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The Rediff Interview/Activist Sudhir Patnaik
'You cannot silence people for all time'
January 18, 2006
On January 2, the police opened fire on tribals protesting against the setting up of a steel plant in Kalinga Nagar, Orissa. Twelve tribals and one policeman died.
The tribals were protesting the construction of a boundary wall and demanded better compensation for the land acquired from them by the Orissa government for the industrial complex.
Amidst clarifications that the police only opened fire after tribals killed a constable first, the state government has come under severe criticism, especially after tribals alleged that some dead bodies had been mutilated.
Chief Minister Navin Patnaik has not yet visited Kalinga Nagar and a state committee that visited the spot has blamed outsiders for instigating the tribals.
The killing has once again brought the unfortunate consequence of the lack of an effective resettlement policy by the state government for displaced people and the failure of the State in dealing with tribal aspirations and demands.
In a series of interviews with politicians from the ruling Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party, Opposition parties and tribal activists in Orissa, which we will publish in the coming days, Rediff India Abroad highlights the larger problem of resettlement and livelihood in the face of development in India.
Sudhir Patnaik, an activist and journalist, spoke to Assistant Managing Editor Archana Masih in Bhubaneshwar about the difficulties faced by the tribals in the light of aggressive industrialisation in Orissa and what it has cost the people of one of India's poorest states.
What is the background for tribal dissatisfaction because of displacement due to industrial development?
Go to any area where people have been displaced and ask them where others have gone and you will not get answers. Nobody knows where they are. If you start probing into it, it is such a painful experience.
In Kalinga Nagar the displacement started in 1997-1998. Out of about 700 families, nobody knows where 450 families are now. The government is least interested in knowing about its own citizens, in ensuring a good future.
No matter which party is in power, the government has proved it is basically for a handful of people. This has increasingly been proved and felt by the people and those who have been at the receiving end for several years, maybe don't want to tolerate this anymore and are therefore protesting.
When people do not protest in the way that is acceptable, they (the administration) say -– 'somebody else has engineered it, or some Maoists have come to help them'.
We are yet to recognise the wisdom of the tribal people. We think they can't think about the future. Yesterday, a senior office of NALCO (National Alumninum Company )argued with me that tribals don't have a concept of the past or future. I asked him if he had a concept of his future that he was aware of? So, how could tribals have a concept of their future?
Our concept of a future is -– a big house, a new Ford, an education for our children in USA -– and if tribals don't accept that concept, we say they do not a concept of the future! When they say that their land gives them food for generations to come, we don't consider that as their future?
This dichotomy between the rulers and those being ruled is increasing being felt. It was latent before but with the aggressive industrialisation in the state, it is coming to the fore. It is not in Kalinga Nagar alone, it is in so many places.
It is only when people die that the media goes there. You go anywhere -– Jharsaguda, Sundergarh, Keonjhar. In Keonjhar, I challenge you if you can stay there for even an hour in a particular place. It is so difficult to survive but it is only when people are sacrificed that the issue gets attention for a short period, I don't think this will also continue anymore in the mainstream media.
Why does the government not have a proper resettlement policy?
I don't understand what they mean by a proper policy. In Kalinga Nagar, 85 per cent of the tribals, 50 per cent Dalits and 10 per cent of the general population do not have proper land titles. But they have been cultivating land over four, five generations.
The government resettlement only recognises those who are landowners and compensates them, but then you leave out a majority of the population.
If you are giving them money to build a house somewhere else, I don't think that is proper resettlement. These people have been sustaining on resources they are least likely to get anywhere, can you give them those resources?
Once the leader of the Kashipur movement was asked by a journalist that if the government gave them an acre of fertile land in place of the land they were being displaced from, would he take it? The man answered -– 'Where would the government get that fertile land from?' That silenced everyone there.
It is easy to say you give land for land. But where will you get those lands? If you had got those lands, land reforms in this country would have been a super success. All fertile land is with those who can't spare those lands. Land is a major constraint for the government.
But these projects also generate employment for the tribals.
Imagine the state requires employment for 80 lakh (8 million )people.
When the Tatas were thinking of setting up a factory in Gopalpur, they were thinking of spending 24,000 crores (Rs 240 billion) and expected 1,200 people to get direct employment.
One aluminum site with an investment of 4,500 crores (Rs 45 billion)was to give employment to 750 people, but even if you double it to say 1,500 -– in Kalahandi alone 1-2 lakh (100,000 to 200,000) people go out every year in search of employment.
In Kalahandi, at least 5 lakh (500,000) people need employment, so if you calculate that way, how much investment would you need? And your prime objective is to have iron and steel plants.
I don't think there is any proper thinking behind the development plan for this state. So development has become synonymous with industrialisation, and that too industrialisation with only mineral based industries -– iron, bauxite, coal -– do you think this state will prosper this way when you've seen how much employment it generates?
And the kind of concessions you are giving is phenomenal. For example, the royalty on iron ore -– the state will get Rs 20 per ton in the POSCO case, or for a ton of bauxite you'll get Rs 54. But for a ton of ton of amla the state will get Rs 3,215 and that's not considered development. One ton of tamarind will give this state Rs 160 -– this is not considered development but bauxite, which gives only Rs 54 per ton, is.
If you convert bauxite into aluminum, it takes 5 tons of bauxite to convert into alumina and then aluminum. And aluminum costs 1,800 dollars a ton, so just imagine the gap! So not only the tribals, but those who are concerned about the economy of the state should also say something. The political economy is saying something else. This is mindless industrialisation.
Since the state is already on this course and given the present circumstances, how could the tribals who were displaced have been given a better due?
Is that way a legitimate, democratic way?
But it is a process of development that has already begun?
They should stop it then. If they have started it doesn't mean it's the right way to begin. Nobody is opposing industrialisation but what kind of industrialisation should be democratically decided. Not by one bureaucrat, or politicians sitting with a multinational or a corporate houses deciding things.
People of the state should decide what industrialisation they require.
For 80 per cent of the population they don't have any plan. People have reason to protest and you cannot silence them for all time.
It appears to be a vicious circle as far as rehabilitation and development is concerned. From the displaced people's point of view is their situation irreparable?
Everywhere you go, you find people protesting because of some unjust policy. So the mindset is to oppose. So it's beyond the situation where you can ask the people -– what are the alternatives you want?
The government has to create that situation so that people can then say this is what we want. The government has to seek people's opinion. That situation is nowhere in the state. Wherever you go a Kalinga Nagar situation is prevailing.
The government doesn't only mean bureaucrats. This is the time political parties criticise the present government but all governments have been behaving uniformly. I asked an MLA if his party cadre had spent even two days to discuss development of farmers, forest based enterprise, fisheries in the state and he said no.
Political parties have given no thought to this so when they are ruling how do you expect them to? So how you do you seek people's opinion? It symbolises that you are ruling but somebody else is dictating and people have reason to believe that.
What is the reason for such tribal anger now?
Kalinga Nagar is different from Kashipur. In Kashipur there was a police firing where people also died. There people were anticipating threats but in Kalinga Nagar they experienced it -– that's the difference.
Once a project starts, people stand nowhere, no one recognises them. You are just gone, whether you die or live. They have experienced this for the last 7, 8 years. They have realised that giving concessions to industry doesn't give them anything in return and the government is nowhere in the picture once an industrial house takes over. So health, education, financial livelihood they have to look after this themselves.
This has made them angrier. They feel if they lose whatever land they have now then there's no future. People say it is better to die here than go elsewhere and die.
Once they were the masters of their own land, now they are coming to cities as wage labourers with no place to stay. So where do they go? So there is reason when they say it's better to die here.
The industrial complex in Kalinga Nagar where the firing occurred already has existing projects -- how far back does the genesis of this anger go?
The government is inviting so many industrial houses to this industrial complex so there's going to be burden on the land. There is no system of recognising the communal ownership of land which is prevalent in tribal cultures, land titles have not been recognised, so you haven't prepared the ground and are landing industries.
Then there is going to be protest and unrest. If the government thinks it can be dealt by with force it is even more painful.
In the Kalinga Nagar case, the displaced tribals were given cash compensation, not land for land.
The compensation which has been increased is only for 15 per cent of the population what about the rest? The Kalinga Nagar protest was not against industrialisation, they were demanding compensation for those who didn't have land.
When the agitation started three years back it was totally controllable because at that time they wanted land for land and any land would have done.
These allegations about mutilation of bodies of the deceased, what do you know about this?
People said the tribals who were taken away by the police were not severely injured but the message reached them later that they were dead. So people couldn't believe that those who were taken by the police with minor injuries and were alive had died because the police didn't take any dead bodies.
The dead bodies were just left there. The six people that the police took with them to hospital, they died and only in these six bodies you find mutilation.
The postmortem on the other dead bodies (those who died on the spot) there was no mutilation. So people say how can the media report that only dead bodies were mutilated. If the tribals are saying this then we must trust that they are speaking the truth.
It is said the local administration was provoked by the tribals who were armed with traditional weapons and had lynched a constable to death.
Many people have been saying there was an explosion in which two tribals and a constable died. Who fired the first shot is not to debate but was there a necessity of such force? A district magistrate, superintendent of police present with 9 to 12 platoons for the construction of a boundary wall?
So to say people provoked them is not convincing because you also provoked them with your physical strength. This situation was avoidable because the administration knew that there would be a protest.
On that day itself four people had gone to meet the collector to ask him not to this, so they have leaders but the beauty of Kingmaker is that the leaders are not visible.
It is strange the chief minister has not yet visited Kalinga Nagar.
I have heard he wanted to go there but has been told by his coterie not to go there. Had he gone things would have pacified a bit.
There are many tribal legislators in the Opposition, there doesn't seem to be much pressure put by them about this case.
These are the Brahmins amongst the tribals. No government can claim to be cleaner than the other. Everybody is benefiting, only tribals are the losers.
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