Open Letter to Shri Navin Patnaik, Chief Minister of OrissaPublished by MAC on 2004-12-06
Open Letter to Shri Navin Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa
06 December 2004
Dear Shri Patnaik:
Under your jurisdiction and authority, on December 1, 2004, per the orders and in the presence of the Rayagada District Collector, the Orissa Police viciously attacked and critically injured 16 adivasis (tribals). Many, disproportionately women, were arrested. The police targeted more than 300 adivasis and dalits (erstwhile 'untouchable' castes) who were protesting the creation of a police station and barrack for armed police at Karol village, in proximity to the proposed alumina plant site of Utkal Alumina International Limited at Doraguda. The people were demanding that the state construct medical and education facilities instead. Those injured were denied hospital care and sequestered in Rayagada jail, even as some of the injured were reportedly missing. More than 1,000 armed police continue to patrol the area.
Under your jurisdiction and authority, the Government of Orissa has violated its legal and ethical responsibilities toward ensuring the rights of disenfranchised peoples, suppressing public dissent through police brutality. Why are the state police upholding the interests of corporations? Why are rights of those imprisoned by the state being violated? History tells us that when irresponsible corporate globalization and a callous and authoritarian state collaborate to undermine the interest of local communities, it exacerbates social suffering, betrays the interests of the disenfranchised, and furthers gendered violence.
Exercising citizenship to encourage responsible government action, dalit and adivasi groups in Kashipur have been protesting the establishment of the alumina plant, a venture of Utkal Alumina International Limited, which is a joint enterprise of Aditya Birla Group and ALCAN, a Canadian company. The project is expected to cost Rupees 4,500 crore. It will displace, and dispossess, 20,000 people. The aluminium plant would provide employment to about a 1,000 people for 20 years, after which bauxite resources will be exhausted.
We must recall that in December 2000, Rayagada witnessed state repression of adivasi communities as state police fired on non-violent dissent, in the process killing Abhilas Jhodia, Raghu Jhodia and Damodar Jhodia. Kashipur remains a tragic affidavit of the intersections of irresponsible globalization, state complicity in defiling human rights, and police participation in fostering social violence. Local communities and social movements have been in dissent for the last 12 years, protesting bauxite mining by a consortium of industries, who are in breach of constitutional provisions barring sale or lease of tribal lands without adivasi consent. Local communities dissent the devastation of their ecosystems, histories and futures, the destruction of forests, agricultural lands, mountains, perennial water-streams, the water retention capacity of mountains, that is integral to the right to life and livelihood of about 20,000 people from 82 villages. Neither the BJD-BJP coalition government which you oversee, nor other major political parties have acted in the interests of the disenfranchised. In the 2004 election campaign, the BJP manipulated the 'jal, jungle, zameen' (water, forest, land) platform, appropriated from land reform movements to persuade adivasis in Orissa to join them. The BJP-BJD government and allied Hindu nationalist organizations have manoeuvred dalits, adivasis, and minority religious groups to meet their own political interests, with abject disregard for the well-being and self-determination of these groups.
Under your jurisdiction and authority, in July 2003, the Orissa government permitted the unconstitutional transfer of lands in Schedule V areas for mining and industrial use. Orissa's decision contradicts the 1997 Samata versus Andhra Pradesh judgement, where the Apex Court had ruled against the government's lease of tribal forest and other lands in Scheduled Areas to non-tribals for mining and industrial operations.
Under your jurisdiction and authority, beginning 23 January 2004, four adivasi villages, Borobhota, Kinari, Kothduar, Sindhabahili, and their agricultural fields, in south east Kalahandi district, were razed by Sterlite industries, a multinational corporation building an aluminium refinery near Lanjigarh, adjacent to Kashipur. The villagers were forcibly evicted.
Under your jurisdiction and authority, corporate activity and bilateral development in Orissa remains divorced from people's meaningful participation in decision-making. The rationale, socioeconomic and ecological cost-benefit ratios, outcomes, cross-sectoral integration, distributive mechanisms and delivery systems of development processes require radical scrutiny. Development processes in Orissa that render the disempowered destitute contradict the United Nation's Declaration on the Right to Development, which recognises development as, "a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at .... the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and .... fair distribution of the benefits resulting therefrom". The state often charges poor rural communities with the primary responsibility for ecological degradation, while plans for enhancing forest productivity and allaying rural poverty are premised on capital intensive strategies such as the National Forestry Action Plans prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1999. The Revised Forest Strategy of the World Bank, approved in October 2002, is another glaring example of centralised policies that alienate the disenfranchised by privileging 'free' market activity and endorsing the unchecked involvement of the private sector in forest management.
Orissa's development strategy focuses on the invasive expansion of power, mining and heavy industry, contingent on the indiscriminate exploitation of forests. Maldevelopment, authorized by the Government of Orissa, has imperilled forests and public lands, jeopardised environmental health and governance, and endangered the people who depend on natural resources for subsistence and livelihood. This is of particular concern in the context of growing liberalisation and corporate globalisation prioritised by the state in trade, industry, tourism and agriculture, and the privatisation of public resources and infrastructure. There is a rise in the absolute and relative number of people below the poverty line in rural Orissa. While schemes and programmes focussed on poverty alleviation have been continued in the Ninth (1997-2002) and Tenth (2002-2007) Plans, their impact on the alleviation of rural poverty remains dubious. They are often mismanaged, ill-planned and financed, surfeit with corruption, and inattentive to the needs of the majority of cultures and communities in the state. Lack of access to common property resources, including water and forests, complimented by environmental degeneration, heighten impoverishment, and the cyclone of 1999, the droughts of 2000 and 2003, and the floods of 2001, pose a formidable challenge for environmental, political and social sustainability in the state and make suspect the government's commitment to human rights and social security.
The Orissa Government, under your jurisdiction and authority, is invested in generating an affirmative environment for brisk industrialisation, without regard for the massive social and ecological destitution that has become the tragic bi-product of modernization in India. People's Groups and Left Political Parties estimate that Orissa has received bids for investment that amount to Rupees 2,50,000 crores over the next decade. Much of this is committed to the growth of large industries such as aluminium and steel, and related infrastructure development. The estimates are that such investment will lead to employment opportunities for only 1,75,000, while there are two million unemployed and another two million underemployed. In contrast, an investment of Rupees 5000 crores in cottage, small and medium industries can generate employment for about one crore. The Government of Orissa estimates that 20 mining projects and 5 large dams will displace 250,000 people. These forms of industrialization will radically impact mineral resources, pollution and aridity of rivers and the ground water base. Such development will also decimate what holds value and is sacred to myriad communities and will accelerate cultural genocide.
I write to add to the resolute voices of dissent in solidarity with the people affected by Utkal Alumina International Limited, as social movements, activists, intellectuals, across the nation and internationally, unequivocally condemn the actions of your government. The Orissa Government must take immediate action to stop the police brutalization and mining operations, and set up an independent commission to inquire into the social and environmental damage resultant from past action. Investigation into human rights violations and plans for reparations must be central to the mandate of such a commission. The Government of Orissa must act ethically in the interests of the people of Kashipur to remedy the horrific breakdown of governance and ensure justice.
Associate Professor, Social and Cultural Anthropology Program
California Institute of Integral Studies
1453 Mission Street, San Francisco,
[Both these letters were published last week by Independent Media (India)]