Kashipur drew global attention,
during late 1980s and early 1990s, for being the home to rich bauxite deposit of
Baphlimali and, thus, became an attraction for industrialists and mining
Lured by the investment possibility,
Odisha government, in 1992, signed an agreement with INDAL (then a PSU), Norsk
Hydro of Norway and ALCAN (Aluminium Company of Canada) for a 100%
export-oriented joint venture alumina consortium – the Utkal Alumina
International Limited (UAIL) – in Kashipur. TISCO (a TATA group company) joined
as another promoter, in 1993.
While the project was mainly
dependent on bauxite mining from the hill of Baphlimali, steep opposition from
the Jhodias and other tribal communities couldn’t make the project move for many
years since signing of the agreement.
Because Kashipur block was
predominantly tribal populated and was guarded by Schedule V of Indian
constitution, the consent of tribal communities was prerequisite for everything
– from land acquisition to infrastructure building. And, the difficulty before
the state government and promoters was that most of the villages surrounding
Baphlimali hill and the refinery site were populated with Jhodia tribal families
who were totally against mining.
In the meantime, the
PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act was brought in by
the Government of India through an amendment, in 1996. It further empowered the
tribal communities living in the Scheduled blocks to exercise their say in every
case of development and management of natural resources. The Odisha government,
however, hasn’t yet implemented PESA Act in true form and spirit.
Entry of the
As the movement spearheaded by the
Jhodias almost stopped UAIL from moving forward, TATA group withdrew itself from
the project in 1999. Later, in 2001, the Norwegian industrial major Norsk Hydro
had to withdraw from the project in 2001 because of strong criticism in its home
country for promoting the project in violation of the rights of tribal
In the meantime, in 2000, some
significant developments took place in regard to UAIL.
Hindalco, an Aditya Birla Group
finalised to buy ALCAN’s majority (54.6%) stake in INDAL, in March
2000, and became a major promoter of UAIL by virtue of this.
In August 2004, the
merger of INDAL with Hindalco was announced, and, in 2007, Hindalco
acquired the rest
45% stake of ALCAN in UAIL to gain complete control over the project.
“If the Birla (Aditya Birla) group’s
entry marked the beginning of good days for UAIL, it’s from here that the bad
days of Kashipur’s Jhodia community started,” alleges Makarand Muduli, President
of Paraja Samaj.
Victims of the
Coincidentally or as the result of
aggressive persuasion from the side of the promoters, the entry of Hindalco into
the consortium of UAIL, in 2000, was followed by unprecedented coercive police
action against the protesters. On December 16, 2000, police opened firing at a
scheduled gathering of tribal protesters and killed three of them while injuring
many. All three deceased were from the Jhodia tribal community.
The other but most important casualty
was the ST status of the Jhodias. To justify its act of debarring the tribal
community from its official status, the government officials take plea of a 1996
Supreme Court order, which observes that the list of STs notified by
approval of the President of India as part of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes Order, 1950, and its amended versions were “conclusive” in nature and
can’t be interpreted by the government or, even, the judiciary.
The particular SC order, however,
came in a case that was of a completely different nature from the case of
Jhodias who were very much a sub-group of the Paroja tribe and had been enjoying
ST status for several decades since notification of the
list of scheduled tribes in 1950.
Many smell a hint of conspiracy
behind such withdrawal of ST status from the Jhodias of Kashipur to take away
their rights over the land, forest and natural resources.
“We, the Jhodias, were considered the
biggest threat to the project. Once their ST status was gone, the company and
the local administration could forcefully acquire the land that belonged to the
Jhodias,” says Sumani Jhodia, a woman leader of the community who has served as
a member of Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) of Odisha from 2000 to 2006.
“A conspiracy or not, but the rights
of Jhodias as scheduled tribe were already trimmed and were in such a trouble
that nobody knew how long it would take to recover – few years, one generation
or even more,” says Ratan Das, a Rayagada based Sarvodaya leader.
Since the denial by the district
administration and local tehsil office, the Jhodias have been struggling to get
back their status. The Paroja Samaj, the society that represents the whole
Paraja tribe, has been supporting their cause consenting that that the Jhodias
are very much a sub-tribe of the Paraja clan.
Under pressure from the tribal
communities and civil society bodies, Odisha government,
in 2002 and 2006, has recommended for inclusion of “Jhodia” as
synonymous to Jhodia Paraja and a sub-tribe of the Paroja clan in the list of
Sts, by writing letters to the union government.
Delegations of Paraja Samaj have met
the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, in December 2013, and the tribal affairs
minister Jual Oram, latest in March 2016, to apprise on the issue and to request
their intervention for immediate inclusion of “Jhodia” in the notified list.
has promised us to do the needful. The present tribal affairs minister told us
in 2014 that we would get back our status in six months. But, even two years
later, “Jhodia” didn’t feature in the list of tribes presented before the
cabinet for inclusion in the ST list,” says Sumani Jhodia.
According to noted tribal leader,
former chief minister of Odisha and, at present, a BJP leader, Giridhar Gamanga,
“the list of tribes from Odisha has not yet been presented before the cabinet
and it may happen soon. Once the Odisha list comes, Jhodias will be in the list
Available documents like the
standing committee on social justice and empowerment (2011-12) report
on “The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Second Amendment) Bill 2011” says
that the proposal for inclusion of “Jhodia” in the ST list has been referred for
the second time to the Registrar General of India (RGI) , on December 23, 2011,
for comments/ views. The first time it was sent to RGI’s office was on April,
10, 2006. This was probably the last standing committee that examined the case
As per the modalities set for
inclusion or exclusion of a community, once the claim receives a positive note
from the RGI, it has to go to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)
for further examination. After NCST approval the claimed case qualifies for
inclusion in the list of STs through an amendment. As usually, before the bill
for amendment is introduced in the parliament, it requires the cabinet node.
“However, instead of recommending
for inclusion through an amendment in the parliament, the Odisha government
could have set a commission to examine the case of Jhodias and order necessary
correction in the land records issued to the Jhodias because everybody knew that
they all were members of the Jhodia Paraja community. It was just a clerical
mistake. But, unfortunately, the state government opted the process that was not
only time consuming but uncertain also,” says Biswapriya Kanungo, a
seasoned advocate and expert on human right and related laws.
“We are suffering because of the
mistakes we never committed. It’s the duty of the revenue
department official to note which
tribe we belong to. If the right terminology was ‘Jhodia Paroja,’ it should have
been recorded. We didn’t know what he wrote but we believed that he had put it
properly because he was the man from the government!” – says Sumani Jhodia.
“Is the government that examines our
case since many years unable to verify whether a non-tribal Jhodia caste ever
existed in Kashipur block or in the whole of this region (undivided Koraput and
Kalahandi districts)?” – questions Sumani.
“Because of the denial for the ST
status, Jhodia children do not get facilities provided to tribal students in
high schools and colleges. Pursuing higher education and getting jobs have
become difficult for the youth,” says Prafulla Samantara, a social activist and
president of Lokshakti Abhiyan.
How can a government drag thousands
of people and several generations of the Jhodia community into such unimaginable
plight for the reason that they raised voice to protect their land, the
environment and natural resources?” – Samantara asks.
and culturally, Jhodias are members of the endogamous community of Jhodia Paraja
and are very much a part of the Paraja clan. The same community members living
in adjacent blocks of Raygada and Kalahandi districts are recognised as ST. Many
of them have even fought elections from seats reserved for STs and have got
elected as people’s representatives to the State Legislative Assembly,” says
Paraja Samaj president Makarand Muduli.
“It’s an irony that the tribe
declared ST across the state is now debarred in only one block, i.e. Kashipur,
just to uphold the interests of a company (UAIL) owned by one of India’s top
industrialist family that has enormous clout in the government and the political
parties of the country,” he alleges.
The “give and take”
The state and central governments
have been deliberately indifferent towards the case of the Jhodias, allege the
villagers of Bagrijhola that is adjacent to the refinery plant of UAIL.
“The company doesn’t want it to
happen because ST status to Jhodias would lead to troubles for the company. The
land already acquired by the company may be legally disputed,” says a villager
on a promise of anonymity.
“The civil society in the state also
believes that the nexus between the company and the governments at the centre
and the state plays active role against the jhodias. But, it is completely
inhuman to stop a tribal community from getting its official status and live
with dignity,” says Biswapriya Kanungo.
“It’s all a part of the give and take
game between political parties and corporate houses. Keeping in view the amount
Aditya Birla group has donated to BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and BJD (Biju
Janata Dal) before 2014 general elections, one can’t expect the governments
formed by these parties to give justice to the Jhodias against the interests of UAIL,
says Bhubaneswar based senior journalist Debendra Prusty.”
According to Association for
Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) reports, Aditya Birla
group has donated 26.6 Cr rupees to BJP between 2004-05 and 2011-12, and another
63.2 Cr rupees in 2014-15, through its General Electoral Trust. So, it’s hard to
believe that the present government led by BJP would do anything against its
largest contributor of electoral funds.
In Odisha also, the BJD (Biju Janata
Dal) led government may not pursue the case seriously in the interest of Jhodias
because it has received the electoral fund of 10 Cr rupees from the same trust
run by Aditya Birla group too.
“We were harassed for opposing mining
activities. Our people were killed. But, we never imagined that our fight to
protect our land and forest would bring such sufferings to our children and
grand children. This is the cruellest way used by a democratically elected
government to suppress the voice of people,” says Sumani in a choking voice.
“This is against the very spirit of
democracy. It is an example of how the government and its machinery can
specifically target indigenous communities and can put their identity in danger
to promote corporate agenda in the tribal hinterland of India,” says Biswapriya
“The story of victimisation of the
Jhodias and their unending plight will frighten other indigenous groups living
across India to raise their voice against any kind of injustice done by the corporate
entities or any government agency. This will limit the very meaning of
democracy,” he adds.
“It’s our right and, from the
beginning, we have fought for our rights, fought against injustice, and we shall
continue our fight till we regain what is rightfully ours,” Sumani says with
agony and in a relatively confident voice.
In such a situation, as Sarvodaya
leader Ratan Das observes, one can only hope that the Jhodias continue to fight
democratically and keep their struggle non-violent.
“But, who should we
blame if they opted the other way?” - Das wonders.