“Once upon a time the temples of modern India reduced millions of tribal people to ecological refugees, today the minerals, seen as the building blocks of modern India, are putting them at risk of losing their land through acquisition and further disruption of their societies and economies. The process of land acquisition in Eastern and Central India is the biggest land grab since Columbus.”
These lines are not dire warnings from some NGO or human rights activist, but constitute the opening remarks of the report titled State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms made by a 15-member committee constituted by the Union Ministry for Rural Development. The area of study by this group was one which has the majority of India’s mineral reserves. The report was based on surveys made across Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand. This swathe of land, besides being the richest in minerals, also has our finest forests and bio-diversity. Most of the major Indian rivers originate and flow through this tract. This is also the stretch that has been dubbed the Red Corridor’, where a fierce battle is going on between security forces and the Maoist-led resistance for the control of the bounty that is in its belly.
Jindal Steel & Power Limited has earmarked an investment of Rs 50,000 crore in the state of Odisha. It is setting up a 12.5 MPTA steel plant in phases and will also generate 2600 MW of power in due course. In the first phase, the company is setting up a 6.0 million TPA integrated steel plant at Angul along with an 810 MW of captive power generation facility. The project is in a fast-track mode, with the Plate Mill and two units of Power Plant already commissioned, and the other units nearing completion. The Plate Mill is capable of producing a five-metre-wide wide plate, which will be the widest plate ever produced in the country. The plant is set up on 5750 acres of land, most of which was acquired from 44 villages.
The company is also investing Rs 45,000 crore in a Coal-to-Liquid Project in Odisha. The CTL Project is an 80,000 barrels per day plant in Kishore Nagar tehsil in Angul. The 4-million tonne annual capacity plant that will produce 80,000 barrels of liquid fuel like diesel and petrol daily, will be commissioned by Jindal C N Fuels, a sister concern of JSPL with technology from Germany.
Naveen Jindal is known for his passion for the national flag. Indians are awed by his patriotism because he fought a decade-long case in the Supreme Court of India, which eventually passed a judgment that allows each citizen of this country to hoist the tricolour every day at his place. At the Jindal Steel and Power Limited plant site at Angul, the flag flutters at new heights—literally. It is the largest one in the country, hoisted on a magnificent 206 feet tower. For the protesting villagers who were beaten mercilessly by the company-hired goons in January this year, the fluttering flag at the plant site is a symbol of oppression rather then a symbol of equality. The police and the government officials, who have sworn allegiance by the flag, to protect and safeguard the citizens, instead, helped in forcibly acquiring their lands. When a few who were brave enough to ask for compensation spoke up and protested, they were brutally beaten up and the police stood by as mute spectators. Had their oath to the tricolor been sincere, the company officials and the goons, instead of the villagers, would have been arrested and thrown into prison.
According to official sources, 1113 persons were displaced and 5,673 persons lost their lands and houses due to the project. The actual figures will certainly be much higher. The fundamental rights of the locals, the right to speech and expression, right to organise and struggle, right to free movement and carry out their profession and calling, have been crippled under the jackboots of the police and the Jindal hired goons. The scars of the brutal attack by the Jindal’s private army in January are still visible on many of the locals. More then 200 villagers, which included women and children, were injured, 20 of them critically. They had to spend months in hospitals and a few have been maimed for life.
The students of the Jindal Global Law School know little about the fact that its founder routinely tramples upon and has complete contempt for the Law and Constitution of the land. Jindal also runs a global management college, where students are taught modern international management skills, but the management style of his own business is sheer barbarism.
The January agitation resulted in a 19-day standoff—the plant resumed work after assurances were given both by JSPL and the district administration that the demands would be taken up in the Rehabilitation and Periphery Advisory Development Committee (RPADC). Once again in July, the villagers launched another blockade on the road. They accused the district administration of reneging on its assurance that JSPL would keep its promises. The Secretary of Birankeswar Shilpanchal Khyatigrastha Prajasangha, Sanatan Sahu, who is spearheading the agitation, said the people were fed up with the false promises and resentment was brewing among those affected by the project as the Rehabilitation and Periphery Advisory Development Committee meeting had not been held for the last three consecutive years.
The district administration agrees that the people of the 44 villages displaced by the project have not been given all the benefits due under the Industrial Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy of Odisha. The Jindal plant had initially offered the villagers a bunch of very juicy carrots at the end of a short stick. They were promised more than market rates compensation, jobs at the plant, monthly stipends till they were adequately rehabilitated besides a slew of other welfare packages which included setting up health, education and training facilities.
This correspondent went for an early morning visit to Jindal Nagar, the township coming up on the outskirts of Angul. There was a huge gate and when he tried to take a photograph from the road, a whole phalanx of security men came charging up to him. An argument ensued and they told him that photography was strictly prohibited, even from the public road. Even his press credentials did not hold good. He could not meet anyone from the plant but would have to meet officials at Bhubaneswar. However, the Bhubaneswar office too did not respond to any of his queries.
ODISHA INDUSTRIAL SECURITY FORCE BILL-2012
The general feeling in Corporate India is that Odisha is a land of plenty. A very powerful political elite, a pliable bureaucracy, corrupt babudom and an administration which turns a blind eye to every law of the land—this makes a heady cocktail for greedy investors, who have made a beeline to the state for rich pickings. In the last few years the monitoring agencies, both at the centre and the state, besides the courts of the land have been working overtime to bring the mayhem to order. Every law of the land, whether it be environmental laws, tribal and forest laws, corporate laws or human rights has been flouted and the state government has cocked a snook at all the strictures and admonishments that have been levelled against them. The latest feather in the cap is the Odisha Industrial Security Force Bill-2012, which was passed in the State Assembly by a voice vote on August 28, 2012.
The Bill had been earlier introduced during the budget session in April but could not be passed as the house was adjourned sine die. The second time, opposition in the Assembly was caught napping, and the Bill was passed without any debate.
The new Bill was for the establishment of a specialised force to protect industrial units. The Minister who introduced the Bill said that due to rapid industrialisation in the state and various security threats to industries, mines, vital installations, there was an urgent need for raising a specialised force in line with the central Industrial Security Force (CISF) that is used to guard central government industrial installations as well as securing sea ports and airports. He also said: “Sustained resistance to displacement and relocation impinges on the security of industries and developmental projects. It is extremely difficult for the state police to provide security to the industries,”
Earlier, the standing committee of Odisha State Assembly on Home (police affair) has recommended the government for creation of state security force to provide security to public and private sector industrial units, keeping in view the Maoists threat. As per the provisions in the Bill, the industrial undertakings and borrowing units will bear the cost as and when they requisition the force. The government also declared that the force would create employment for 22,000 people.
The Bill empowers the state government to employ an Inspector-General of Police to head the industrial security force. The force shall be deployed on request from the management of industries and other vital installations in the private sector on payment.
The draconian clauses in the Bill clearly portray the mindset of the pro-capitalist anti-people stand of the Naveen Patnaik government. In almost all the MoUs that have been signed by the State of Odisha, there was a clause for providing security during and after completion of the projects. It seems that the drafting of the Bill has been based on the Armed Forces Special Power Act.
The Bill states that, once deployed, the force will be under the administrative control of the industrial undertaking. The force personnel shall have power to arrest a person without any warrant and, even, without any order from a magistrate or court. The Bill also empowers the force to search a person or somebody’s house even without any warrant. Immunity will be provided to the members of the force for the acts during discharge of duty under the rules to be framed under the new law. No court shall take cognizance of an offence against any member of the force without prior sanction of the state government.
Human rights activist Dr Subash Mohapatra says that the force, controlled by private industrial units, will enjoy immunity. Police and security officials in India who commit torture or inflict other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have long enjoyed impunity for their actions. Section 197 of the CrPC allows for all-encompassing immunity by providing that the central or state government in question must grant sanction for the prosecution of any government official or member of the armed forces alleged to have committed a criminal offence “while acting or purporting to act within the discharge of his official duty”.
It will be interesting to see what the Governor of Odisha , who is himself a lawyer of eminence, decides on the Bill. As for Naveen Jindal, he can very soon remove his private army of robust Haryanavi Jats that have been deployed at Angul and get the state provided musclemen to protect his interests.
The last four years have seen a massive social and economic upheaval in the area. It is true that a handful of the villagers have been compensated, the company officials have cultivated a section of the local leaders, most of whom owe allegiance to the ruling BJD. In order to intimidate and harass villagers demanding compensation, these stooges entrap them in false cases in far-away police stations, so that no one would dare raise their voice against the company. They pit brother against brother and the poor are killing each other.
The Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is directly protecting the Jindal management. The Jindal plant was found guilty of violating environmental and forest laws, yet no action was taken. It is a fact that the Chief Minister declined to take action even after the central government directed the state to file cases. Now the company’s writ runs across 5,000 acres and it does not want to abide by the laws of the land.
THE HIDDEN WATER DRAGONS OF THE DEEP
Throughout history, humans have feared that the skies would be the source of great destruction. During the Cold War, nations feared nuclear attack from above, today some of that fear has shifted to the threats of atmospheric climate change, of increasing ultraviolet radiation through the ozone hole, and the rising intensity of global warming.
The holy texts of most of the religions describe hell as an underworld which is a dismal, lifeless place completely lacking the abundant fertility of the heavens above. Science and human experience have taught us differently. Hydrologists now know that healthy aquifers are essential to the life above ground and that they play a vital role not just in providing water to drink, but in replenishing rivers and wetlands and, through their ultimate effects on rainfall and climate, in nurturing the life of the land and air as well. But ironically, our neglectful actions now threaten to make the myths of the underworld hell a reality.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests is investigating a complaint that JSPL has illegally sunk nearly 400 borewells for its water requirement for the steel and power plants at Angul. In its 2007 environmental clearance, Jindal Steel has stated that water for the plant would be sourced from the nearby Samal Barrage on the Brahmani river. A 29-km pipeline was to be laid, but till date only 21 kms have been completed as there was stiff opposition in many places. The company meanwhile has been carrying on its entire civil construction and site development by using huge quantities of water drawn from groundwater sources. They have dug 390 deep borewells in and around the plant area. The 135 MW power plant is supposedly being run on rainwater collected in a 200-acre reservoir with a storage capacity of 10 million cubic metres. However, informed sources say that nearly 40 borewells have been concealed inside this reservoir itself and the capacity is recharged by pumping out ground water.
The company officials admitted that the pipeline was not completed, but said that they had obtained clearances from the Central Ground Water Authority for 18 small borewells for the drinking, domestic and construction needs for its 22,000 workforce at the site. They also said that the groundwater level in the area was very healthy and that the company was regularly monitoring it. One company official whom I met told me that the need to sink 400 borewells did not arise as the groundwater table was pretty high.
Noted environmentalist Mr. Biswajit Mohanty, Secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha, says Jindal’s use of groundwater has drastically reduced water levels in the local reservoirs, including a nearby irrigation project, thus depriving farmers of water. The water shortage is also endangering wildlife, forcing elephants to stray into local villages and provoking a man-elephant conflict for the last three years. It is also evident that the use of groundwater, whether for construction or operational purposes, was not mentioned in the Environmental Impact Assessment report or considered by the Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee before environmental clearance was granted.
On the complaint of Mohanty, the Environment Minister, Jayanti Natarajan has asked for a committee to be set up to look into the matter. As of now, Jindal is pumping its requirements from deep down below.
The RPADC was finally held in August this year and the Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC) Arabinda Padhee assured the locals that each displaced person would be provided a permanent job in the project. However this will happen in phases. Many of them will be placed in sister concerns of JSPL.
The villagers are now demanding Rs 50 lakh for each acre of their land as compensation. The RDC has constituted a sub-committee in which the district collector is the chairman. The committee would examine the matter and after the committee submits its report, the second phase ex-gratia amount would be provided to the land oustees by December. For a change, the RDC also directed the JSPL authorities not to take up its second phase construction work till the demands of the people are met.
QUID PRO QUO?
The Government of Odisha, in its R & R Policy, clearly stipulates that the interests of the locals have to be foremost in all projects for which MOU’s have been signed. The High Level Clearance Authority (HLCA) headed by the Chief Minister has fixed a specific percentage for all recruitments.
As per the laid-down provisions, 90 per cent of the total requirement of unskilled and semiskilled category are to be filled up from among local youth. In the skilled category too, 60 per cent of the requirements are to be locally sourced. For this a local pool of skilled workers is to be developed by the corporate houses by setting up ITI’s and training centres as soon as ground breaking of the projects is done. Even the supervisory and managerial posts have a 30 per cent quota from among locals.
On the ground, the reality is quite different. The industrial houses are obliging the government officials in their areas by employing their relatives. The local MLA’s , MP’s, police and revenue officials all recommend undeserving people for jobs and the company officials employ them as they otherwise apprehend trouble on the R&R, law and order and other fronts.
This generates a lot of bad blood amongst the locals who can see that the jobs promised to them are given away to outsiders. The recent enrolment for the Adhar card saw the influx of many outsiders who got themselves registered with local addresses. Most of the contactors who are engaged in setting up the projects are employing workforce which constitute labourers from outside the state, even illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators, instead of employing the locals. The veil of secrecy that is cast inside the walled up project sites spells of paranoia.
After drawing flak from different quarters, the state government has found the whiff of a job scam in the upcoming industrial projects. The present Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC), Central Division, Dr Arabinda Padhee, who is known for his honesty and no nonsense approach, has asked the Collectors and Superintendents of Police to undertake a probe and take necessary actions against the officers misusing their positions in getting their kith and kin employed in industrial units. The Collectors and SPs have also been empowered by the RDC to bring the cases to the notice of the Vigilance Directorate.
In a recent letter addressed to the ten district collectors under his jurisdiction, he has written: “Instances have come to my notice that few self-interested officials are misusing their positions in getting some of their kith and kin employed in certain industrial units. I personally view this as a ‘corrupt practice’ on the part of those government officials.”
The RDC also said that allegations had reached him about officers who were profiteering by engaging vehicles on rentals in these industrial units. The vehicle are taken in the name of their relatives and hired out to these companies on a monthly basis.
What is clear already is that several senior bureaucrats who have helped during the MoU and implementation stages were later employed by Jindal after they retired. Likewise, many senior and middle level officials have joined as independent consultants.
During the investigation into the coal scam, the Central Bureau of Investigation is probing the matter of the complicity of bureaucrats who colluded with private companies to get coal blocks despite being ineligible. RV Shahi was India’s longest serving power secretary—he held the position between 2002 and 2007. During this time, Jindal Steel and Power Limited, was allocated two coal blocks in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Shahi is now an Independent Director of the same company.
JSPL executive director Dinesh Saraogi said, “We will abide by the resettlement and rehabilitation policies of the state government. All the displaced persons will be absorbed in the project and those who were unwilling to take up jobs would be given a compensatory amount. Besides, our major thrust would be periphery development.”
Land acquisition remains at the centre of many controversies and public policy paralysis in India. There are very few public policy issues in India that rival land acquisition in terms of its complexity, challenges and significance to country’s growth and transition to more urbanised and industrialised status. India’s land acquisition system is at the crossroads. The law that is being used to acquire land, dates back to the colonial times. The Land Acquisition Act 1894 (subsequently amended in 1962 and 1984) cannot withstand the widespread resistance that occurs. Economists and policy planners consider land acquisition to be the “biggest problem” in India’s development.
JSPL’S AIRSTRIP IN ANGUL
Naveen Jindal uses his own aircraft to ferry himself and his top executives to Angul. The company has made a private airstrip at Nisha, near the JSPL Plant. Naveen Jindal has now roped in Flight India, a private airline company, and plans to operate scheduled flight from Angul to Delhi. The first test flight landed on October 29 this year and the 37-seater twin-engined Brazilian Embroyer ERJ will be deployed on the route. The company has applied for the mandatory permissions and have been assured that they will come through.
The new Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill (LARR) was drafted in mid-2011 and the parliamentary standing committee report (PSCR) on LARR was made public in May this year. The union cabinet is discussing the final version of the Bill—incorporating some PSCR recommendations and ignoring others— to be taken to parliament. There is clear dissent within the cabinet, especially from the ministries for commerce, urban development, highway and surface transport, and civil aviation. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh has agreed to accommodate the key concern of industry by dropping the move to implement provisions of the bill with retrospective effect. The government will now specify a cut-off date in the land acquisition process for purposes of compensation and rehabilitation clauses. The consent of two-thirds of land losers will be mandatory for acquisition of land, unlike the earlier provision requiring the consent of 80 per cent of land losers. The government is keen to pass the land bill in the coming winter session of Parliament. The final bill, as it stands, is likely to replace a serious political problem with an even more serious economic one.
By Anil Dhir from Angul