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Monday, June 09, 2014 First published on July 11, 2011

Dreams of 52000 Crores versus days of the 52 families

"The huge cement board on the right side of Badagabapur road takes you to the “POSCO Transit Camp” without any confusion. Observing the camp for a while, one would surely sense a silent war being waged inside. The war is between the sneering glances of the Orissa's dreams of 52,000 crore rupees and those hapless tears in the eyes of the 52 families. On one side, there is the indomitable voice of INR 52,000 crores and on the other, the piercing heart-rending shriek of those 52 families. Amidst the promises of the government as well as the administration and the POSCO conundrum, those 52 families have lost their ancestral homesteads and, now, find themselves stranded with their rice-bowls just to keep live all their cherished dreams for a prosperous future. In the name of overnight development through Industrialization, what could be a more horrifying act of the devastation drama played in Orissa and, particularly, in the place where the largest FDI project of the country POSCO India is planned to take shape! Is this not an example of the weakness and incompetence of the powerful political leaders who pride themselves as part of the government of a welfare-state?"

[Declaration from HNF Editorial: The report lacks transparency completely when it mentions that the transit camp comprises 52 asbestos sheds. On verification, it comes out that the sheds are roofed with Zinc shits and the residents of the colony have put a layer of straw on the roof to escape the unbearable heat in the Summer. HNF Editorial Team apologizes for presenting 'Asbestos Sheds' as fact which is not the truth at all and has zero transparency.]

Bibhuti Bhushan Pati

 

Signing of MoU one after another for industries, mostly mining and mineral based, became a trend in the state of Orissa for quite some years. Investors lined up to grab the opportunities keeping in mind the hunger for industries in the mineral rich state of Orissa. The government in the state also took the credit for lining up lakhs of crores of rupees for industrialization of the state. But, what stopped industrialization to take wings and set off on a successful path during last many years? Why an atmosphere against government’s rapid industrialization plan still rules in the places selected for industries? What makes an industrial project area a zone of war? If you want to get answers to all these questions you must go to the Badagabpur of Balitutha and see for yourself how the 52 families, losing all their homesteads, struggle to survive somehow amidst Posco’s INR (Indian National Rupee) 52,000 crores conundrum.

The huge cement board on the right side of Badagabapur road takes you to the “POSCO-India Transit Camp” without any confusion. Observing the camp for a while, one would surely sense a silent war being waged inside. The war is between the sneering glances of the dreams of 52,000 crore rupees and those hapless tears in the eyes of the 52 families.

On one side, there is the indomitable voice of INR 52,000 crores and on the other, the piercing heart-rending shriek of those 52 families. Amidst the promises of the government as well as the administration and the POSCO conundrum, those 52 families have lost their ancestral homesteads and, now, find themselves stranded with their rice-bowls just to keep live all their cherished dreams for a prosperous future.

About 220 members of the 52 families have taken shelter in the POSCO Transit Camp. There are 52 asbestos sheds (on crosscheck, it is found that the sheds are roofed with Zinc Sheets covered further with straw by the residents to escape the heat of Summer. HNF Editorial does apologize for presenting 'Asbestos sheds' as a fact in the report which is not the truth at all and grossly lacks transparency) of 10 by 10 feet in three rows. Each of these sheds is packed by couples, their parents, children and guests. Deluded by the elusive mirage of POSCO, these 52 families have been lying at only a short distance away from their own home-soil for the last 5 years in abject misery and an inhuman milieu. “After my marriage, I had to take my wife to my uncle’s house in order to celebrate my honeymoon and Radha Pradhan of my village had to spend his night on the verandah with his newly-wed wife for a month as his sister delivered a child in his only room”, said Lochan Pradhan adding to his story of misery in the transit camp that, “5 years have passed. From the POSCO to the administration all have been saying that everything would be given. But we fail to understand, or imagine you can say, when shall we get it?”

The biggest refugee camp of the world is in Kenya. More than four lakh fifty thousand refugees live there. Those refugees have come to the camp after being expelled from various war-torn neighboring countries. But these 52 families are refugees on their own land. These families have become the victims of an industrial warfare. The conditions at the POSCO refugee camp sheltering those 52 families are more distressful than that of the refugee camp at Kenya.

To make you feel their plight, another resident of the POSCO Transit Camp Gadadhar Pradhan says, “With a family of six members we have been staying here in a congested single room for the past 5 years receiving only 20 rupees a day per head to survive. My parents are above seventy years old and the mother needs 70 rupees daily for her medicines as she is paralytic. I also have an eligible unmarried daughter to look after”.

Gadhadhar was the only earning member of the household when he lost everything, 5 years ago. His annual income was between 2.5 to 3 lakhs when he was dispossessed of his homeland. Leaving the village and everything he belonged Gadadhar took shelter in this POSCO camp. The story of most of the residents of the transit camp is almost same to that of Gadadhar. They have been unattended since last five years. Nobody came to see these people – neither the POSCO authorities nor the administrative authorities nor any political leaders. The 52 thousand crore blueprint of an illusory mirage comes to a dead end at a sight of these 52 families.

An old man trudged forward towards the press van and camera with hopeful eyes. Aged above seventy, he didn’t have a spectacle to ease his failing eyesight. He eagerly asked - “has the compensation amount come, sir?” On realizing that we were media representatives, he was broken-hearted, “I made a mistake. Thought, perhaps people from the POSCO or the government have come to pay the compensation amount”. This old man was from the same transit camp, Bhagirathi Das. He went on with a trembling voice saying, “We have lost everything for this POSCO. From brethren we have become foes for our own people. Gone are the days of celebrations of festivals and the merriment of our families. We were so happy together in the villages….never knew it was in fate. I and my widowed daughter, who has been living with me, were landless but with both of us working at the near-by betel vines were earning 400 to 500 rupees daily. Now we get only 60 rupees per day for the survival of three members. It rends my heart to see my daughter having to wear tattered clothes. The names of our children are there in the school registrar, but for the last 5 years our children have been barred from studying in these schools. We were banished from our own villages for giving support to the government-backed Pro-POSCO leaders and Sarpanch during the polls. We have been waiting here in this POSCO refugee camp like living ghosts for the last 5 years looking desperately for any sign of succor from the administration or the Government”.

5 years ago, these 52 families were banished into the transit camp for supporting the BJD sarapanch candidate who was in support of the Government’s POSCO project. Taking advantage of the situation the Government overwhelmed these 52 families with monetary promises as a part of its divide and rule plan. And, these 52 families were made to live an exiled life in their own place.

“Even today there are cases pending at the Kujang police station, which were filed against people who posed themselves as anti-Posco activists and had tormented these 52 families. In the interim period some of them have been transformed into pro-Posco champions and living a blissful life. The Government and the administration forgot all the cases filed against these people. What could be more painful and frustrating than that?” asked 29 year old Muni Das. Remembering the past, she said, “a young man had beaten me with a stick and I had made a report against him at the Kujang Police station. Police never took any action against him. Instead, he prospered as a broker in Posco’s land acquisitions process.”

In the name of overnight development through Industrialization, what could be a more horrifying act of the devastation drama played in Orissa and, particularly, in the place where the largest FDI project of the country POSCO India is planned to take shape! Is this not an example of the weakness and incompetence of the powerful political leaders who pride themselves as part of the government of a welfare-state? During the 4 years none of the government or the Posco authorities could create any alternative opportunity for appointing a single member of those 52 families. Couldn’t they have arranged for these people a provision for decent food, clothing and education for their hapless children? Rather, they are forced to live on an incentive that is too less to survive and is far below the food allowance of prisoners kept in jails! Is it a worse crime to support the project planned by the government?

On the way back, lots of high sounding promises made by the government and POSCO came in blurred imagery in the mind. The question that hunted was – if 52 families who sacrificed their homeland and century old relation with their fellow brethren for the largest FDI of the country couldn’t be taken care of, how thousand other families would be blamed for not being convinced with the industrialization plan of the government? Why should the government and the companies expect these people to sacrifice everything for their greed and live like refugees in their own land?

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