Caught In The Crossfire
Dantewada II which has claimed the lives of over 35 persons in the bus blast triggered by a landmine on May 12 has cast its shadow on the tribal areas development plans and the fight against the Maoists, the twin-pronged strategy which leaders from most parties including Congress President Sonia Gandhi have stressed as the right course. Whatever the details of the new work-out the two-pronged strategy must be persevered with.
The dilemma of Orissa’s tribals caught in the crossfire of mining giants and rights activists is as critical as that of people in Chhattisgarh and other states.
The tribals of Orissa are beset with the threat of further impoverishment at the hands of national and international mining corporations in the name of development. Armed with state government MoUs and backed by police forces the poorest of the poor face forcible eviction from the small patches of land which has been the sole source of their livelihood for generations.
Development yes, but with simultaneous relief and rehabilitation of those evicted or dislocated. And rehabilitation not just with a one-time compensation packet of a few rupees, pots, pans and corrugated sheets for roof over one’s head. But a long-term rehabilitation not only for current inhabitants but for their children too, like the one which they inherited through their forests, rivers and mountains.
Some slivers of hope, or reminders of duty, have been in the air just days before Dantewada II with central leaders from BK Hendique, the Union Mining Minister, talking about long-term annuity packages for those evicted, Home Minister Chidambaram reminding industry leaders of their social responsibility while making their profits, and Congress party general secretary Digvijay Singh asking people not to dub every protester a Maoist or every Maoist a terrorist. The opposition parties from left to right, from the communists to BJP, don’t seem to be far behind. Can the nation hope that all parties will do justice by the poor within their own party-ruled states from Karnataka to Chhatisgarh to Orissa and West Bengal? A whiff of welcome realisation on the part of our political class? Let’s not see it blown away.
Just at the moment Orissa is also in the eye of the storm. South Korea’s Poscoe, London-based Vedanta led by NRI Anil Aggarwal, and India’s very own Tata Steel are three main legally sanctioned iron and bauxite ore diggers besides scores of minor illegal buccaneers engaged in this process of turning the land upside down in search of profits that are shared in grossly unequal terms between the three stake holders. Top of the profit makers are, of course, the corporates who corner over zRs 2,500 per tonne of iron ore, with the second stake-holder the government’s share at about Rs 25 only, that too after a late upward revision from about Rs 4, while the bottom of the heap tribals who lose their Mother Earth generally end up with crumbs for the present and a load of promises for the future.
In the case of Poscoe’s project in the Jagatsinghpur dstrict of the state, the protesting tribals have even received police baton charges and firing for starters, leaving nearly one hundred of them injured at Balitutha battlefield.
Not everybody is told by the developers and the government that every tonne of steel production requires four tonnes of water. The great Mahanadi river itself will be drained to lubricate Poscoe’s profits. The poor tribals who get all their needs out of the land enriched by Mahanadi would be left high, dry and naked with their way of life gone after the ore diggers have decamped in a few years.
Most of the ore, except in the case of Tata, is meant for export bringing fat profits to the diggers with only a pittance for the government and plain misery for the tribals today and their children tomorrow.
Vedanta, the ironic holder of ancient Indian cultural name, that now operates from London after not exactly covering itself with glory in its India-based Sterlite ventures, flaunts the vision of transforming the Niyamgiri mountain region into a model of sustainable development. The bauxite/aluminium project spread over Raigad and Kalahandi districts faces environmental hurdles raised by the Central ministry for Environment and Forests as also the Central ministry of tribal affairs though Orissa state government has given the all-clear to the project. The final outcome is eagerly awaited.
Early investors like the Church of England had second thoughts and decided to pull out of the Vedanta project which they had hoped would be an ethical enterprise for the upliftment of Orissa’s downtrodden Dongria Kondh tribals.
Vedanta is even establishing a university for the people of the state along the idyllic Puri-Konark marine drive. The only question Doubting Thomases ask is: Why does Vedanta need 6,892 acres of prime land facing the sea for this university? Is it land grab at throw-away prices or some grand altruistic beneficence for the poor people of Orissa? Everyone is free to make one’s own guess.
Tata Steel’s project in Kalinganagar area of Jajpur district which was being hailed as a “benchmark” of resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) work too seems to have hit not just a spot of bother but a real protest in recent days, resulting in the death of one protester and injuring 16 others in police firing. Certainly a cause for concern and hopefully the cause of the clash can be addressed and the wound healed, especially in view of most facilities delivered in line with the enlightened “parivar” philosophy and long record of the group since the days of its founder Jamsetji Tata.
Rehabilitation of those dislocated in Kalinganagar has been prompt not just with monetary compensation for land and roperty but also with allotment of a homestead of one-tenth (0.1) of an acre of land to each family plus Rs 2.5 lakhs for house construction in the Trijanga Rehabilitation Colony. The Trijanga township has been provided basic amenities like water supply, electricity, ration shops, community space, grain storage facility, children’s recreation park, pre-school nurseries (balwadi), dispensary and other facilities in sprawling green acres along with an all-weather 16 km road.
The Tatas, however, remain one of the solitary lights in the jungle of India’s current crop of ore-diggers and development-dealers.
By Subhash Chopra