushak Surakshya Sangathan, accused the government of favouring big industries and demanded to stop the diversion.
"Our land has to be irrigated, but where do we get water from? The farmers are suffering and the government is not at all bothered. This is injustice to us," said Satyendra, a farmer.
Government officials have refused to comment on the issue.
Farmers say release of waters from Hirakud Dam to industries instead of agriculture sector could lead to the parching of around 50,000 acres of farmland.
The Hirakud Dam project is built across the River Mahanadi, about 15 kilometers upstream from Sambhalpur. (ANI)