The Displaced India: From Kalinganagar to Singur

March 21, 2007

Source : Asian Center for Human Rights

In its ACHR REVIEW, “Atrocities at Singur, India: A matter of rights of the dispossessed” of 6 December 2006, Asian Centre for Human Rights stated, “Unless, the rights based approaches are emboldened in the policies and programmes, India will face acute conflict because of the obsession with making India an economic superpower and it is the poor and downtrodden who will continue to endure the suffering”.

Yesterday, the 2nd January 2007 marked the first anniversary of the Kalinganagar massacre in Orissa. Kalinganagar is one of the clearest examples of brutal abuse of power by the State agencies. After one year, justice, compensation and a sound policy on rehabilitation elude the displaced in Orissa as it does in The Displaced India.

I. Barbaric use of State power

According to a report by a fact-finding team of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, on 2 January 2006, the Tata Iron and Steel Co Ltd (TISCO or TATAs) with the help of the district administration undertook the leveling of the land where their plant was to come up at Kalinganagar under Jajpur district of Orissa. About 300-400 Adivasis, indigenous peoples, from Chandia, Gobarghati, Ambagadia, Baragadia, Namduburi villages, assembled to protest. The demonstrators included women and children and some of them were carrying bows and arrows – a customary practice of the Adivasis. The State government reportedly deployed about 10 platoons comprising around 300 fully armed policemen.

When the leveling of the land started, the Adivasi protestors wanted to enter the rope cordon. The police tried to stop them and used ‘stun shells’ along with tear gas shells and rubber bullets. Later, in the melee, one of the policemen identified as Gopabandhu Mohanty slipped and fell into the hands of the fleeing tribals and was killed by the angry crowd.

Following the killing of Mr Mohanty, other policemen ran amok in order to avenge the killing. They fired unrestrainedly. 12 Adivasis were killed while Shyam Gagrai, 35 succumbed to bullet injuries on 11 March 2006 at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. Another victim Sanjoy Soy also succumbed later.

In an act of barbarism, the five bodies handed over to the relatives after post mortem had their palms chopped off from their wrists. The doctors at Jajpur hospital sought to justify the barbaric act on the ground that they had cut off the palms to take fingerprints as the faces had been completely disfigured by bullets.

The relatives of the six victims alleged before the Organisation for the Protection of Democratic Rights that the genital organs of all six, including a woman, had been chopped off or mutilated during post mortem.

II. No justice yet

On 3 January 2006, the Orissa state government ordered a judicial probe into the Kalinganagar massacre to be conducted under the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act. More than a month later, on 23 February 2006, the government issued a notification constituting the judicial commission to probe into the police firing in Kalinganagar headed by High Court Justice A S Naidu. But since then two more tribals- Shyam Gagrai and Sanjoy Soy – injured in the police firing had died. As a result on 6 May 2006, the Justice AS Naidu Commission had to adjourn hearing till 9 June 2006 as the government failed to issue a notification to bring the death of these two tribals under purview of the inquiry commission.

In August 2006, the Justice Naidu Commission sought extension of its tenure as it could not complete the inquiry because of the apathy of the State government.

On 15 October 2006, while deposing before the Justice AS Naidu Commission of Inquiry Superintendent of Police of Jajpur, Mr Binoytosh Mishra, who was present during the shooting of the Adivasis defended the police action on the tribals at Kalinganagar. He claimed that the agitators had ‘fiercely’ attacked the policemen with axes, bows and arrows. However, the fact finding team of Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in its report stated that all the four injured policemen – Shri R.R. Naupani, Shri B.S. Gerung, Shri Asbahadur Gum and Shri H.B. Newar- undergoing treatment at Medical College Hospital, Cuttack “suffered injuries caused by lathis. There was no sign of injuries caused by arrow”. In fact, on 24 June 2006, Justice Naidu Commission sent a piece of iron object that was retrieved from the neck of Tuna Jarika, one of the victims during the post-mortem examination at the community health centre at Danagadi, for forensic test. Jarika was ostensibly killed with that object.

III. No to compensation

The kin of all the 14 victims of police firing, under the leadership of Vistapan Virodhi Janamanch, had rejected the government’s offer of ex-gratia compensation demanding the closure of the proposed Tata Steel plant. Only Ms Sukumari Gagarai, a relative of one of the deceased Mr Ram Gagarai of Gadhapur village was reportedly given Rs five lakh on 6 July 2006 and the job of attendant at the primary health centre at Rabana in the Kalinganagar Industrial complex area.

IV. Continuation of the same: Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006

Displacement of the Adivasis is not new to Orissa. About 1.4 million people, most of them tribals, have been reportedly displaced in Orissa between 1951 and 1995 due to dams, canals, mines and industries. Majority of them remained displace. The State government claimed that there were 150,000 landless tribal families in the state. In the decade of 1980-1990, 9526 hectare acres were distributed to 12,752 families. Between 1999 and 2005, about 4520 hectare acres were distributed to 10540 families. A study estimated that at this rate, distributing land to 150,000 landless families will take at least 20 years.

Since 1995, industrialisation in the lands of the Adivasis and conflict over lands picked up further following liberalization of Indian economy.

Following the Kalinganagar Massacre, in May 2006, the Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006 was adopted. The Tata Steel reportedly started implementation of the policy and provided jobs to 29 displaced from Kalinga Nagar, who were trained in welding technology by the steel company. As on 22 November 2006, more than 300 affected families were relocated from Kalinganagar industrial area. According to a release issued by Tata Steel, displaced families would be allotted 1/10th acre of land. Each family will get Rs 1.5 lakh for building houses and a maintenance allowance of Rs 2,000 per month for one year.

Yet, the Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006 cannot address the root causes of the dispossession of the Adivasis in the state.

First, the Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006 fails to address the fact that State government has been acting as broker and profiting from the lands of the peoples by exercising its sovereign power. In 2004, the state government had sold 2,000 acres of land to the Tatas for Rs 3.35 lakh. The state government paid only Rs 76,000 an acre to the original landowners given the fact that the current market rate for an acre was Rs 5 lakh. Besides, the Rs 76,000 was meant only for titleholders, who account for 20 per cent of the tribals in the area. The promise of a job for each displaced family, a home allowance of Rs 50,000 and Rs 5,000 as aid for a temporary shelter were never adequately fulfilled.

Second, the Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006 is meant only for families who would be displaced in future and states nothing about the 1.4 million already displaced people, mostly indigenous peoples. Clause 5(a) of the Policy categorically states, “Ordinarily within two months of publication of notice for acquisition of land for the development project, a socio-economic survey would be undertaken in the manner to be decided by the Government for identification of displaced families and for preparing their socio-economic baseline.”

Third, the Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006 only continues the practice of the past – the arbitrary exercise of the state. Among other, it fails to provide for free, prior and informed consent of the affected families.

The Scheduled Tribes constitute 22 per cent of Orissa’s population and are the most marginalized and poor social group in the state. Over 72 per cent live below the poverty line. In 2003, the World Bank had sanctioned Rs 430 crore to the State government to implement the tribal livelihood projects in the tribal-inhabited districts of the state. However, the Orissa government had spent only Rs 2.21 crore out of a total World Bank aid of Rs 430 crore on the 10-year tribal development project in two years as in August 2005.

When the State government fails to implement livelihood project funded by the World Bank, it is unlikely that it will rehabilitate those displaced by the development projects. But, industrial houses will be quick to grab the opportunity to implement the Orissa Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2006.