On June 24th, 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 Jagadshingpur 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 Indian independence has added more pains, sufferings and sorrows in the lives of majority of its people. The Indian state 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 state’ with the barrel of guns in the name of growth and development. The state 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 Indian state 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 security 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 country 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 a MoU with the Odisha government for establishing 12 Mt steel plant near Paradeep in Jagadsinghpur 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 about 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 renewal it yet but the land acquisition process has been in rampant. The Orissa government is ready to go to any extend for the POSCO project. It has already acquired 1800 acres of land of the total requirement of 3719 acres. The work for rehabilitation colony 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 unique 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 against the land acquisition against 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 recognized 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 rule 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 Orissa BK Patnaik said, “Temporary suspension of land acquisition for POSCO project in the proposed plant site area near Paradip 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 industrialized state and it has signed 90 MoUs with the corporate houses including POSCO, Vedanta and Tata Steel. The most important question is whether the industrialization 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 industrialization? If the answer is “no” then we must stop the industrialization process immediately because we cannot allow the state to grab the land 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 Indian state 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 Indian state that made its people cry.
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist, Writer and a member of “Assessment and Monitoring Authority under the Planning Commission of India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org