Spreading resistance

Print edition : February 10, 2006

Widespread resistance by tribal people to projects causing displacement forces the Orissa government to plan a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation policy.

PRAFULLA DAS in Bhubaneswar

Representatives of NGOs demonstrating against the January 2 police firing at the Kalinga Nagar industrial area in which 12 tribal people were killed.-

THE resistance by the tribal people of Orissa's Jajpur district to the process of industrialisation has spread to non-tribal areas in the wake of the January 2 police firing, compelling the government to look at the issue of relief and rehabilitation (R&R) of the project-affected people more seriously.

Coming at a time when the Naveen Patnaik government was planning to allow a host of companies to set up steel plants and alumina refineries in the State, the incident at the Kalinga Nagar industrial complex, which resulted in the death of a dozen tribal people, has triggered widespread protests across the State. So much so that those displaced by industries and other development projects in the past too have started renewing their demand for adequate compensation.

"We will not part with our land and homes to make space for industries," says a determined Surendra Jaraka of Bamiagotha village, whose wife Janga was killed in the firing. He narrates his difficulty in bringing up his four children, aged between six months and six years, since his wife's death.

"They have killed our men to set up a steel plant. We will die, but will not part with even an inch of our land," says Upin Jamuda, 65, of Chandia village. He lost his son in the firing.

Apart from the firing, what has reinforced tribal resistance is the plight of those displaced by irrigation, power or industrial projects awaiting compensation and rehabilitation for long in different parts of the State.

The problem of project displacement was never paid any attention in the past. In recent years, however, the problem has come to the forefront as most of the sanctioned industries are proposed to be located in tribal-dominated areas.

As such, large-scale mining activities in the State have affected the tribal people badly. Most of the iron ore mines and deposits are located in the tribal-dominated Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts. With continuous mining activities, the tribal people of these districts have lost their homes and, with the destruction of forests and water sources, their livelihood. Tribal people constitute nearly 22.21 per cent of the total population of the State. Sixty-two tribal communities of Orissa have been designated as Scheduled Tribes, of which 13 have been recognised as primitive tribal groups. Orissa continues to be one of the poorest States; 73 per cent of its tribal families live below the poverty line (BPL), and of them 87 per cent live in the southern districts of Koraput, Ganjam and Phulbani. Deprivation and denial of access to and rights over land seem to be the major reasons for poverty and disempowerment among the tribal people who own only around 13 per cent of the total land area in these Schedule V (provisions in the Constitution as to the administration and control of the scheduled areas and Scheduled Tribes) areas. The State owns approximately 74 per cent of land in these regions where the majority of the tribal people either remain landless or are marginal landowners.

Walter Fernandes, who has authored several books on tribal people and displacement, estimates that about two million people have been displaced by development projects in the State between 1951 and 1995, of whom 40 per cent were tribal people, 20 per cent were Dalits and 20 per cent belonged to the Other Backward Classes.

About 25 per cent of the displaced tribal people were never resettled and the resettlement packages given to others were meagre. The flippant attitude with which the issue of displacement of tribal people has been treated by the authorities is evident from the fact that no data seem to be available on the tribal people displaced by seven of the 13 dams that were built in the State prior to the 1990s. Similarly, of the 10 major industrial projects that were launched, there is no similar data available for seven.

"The project managers and the authorities have been totally insensitive to the issue of displacement, rehabilitation and resettlement. There has been complete absence of transparency in dealing with the issue so far," said Balaji Pandey, Director of the Institute of Socio-Economic Development, a Bhubaneswar-based research organisation. "The people who are sacrificing enormously for the growth and development [of the region] are kept in the dark and never given an iota of space for their participation in the development process."

The tribal people never made any protest in the past as most of the projects were done in the name of greater public good. The threat of displacement and the miseries of those displaced earlier made them oppose new industries. The arrival of more and more mining companies and private industrial projects added to the resentment.

Family members of Ati Jamuda, who was killed in the police firing.-ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

The tribal people of Kalinga Nagar were not the first victims of anti-project protests. Three tribal people were killed in police firing in December 2000 for resisting the setting up of an alumina refinery at Kashipur in Rayagada district.

But until the January 2 killing, the authorities never bothered to find out the reasons for the growing opposition to industries in the tribal areas. Those in power were busy dreaming of an industrially developed Orissa even as the tribal people continued to oppose the starting of new projects, demanding adequate compensation and proper rehabilitation. The government not only suppressed the legitimate protests but instructed the local administrations to facilitate the commissioning of fresh projects at any cost.

Criticised for adopting "an industry-friendly approach instead of a people-friendly one", the Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJD-BJP) government decided to form a five-member ministerial team to evolve a comprehensive R&R policy. The team will study the policies adopted in various projects, the relevant Central policies and the draft policy formulated by the State government in 2005.

"The new policy will be a progressive one and we will adopt the same after consulting representatives of various tribal organisations, political parties and social activists," said Biswabhushan Harichandan, Revenue Minister and head of the committee.

Political parties that were never too concerned about R&R in the past are now trying to exploit the issue to score brownie points. Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not miss the opportunity to reclaim her party's lost tribal vote bank by visiting Kalinga Nagar a few days after the firing incident. Incidentally, while announcing relief for the families of the victims, she said nothing about R&R. The BJP also sought to gain some mileage. Its State president Jual Oram presented to the central leadership the demand of the tribal legislators of the party to withdraw support to the Patnaik government, but fell in line after the party bosses showed disapproval.

The Opposition parties, including the Congress, got together to extend their support to the Statewide bandh called by the Kalinga Nagar Suraksha Parishad on January 7. But their support to the tribal cause lost steam in the following days. In the entire game of political one-upmanship, the ruling BJD seemed to have been the lone loser.

Captains of the steel industry were quick to shift the blame on to the government by saying that it was the responsibility of the authorities to ensure proper R&R of the affected population. They claim that they had never refused to bear the cost of R&R.

The tribal people, however, are strong in their resolve to oppose new industries in Kalinga Nagar. Under the banner of the Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch, they have planned a series of programmes to continue their agitation. They are drawing strength from the support that is being extended by some civil society organisations and prominent citizens from different parts of the State and outside.

"The authorities never took our demands for adequate compensation and rehabilitation seriously," said Chakradhar Haiburu, president of the Janmanch. "Through our agitation, we will now take up the plight of the tribal people facing displacement across the State," he said.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Rabi Ray accused the Chief Minister of not fulfilling the legitimate demands of the tribal people. The State government had been thoroughly exposed for its policies, which were only meant for the affluent people, he claimed in a statement.

The civil society has also lent its voice to the clamour against tribal displacement. Backing the demand of the Kalinga Nagar tribal people for the suspension of industrial activities in the area, a group of activists demanded the immediate cessation of land acquisition and proper rehabilitation to those displaced by earlier development projects. Pointing out that land acquisition in tribal pockets after 1997 had been done in violation of rules, the activists demanded that the mining concessions given to private parties be withdrawn immediately.

As the Kalinga Nagar incident continues to embarrass the Naveen Patnaik government, one hopes that the authorities will come up with a comprehensive R&R policy if it wants to put Orissa afresh on the path of industrialisation.

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