First, Kill The Dogs…
Six visits to the POSCO site in the last one month. New inferences made each time I went there. Many small observations that have escaped the notice of the clutch of journalists, activists, political party chiefs, environmentalists and human rights wallas. My open letter to some of the players in this ongoing tragic drama.
To the Director General of Police, Odisha: I saw your fully armed and padded policemen with automatic rifles and SLRs, teargas shell cannons, smoke bomb canisters, Plexiglas anti-riot shields, visor helmets et al. at ground zero. Are they real bullets or rubber ones? Just about 60 metres away from the dune where the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti activists are ensconced, there is a small walled compound where you have stored your equipment. There were at least half a dozen hand-held loudspeakers and even two stretchers, besides handcuffs, batons and a lot of other paraphernalia.
Just take these entire show of strength battalions that have been deployed in the area to any of the twenty-three Maoist infested districts in the state; you will scare most of the ultras to a quick surrender.
In this eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, your OSAP Gorkhas are just dying for the orders to charge. Flashpoint is just one second away. The agitating children, women and men do not even have sticks and stones.
I have a question for you. Where have all the village dogs gone? The villagers at Gobindpur told me that all the dogs in the nearby villages have disappeared. Strangely there are no dogs anywhere around (Manekaji, please take note!). It seems that the administration has taken a chapter straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Tzu had recommended the advancing army should first kill the dogs as they warn of the impeding invasion. Netaji had adopted this strategy in Burma during the INA War.
To Baijayant Panda (MP, BJD): Take a low level helicopter flight over the area (You have done this before, another place—another time). Better still, take your leader along with you. You have bitten of more than you can chew, when you admitted to Barkha Dutt that of the NDTV there should be a referendum in the POSCO villages. Tell your party supremo to hold this exercise, if he has the guts to do so.
The fearless, indomitable Naveen Patnaik has the smug arrogance of having 103 MLAs besides a very wily uncle. He is not afraid of anyone, not even Lord Jagannath whose land he had signed off to Vedanta.
You should recollect the motto of your old school “Domini Timor Prima Sapientia” which translates as “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Try to get this into Naveen Babu’s mind.
To Jairam Ramesh (Union Minister of Enviornment & Forest): Are you aware that you have permitted the cutting of more than 3 lakh Casuarina trees? The effect this will have on the sand dunes of this coastal region will be catastrophic. It does not need an environmental expert to appraise the effects of cutting these trees. The poor farmers of this area survive on the little sustenance farming they do on the green patches. If the trees are cut, the entire coastal ecosystem will change. Natural dune formation will be affected and sand will be blown into water bodies. Besides more than 5000 fruit-bearing trees like mango, jackfruit and cashew have already been felled.
Ask your empanelled experts, they will give you a very correct report on the consequences. And you say that you love Odisha and Jayadeva’s Geet Govinda. Your sincere efforts to get a digitised copy of Nicolas Empereur’s 1775 tome on the flora of Odisha from France is laudable. Please also get the old maritime maps of the Odisha coast from the British Library in London. You will be able to know how the coastline has changed over the years, and how sea erosion has become a major threat.
To Damodar Rout (resently dismissed Odisha Minister): It must be a pretty lonely isolation that you are in. It is about time that you should speak your mind out. You are behaving like a toad in the hole, which comes out, croaks, and then goes back into his hole. As a vociferous supporter of POSCO and Naveen Babu, prove your salt and ensure that the people get a good deal. The members of the United Action Committee of Nuagaon are already baying for your blood.
To Naveen Patnaik (Chief Minister of Odisha) (aka “the law will take its own course” man): You said: “It is a matter that is being tackled by the District Administration. They are dealing with the problem.” Wasn’t the Kalinganagar killings too a matter of the Jajpur District Administration. Incidentally, the nearly hundred fingers of those killed in the police firing are still kept in a pot in a hut at Chandia. The poor adivasis do not know what to do with them. Even the formalin has dried off.
Manmohan Singh has finally seen the light of the day and agreed to be media savvy. It is on record that you have held just one press conference in your entire political life. Just for once, hold a press conference and let us hear more from the Chief Minister then the cryptic one liners you mumble in your guttural voice. And the promise you had made of visiting the POSCO site. What happened to it? Are you too chicken-hearted and lily-livered or it is that the Odisha police cannot give you adequate protection.
Who is Making Them Cry?
On June 24, 2011, there was no ‘good’ in the ‘morning’ for me. As soon as I opened the newspaper, a photograph of two old men appeared in front of me, which seems that they were crying endlessly. I was shocked to see their ugly faces. They are resident of Dhinkiya village situated in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha. Perhaps, they have been living in the vicinity before existence of the Indian State. Indeed, both of them had witnessed the formation of Indian State, which had promised them for the land reforms, elimination of poverty, illiteracy and inequality. Apart from that there was a promise to address the issues of food, clothing and shelter.
However, the tide turned; the 64 years of Independence has added more pains, sufferings and sorrows in the lives of majority of its people. The government instead of healing the pains, sufferings and sorrows of the old men, it turned their lives into a hell. Their cultivable lands were taken away from them by the ‘mighty government’ with the barrel of guns in the name of growth and development. The government claims that they were given compensation for their lands and betel vines. However, in these circumstances, the compensation is not an issue for them at all, but what matters is: They have lost the only heritage they had. They have lost their livelihood resources, which would have sustained their generations and cannot be exchanged with the money as they are not much habituated to work with the market economy. They cry because their lands were taken away forcefully from them and handed over to a Korean company POSCO. However, the Odisha government claims that it has acquired the land without use of force, which is entirely false.
I recall that when I was studying, we were taught in the schools that ‘India is a country of villages’, ‘agriculture is backbone of the country’ and ‘the soul of India lives in the villages’. The government has been going against those beautiful phrases. In the case of Odisha, the farmers of POSCO project area rely on betel, fish and paddy for their food and social security. However, the state government deployed the police and paramilitary forces for destroying the betel vines. According to the Odisha government, there were about 1800 betel vines and about 650 betel vines were already destroyed by the forces and villages are about to be vacated. “We plan to remove the rest in the coming weeks,” claims Paradeep’s additional district magistrate Sarojkanta Chaoudhury. The billion-dollar question is: Can any government destroy its backbone, heritage and abode of its soul?
Needless to say that the Odisha government has been attempting to acquire 3719 acres of land for the Korean company POSCO, which had signed an MoU with the Odisha government for establishing 12 MT steel plant near Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district. It is the biggest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country with the proposed investment of Rs 51,000 crore. Therefore, one can understand the madness of the Odisha government for the project, who did not even hesitate to declare the adivasis and other forest-dwellers as none existing in the project area though these people have been living in the vicinity for generations. The most interesting thing is the MoU of the POSCO has expired a year back and the government didn’t renew it yet, but the land acquisition process has been in rampant. The Odisha government is ready to go to any extent for the POSCO project. It has already acquired 1800 acres of land of the total requirement of 3719 acres. The work for rehabilitation colonies has already started and the government is confident of acquiring the required land without use of force.
The villagers have been protesting against the land acquisition for the POSCO since 2005. However, the resistance intensified recently, when the whole state machinery was engaged in land acquisition process. There is some uniqueness in the mass movement. These villagers are not only protesting but also building up some betel vine, which were destroyed by the police forces. “We have started rebuilding betel vines that the administration pulled down,” says Abhay Sahu of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS). The men, women and children are protesting endlessly and the land acquisition and the mighty state and corporate house.
Consequently, the prohibitory order under IPC section 144 was also imposed in the project area so that the agitators can be stopped to enter into the vicinity and land acquisition process can be done after destroying the betel vines. Another interesting factor is when the rights are to be recognised under the Forest Rights Act 2006, the adivasis and local settlers were made non-existence and some of them were also brought under the purview of ‘encroachers’. However, when the lands and forest have to be given to the corporate shark POSCO, neither the environment nor the livelihood and social security makes sense for the state. What a lovely democratic system of governance we have in our country.
Interestingly, when the government failed to acquire land even after use of the police and paramilitary forces, it started threatening to the activists and villagers, using the tool of child rights. Since, more than 600 children from different villages had taken part in the agitation; the Odisha government suddenly woke up to see the violation of child rights in the protest. The Women and Child Development Minister, Anjali Behera sought a report from the district social welfare officer about the children. She said, “The DSWO will verify whether the children came to the agitation on their own or were forced into it”. “We will take action against the persons responsible for misusing children. Civil society will never tolerate use of children below 18 years of age in any agitation,” she added.
Ironically, the same government does not see any violation of the child rights by the corporate sharks or the state law enforcement agencies, who are constantly attempting to snatch away the land and livelihood resources of the villagers, which will have direct impact on children. When the parents lose their land and livelihood resources, how can children be sent to schools? Why should not the Odisha government respond it and so the centre? What kind of civil society is this?
The agitation got political support from the CPI, CPM, Samajwadi Party and Forward Block. However, the most stunning factor is the support of the BJP and the Congress Party to the agitation. The BJP is a party of the business men and its track record in the BJP ruled states is obvious and the Congress is playing a double standards. The Union minister gives environment clearance on the one hand and also opposes the project on the other? The Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, who gave the environment clearance to POSCO in January this year said, “However, I hope that the state government will not use this clearance as a license for forcible acquisition of land.” What does it mean? And of course, one should ask that why the soldier of adivasis, Rahul Gandhi is silent on the issue of POSCO?
In fact, both the center and state governments want the land for POSCO at any cost therefore one should not be overwhelmed after seeing halt to land acquisition for the time being. The Chief Secretary of Odisha BK Patnaik said: “Temporary suspension of land acquisition for POSCO project in the proposed plant site area near Paradeep should not be considered as a deadlock over the POSCO Project.” Obviously, the whole state machinery is working in the support of the POSCO Company. Has the POSCO bought the Odisha government?
The state of Odisha has established itself as an emerging industrialised state and it has signed 90 MoUs with the corporate houses including POSCO, Vedanta and Tata Steel. The most important question is whether the industrialisation process is addressing the issues of malnutrition, poverty, illiteracy, ill-health and inequality of Odisha as the father of the modern India Nehru had envisages the outcome of industrialisation? If the answer is “no” then we must stop the industrialisation process immediately because we cannot allow the state to grab the lands and livelihood resources of the villagers and hand over those to the corporate sharks in the name of growth and development.
Of course, today, it’s not the issue whether the land owners were given compensation in local or the market rate of their land but the issue is the corporate development model is converting the landowners into the landless in the country which had promised to give land to the tillers and landless. If it continues, the adivasis and local land owners will become landless and the corporate will become the landlords. We should not allow the state to handover the ‘land to the corporate’ against the promise of ‘land to the tillers’. Do we want to make India as a corporate state?
Then the questions come into one’s mind are what should we do with the mineral resources? Should we let it lie beneath the land and also leave those in the mountains? If we want to address the issues of conflict on the issues of land, territory and resource, we must rethink on the present model of development. Our model of development should not be based on minerals only but it should be based on agro-forest, supported by horticulture and animal husbandry. And wherever there is a requirement of minerals, the community mining should be encouraged. Have you seen any farmer in the country who sells the orchards instead of mangos, guavas and Litchis? If the farmers sell the fruits not the trees then why the adivasis and other land owners are asked to sell their lands to the mining companies instead of minerals? Why don’t we ask them to sell the minerals to the companies and let the land be with them forever? The tears of two old-men of Odisha is enough to remind the government about its broken promises and alarms it against the forcefully acquisition of the resources from the tillers and handing over to the corporate sharks. If it continues, the inequality, discontent and extremism will grow. And of course, there would be results as a ‘civil war’ and one should only blame for it to the government that made its people cry.
By Gladson Dungdung
And remember, the chickens will soon come home to roost. Soon. Very soon. rats have started abandoning your sinking ship. When push comes to shove, it will not be women and children first, it will be every man for himself. Put on your life jacket before you hit water. And mind the gap!
To Bijaya Patnaik (Chief Secretary, Odisha): You sound like one of the peaceniks of the hippie era when you keep on insisting that the land acquisition process will be peaceful. In the next bite you give to the electronic media, you say: “make love not war.” Six battalions of armed police against three hundred unarmed villagers, most of whom are children and women. If one approaches Nuagaon from Balitutha, it seems like a military garrison—police trucks, fire brigades, ambulances and jeeps. You should allow the police to pitch tents instead of occupying school buildings and depriving children of their studies.
To Pyarimohan Mohapatra (All-powerful MP): Dear Uncle, in all our ancient holy texts, uncles have been portrayed as scheming villains. However, you are told to be the messiah for the people of Odisha, the Chanakya for Naveen Babu. Damababu’s pointed barbs, after he was ousted suggested that a big leader of the BJD was scuttling the POSCO Project. Why are you so silent on the POSCO issue? The people are watching and waiting. Your loving nephew may meet his Waterloo if a Kalinganagar-type mayhem is unleashed on the poor people. That would be an apt opportunity for you to rise Phoenix like from the ashes.
To the Journalists of Odisha: Many of you were sent on pleasure junkets to Korea and shown the Pohang Irons and Steel Works there. Quite a few of you were sent on further pleasure trips to New Zealand and Australia. You came back loaded with gifts. It is payback time now.
To the POSCO Chaebol: It seems that in your wish list to the Odisha government, (given even before the MoU has been renewed) you have insisted that you should be given a clear patch of boundaried land—no trees, no humans, no agriculture, no homes and, oops! (I nearly forgot) even no dogs.
The people of Gobindpur say that the Koreans have eaten up all the dogs. I do not believe it—even though it is true that in Korea more than a million dogs are slaughtered each year for the pot. People eat Bosintang (literally “invigorating soup”), a stew made of dog meat and herbs, believing it to have medicinal properties—aphrodisiacal and it increases the libido. Dog meat is also believed to keep one cool during the intense Korean summer. Things are pretty hot for you here, and will get hotter.
To the state leaders of the Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM, Samajwadi, BSP, NCP, Forward Bloc and other parties: Just a day trip to Gobindpur and expressing solidarity with the PPSS will not suffice. Send delegations of party workers to the spot, which will remain there till Armageddon comes.
To the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti: You are fighting a losing battle. The might of the state will crush you soon. It will happen on some dark night. You are outnumbered ten to one. Yes, you have held it out for six years, hats off to you. You will soon be shifting to misery. Get ready to lead an unsettled life in a resettlement colony. Within the next few weeks you will be physically thrown off your land. The stretchers are all lined up and ready.
Vande Mataram! Vande Utkal Janani! God save Odisha!
By Anil Dhir from Bhubaneswar