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Orrisa: Ongoing Brutality

Ongoing Brutality The death of 12 persons on January 2 in Kalinga Nagar of Jajpur district in Orissa when the police fired on tribal persons who were protesting against state-directed displacement and demanding


Ongoing Brutality

he death of 12 persons on January 2 in Kalinga Nagar of Jajpur district in Orissa when the police fired on tribal persons who were protesting against state-directed displacement and demanding “adequate” compensation, once again demonstrates the brutality with which the state government has been trying to crush the struggle of the victims of development. The sequence of what happened is not as yet clear; the media has largely given credence to the official version that the police fired only after “the mob”, armed with bows and arrows, “hacked a policeman to death”. All the same, police “retaliation” was certainly fierce, for the bullets hit many of the injured villagers in their backs even as they ran for their lives. Did the state government deploy as many as 12 platoons of the state armed police merely to protect a few Tata Steel personnel, who had come to start work on building a boundary wall? We will have to wait for some time to know the correct sequence of what was planned, what was anticipated, and what actually happened; the independent human rights organisations will no doubt conduct their inquiries and release their reports. Meanwhile, tribal resentment has further deepened with the handing over of five bodies with hands chopped off at the wrists.

The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government, led by the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, has been quite indiscriminately signing MoUs for the exploitation of the state’s iron ore and bauxite resources. The BJD-BJP government takes great pride in announcing that Orissa “has become a happening state”, having signed 43 MoUs in steel and four in aluminium, “pioneered the concept of value addition to minerals in the state” and “power sector reforms” in the country, and attracted the biggest foreign direct investment, the POSCO steel project. But neither does the state have a decent resettlement and rehabilitation (R and R) policy in place nor does it insist on the conduct of proper environmental and social impact assessments, with public hearings of the large projects on the anvil.

The Orissa government had acquired around 12,000 acres of land in Kalinga Nagar during 1992-94 for allocation to steel projects. Landowners were reportedly then compensated at Rs 37,000 per acre, with some additional compensation later on when a tide of protests continued. Two companies implemented their projects, but neither met the promise of providing employment to one person in every household displaced from the land the projects now occupy. Then, in 2004-05, the government allotted 1,960 acres of land to Tata Steel, reportedly at nearly 10 times the rate at which the landowners were originally compensated. There were serious grievances – extremely inadequate compensation for the land acquired, gross failures in resettlement and rehabilitation, and major shortcomings in the provision of jobs. A draft R and R plan, prepared by the United Nations Development Programme on the basis of consultation with the stakeholders, is said to be gathering dust in the offices of the chief executive of the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IIDC); inordinate delay in its official approval is believed to be due to pressures from industry.

The principal victims of the iron ore and bauxite mining leases, as well as the steel projects and alumina/aluminium projects are the landless and land-poor tribal households. They suffer the worst forms of deprivation, and have the lowest health and educational status. Moreover, they are the victims of deep prejudice and discrimination, which keep their standard of living, health and educational status abysmally low. These in turn strengthen prejudice, the two mutually reinforcing each other. The tragedy is that economic and political discrimination seem to be bound together; as a result the landless and land-poor tribal households are repeatedly subject to brutal repression, like in the recent Kalinga Nagar firing or earlier the repression let loose on tribal opposition to the Vedanta Aluminium project and the killing of three tribal persons in police firing a few years ago in Kashipur.

As of now there seems to be no end in sight to the depressing plight of the landless and land-poor tribal people. The tribal MLAs in Orissa from the BJP are busy posturing, for they are worried about the possible negative political fallout of the Kalinga Nagar killings. But the BJP is unlikely to withdraw from the state ministry. One would at least expect these tribal MLAs to put pressure on chief minister Naveen Patnaik to approve the draft R and R package that is being held back at the IIDC.


Economic and Political Weekly January 14, 2006

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