MAC: Mines and Communities

Atrocities accompany India's neo-liberal path

Published by MAC on 2007-12-01

Atrocities accompany India's neo-liberal path

1st December 2007

Since 2004, the Indian government has embarked on a headlong rush to assert itself as a global economic powerhouse, evincing all the trappings of neo-liberalisation.

Hardly any wonder then, that the forces of "law and order" have had to confront an unprecedented degree of citizens' resistance to the kernel concept of that process: the establishment of industrial conclaves or special economic zones (SEZs).

The tinder box was initially lit in January 2006 when Tata's attempt to establish a steel plant at Kalingangar in Orissa, resulted in the death of 12 tribal protesters and a policeman.

In rights weekend Italian solidarity India, Rome demonstrate in last farmers land activists with

In solidarity with farmers in India, Italian land rights activists demonstrate in Rome last weekend

Later that year, Tata , along with Italy's Fiat corporation, attempted to establish a car factory on fertile farmland at Singur in West Bengal.

Opponents were attacked, with many injured and some losing their lives.

Less than a year on, in November 2007, cadres of the CPI(M) - the Communist Party of India (Marxist) - again savagely attacked peaceful demonstrators against an SEZ "chemical hub" at Nandigram in West Bengal.

Once more, many were injured, with thousands of people forced into makeshift internal "refugee camps" where they are still in fear of their lives.

Hardly had this atrocity reached the headlines than other Indians challenged the allocation of land at Jagatsinghpur, Orissa for another SEZ. This time the beneficiary will be a huge steel plant to be operated by South Korea's POSCO. Residents were set upon by "goons", acting - if not on behalf of the company - then certainly in concert with the Orissa government.

As we go to press, the situation is still unfolding. India’s Supreme Court Central Empowered Committee (CEC - which played a key role in challenging Vedanta's claim to the Nyamgiri hills) has apparently submitted a report to the Supreme Court. This says that all components of POSCO's project (plant, mine, township and infrastruture) must be taken together and plans for rehabilitation must be included.

However, India's Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has already given forest clearance, although it is not known which land has been selected for 'compensatory afforestation' and where the uprooted villagers will be dumped.

Meanwhile, villagers are under attack ( or the threat of it) while the long-delayed Forest Rights Act which could give them respite has still not been passed by the central government [see below].

Anti-Posco people attacked

Comment by correspondent in Orissa

29th November 2007

A strong people's resistance has been going on in the parts of Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa against acquisition of their land for a steel plant and captive port proposed in the area since July 2005, a month after the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the project was signed between the Government of Orissa and Pohang Steel Company Limited (POSCO).

Despite the strong local resistance, government seems hell bent on expediting the implementation of the project. The situation became very volatile in April this year when several platoons of Orissa Military Police were deployed in the area five days before the mandatory environmental clearance public hearing on 15 th April 2007. The protests in the three affected Gram Panchayats have become stronger especially after PM Manmohan Singh's statement on April 19th asking the Orissa government to expedite the land acquisition process.

The State is desperate to start the POSCO project work by April 2008. Failing to break the anti-POSCO movement through money, bribery and threat, POSCO and Government of Orissa have taken a clue from Nandigram and are trying to create a situation of violence, which then will become a pretext to send in the police. They have realized by now that they can't use state force directly. Thus local mafia and criminals are being armed to initiate action against the ant-POSCO people. Through such interventions they are trying to create a situation for entry of police /para military force to support the local goons.

The current situation on the ground is extremely tense. On 25 th November 2007, armed supporters of pro-POSCO local MLA and ex-minister Damodar Rout (BJD) launched an attack on the procession of villagers opposing the POSCO project in Jagatsinghpur. The procession was passing by the Mahaveer Peetha at Nuagan on their way to Nolia Sahi to reconstruct a check which Rout's men had smashed on 23rd November. Latest reports suggest that an attack is being planned on the road blockade by anti-POSCO agitators and there is every possibility of a confrontation at any moment. *

On 21st November, a group of employees of the Hyderabad based Dharitri Company attempted a PUJA [festival] to start the dredging work of river Jatadhari claiming that it was a contract job of the oil refinery in Paradeep. The agitating villagers who have been fooled by such groups many times in the past refused to believe them and requested the employees to honorably leave the place. But, the chief of the local Mahaveer Peetha (a place owned by fundamentalist Hindu groups) who was supposed to perform the Puja and who is also known as a person controlling a few musclemen in the area and a close associate of ruling party MLA Mr. Rout, entered into a verbal duel with the agitators which ultimately resulted in a conflict causing injuries to a few people from both sides. Taking a procession of his followers on 23rdNovember he broke the check gate constructed by the protesting villagers to prevent the entry of POSCO officials, police and administration.

The agitating villagers decided to reconstruct the gate. They convened a meeting at Balitutha to discuss the new threats to their movement from the religious head with organized muscle power who has been engaged by POSCO and Rout with the active support of the administration. At 2 pm a procession of anti-POSCO villagers marched towards Nolia Sahi to repair the check gate. This procession was attacked Mahaveer Peetha by an armed gang under the leadership of Raju baba. Two leaders of the anti- POSCO agitation were critically injured and shifted to SCB medical college hospital while 6 more have been admitted in to the local hospital at Balitutha.

The movement has shown admirable restraint and has been trying to defuse the situation. The movement leadership however apprehends that once this attack is launched, the armed police will also move in and a repeat of Nandigram may take place. With hundreds of anti-POSCO youth and children having formed "Self-sacrifice brigade", we are extremely apprehensive about the outcomes of this deliberate provocation being planned by POSCO and State Government.

[On November 29] we confirmed the attack on the peacful demonstration of the Anti-POSCO people. At least five bombs were hurled and people were beaten up. The camp has been burnt. As per reports received this happened at around 5:30 PM today evening when approximately 500 armed persons carrying bombs and other lethal weapon launched an attack on the peaceful demonstration on the Balitutha bridge. The demonstrators included women and children.

[The attackers] burst bombs, beat up the demonstrators and burned the camp of the demonstrators. The number of casualties is not known. We have also been told that this is inspite of the fact that after the request of all leaders of mass movements the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti [Anti-POSCO organisation] lifted its blockade on Balitutha bridge unilaterally. Today 15 members of the gang supporting Raju Baba came and told the leaders that simply lifting the blockade will not do.

They warned them to lift the camp and the community kitchen. The leaders declined to do so as they were only holding a demonstration and not blocking the road.

The possibility of such an attack and the preparation for the same had been conveyed to all concerned including the district administration and the media. However, unlike the media in West Bengal which provided objective and courageous coverage of Nandigram, the so called "neutral" role played by Orissa's media has only strengthened criminals and anti-people elements which are using force to try to destroy a peaceful, non-violent movement.

The goons for this attack have been outsourced from Kendrapara area, famous for its mafias and gangs and obviously there are sponsors of this violence against local people. The political opposition has kept quiet as usual. An insensitive, corporate friendly bureaucracy does not bother about any thing else other than the MOUs signed with the companies. The ruling elites and leading intellectuals are busy attending dance festivals and cultural, events sponsored by Vedanta types. As in Nandigram, the state and the corporate sector has outsourced violence to private armies.

As requested below, please take up the matter with the State Government. Please forward the appeal on all networks. Update on the breaking situation will follow as we get more details.

* What to do?

1. Write to the Governor and Chief Minister of Orissa to ask them to take action to stop planned Nandigram type violence against the people who are protesting against the POSCO plant and their displacement in Jagatsinghpur. *

*2. Write to the Prime Minister whose office is taking extra interest in mobilizing all administrative support for the project *

The Fax Nos. are:

Naveen Patnaik, chief minister, Orissa - Fax 0674-2535100,

Shri Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, Governor, Orissa- Fax: 0674-2536582

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister - Fax: 011-23019545 / 011-23016857.

Orissa villagers clash over POSCO project, 18 injured


30th November 2007

New Delhi: The controversy over steel giant POSCO's proposed project at Jagatsinghpur in Orissa is again leading to tension in the area.

The situation is tense and three police platoons have been deployed at the site of the POSCO factory in Jagatsinghpur.

A violent clash between the supporters and opponents of the POSCO steel project on Thursday afternoon left at least 18 persons injured. A majority of the injured persons belonged to the site opposing the steel venture.

The clash took place at Balitutha, the site where the activists of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti had been camping since a long time to continue their movement.

The incident took place around 5:00 pm (IST) when a group of locals supporting the project told the PPSS activists that simple lifting of the road blockade at Balitutha was not sufficient and asked them to lift the camp. As the anti-POSCO activists did not oblige, the project supporters pelted stones at them leading to a pitched battle between the two sides.

According to PPSS president Abhay Sahu, the situation soon took an ugly turn when around 400 people, mostly from far off areas, descended on the scene and hurled at least five crude bombs at the anti-POSCO people present at the camp.

As the protestors ran for cover, the attackers burnt the tents of the camp before fleeing the spot.

The local police, who were so far not entering the locality due to people's opposition, were swift in taking possession of the campsite at Balitutha, Sahu said.

As those with serious injuries were admitted to the local hospital, several persons had been discharged after first-aid.

The police had not initiated action against anyone till late in the evening as no complaints had been filed with them.

The divide between the supporters and opponents of the project had been widening since local legislator and former Minister Damodar Rout addressed a rally in support of the steel project a few weeks ago.

The PPSS president blamed the company and the administration for allegedly making all out efforts to widen the divide between the locals.

At least 10 persons were injured in a similar clash between the two sides on November 25.

Goons hired to attack anti Posco camp?

By Prasanta Patnaik

Bhubaneswar,Dec 1 ( <> ) Harden criminals and goons were hired from Paradip and other places who hurled bombs on the peaceful picketers at Balitutha in the proposed POSCO site on Thursday evening, injuring many, according to a scribe who was present during the attack at Balitutha. The scribe who did not like to be named told<>that he is in possession of enough of visuals to establish that many of the assaulters were not from the villages in the proposed POSCO site.

He said that such elements were hired by a senior BJD leader and also a local Congress leader who have joined hands to help POSCO for "mysterious " reasons. He said, the pro-POSCO activists were so jovial as if they have owned the Kargil war. A leader of the pro-POSCO group was heard suggesting the locals to support the POSCO move so that they would be provided with gainful employment once the construction work would be taken up. Till that time they would be paid Rs 1, 500.00 per month. Moreover presently while the POSCO authorities have agreed to pay compensation to the tune of Rs 10 lakhs, Dr. Damodar Rout, the local M.L.A. and former minister who was unceremoniously dropped from Naveen Patnaik Government was negotiating for payment of Rs 12 lakh as compensation, claim supporter of Dr. Rout.

According to some anti-POSCO activists, Dr. Rout was camping in the area since past three days to mobilize support in favour of POSCO. Dr Rout said that most of the people in the region are supporting the project and have come forward. Talking to <> an anti-POSCO activist however said that the attack have strongly united the people who love their soil, air, water and the people. "We have become more determined now.

We are ready to sacrifice our lives, but not an inch of land ", he said empathetically. Radhakanta Sethi , leader of CPI(ML-Liberation ) told <> that the attack on anti-POSCO activists was designed in the line of Nandigram.The attackers planned their operation soon [as] the State Assembly was declared sine die, so that there would be no scope for raising the issue in the House, he said, "this is not the end of the agitation, but a new beginning".

Sethi said, soon the people of Orissa will give appropriate reply to the Government-Corporate sponsored terrorism against the poor and the deprived section of society.

Senior journalist and human right activist Rabi Das also condemned the inhuman attack on the peaceful agitators at Balitutha. He said that all concerns should condemn such activities and identify the enemies of the people. Das expressed his shock and surprise over the activities of the police. he said, the police were mute witness to all illegal activities by POSCO supporters who have built up three check posts to prevent common men as well as media from entering the area.

He said, though a series of cognizable offenses were committed by POSCO supporters and criminals, so far the police has taken no action against them, saying that they have not received any F.I.R. But they can take sue-motto cognigence against the law breakers who can be clearly identified from the video footage available with many TV channels.

POSCO going the Nandigram way?

27th November 2007

PROTEST ON: Ten people were killed in clashes between pro-POSCO and anti-POSCO villagers.

Bhubaneswar: In Orissa, battles continue to rage on between pro-POSCO and anti-POSCO activists. The latest clashes have left many people dead. But the state government continues to be wary of sending in police to crack down on the violence.

They are the warring camps of Jagatsinghpur. Villagers from the same district in Orissa with very different opinions on the proposed POSCO steel plant. And their battle is getting bloody.

Ten people were killed in clashes between pro-POSCO and anti-POSCO villagers on Sunday. Two of them are critically wounded. And both sides say the fighting will only get worse.

POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Chairman Abhaya Sahoo said, "I warn the government to soon stop initiating this indirect war by using local anti social elements against us. Otherwise it will soon take the turn of another Kalinganagar and Nandigram like violence."

While pro-POSCO supporter Raghunath Sarangi says, "POSCO will give employment to our children. These outsiders are unnecessarily creating trouble here. We will throw them out and will allow POSCO to be established here."

Villagers against the South Korean steel plant say the Orissa government has been instigating villagers through its local political leaders for a month now urging them to speak out for the Rs 51,000 crore project.

Supporters of the plant have come together under local BJD MLA Damodar Rout. But the state government is doing little to guard against violence. Police have not entered the disputed site for over two years.

Steel and Mines Minister Padmanabh Behera says, "Soon the POSCO supporters will outnumber the people who are opposing the steel plant and the problem will automatically end. We are not sending police there since that might lead to more violence."

From the reactions of the Orissa government it seems, that the recent violence at the POSCO site is just not enough to initiate any police action.

Perhaps they are waiting for another Nandigram to happen before any action could be taken.

Activists demand notification of Tribal Act*

Special Correspondent, The Hindu

1st December 2007

NEW DELHI: Civil society activists and representatives of non-governmental organisations championing the cause of indigenous people on Friday organised a human chain in the capital to press the government to notify the Rules for the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

In a memorandum to Union Tribal Affairs Minister P.R. Kyndiah, the activists condemned the continued 'delay' and 'undermining' of the Act passed by Parliament last year.

Drawing the Minister's attention to the fact that the period for receiving public comments ended on August 3 and while the implementation of the Act was being delayed, evictions were taking place across the country in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Rajasthan, the protestors accused the Ministry of Environment and Forests of beginning an "illegal process" of determining the critical wildlife habitats — a category created by this law, even before the Act was notified or people's rights recognised.

This violated the letter and spirit of the Act and clearly an effort to 'delay and undermine this law,' the memorandum said.

Moreover, this 'sabotage' of the Act was leading to a situation where its real shortcomings were being ignored. The assurances given to the Rajya Sabha on December 18, 2006 about amendments to the law and measures in the Rules – intended to address these shortcomings remained unimplemented.

Rather than continuing to 'undermine' this law, surely it should be the government's effort to fulfil the assurances and implement the law at the earliest, the memorandum said.

If the United Progressive Alliance government's claimed commitment to the country's forest dwelling communities was not merely an empty promise, it was imperative that action be taken to ensure the 'just and effective' recognition of forest rights, it said.

Organised by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, the protesters demanded that the government empower the communities to defend and protect the forests against mafias, the government and companies and ensure the authority and effectiveness of the real gram sabhas in determining rights.

They also demanded an end to "militarisation" and corporate seizure of tribal land in the name of Special Economic Zones as also bringing all Adivasi areas under the V Schedule

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