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Industrialisation of Orissa: Development against people's will

"Betrayed so many times, the tribal communities are blaming the government and bureaucrats for being unsympathetic and harsh to their problems, livelihood issues and rights. They have now come forward to protect their livelihood sources and oppose further displacement in the name of development."

HNF Bureau : May 30, 2007

Growing demand of steel in the international market has insisted steel manufacturing giants world over to join the mad rush into the poor state of India that has the rare fortune of having maximum iron ore in its belly. Excited with the rush of steel and alumina giants into the state with one point objective to drain its natural resources as fast as possible, Orissa government signed over 50 MoUs with different mining and metal producing Companies including major players in the international market like TATA Steel and Korean steel giant POSCO. ‘Development through large scale industrialization’ has been the key message given by the reigning government and top-line bureaucrats to the people of Orissa. Giving no other option, people of Orissa and in other states also are forced to believe that no development is possible in the state without going by the norms dictated by these corporate giants coming with an aim to plunder the mineral reserves of Orissa by utilizing its low cost labour force.

While signing MoUs, nobody think of the people and the natural resources, other than ores, like land and forestry that would be affected by the projects; and the scale of displacement that would force number of families sacrifice their houses and sources of livelihood. The sites are marked on a map spread over the conference table and proposed to the industrial houses even without any physical verification and systematic study on the impact of industrialisation on people living in and around the sites. Not only this, once the companies give a positive node, government agrees at once to provide them lands as per their convenience and requirements. Always, the interests of corporate houses are in the priority. The possible socio-economic issues related to industrialization are never given due importance before or during the finalization of a project. As a result, government and corporate houses are now facing mass discontentment in many places, like the proposed POSCO plant site near Paradeep, TATA Steel Plant Site in Kalinga Nagar etc., while attempting to acquire land for different industries.

Most of the projects are close to forests and the mining sites are mostly inside forest areas. As tribal communities live in the forests and primarily depend upon the forests for their livelihood, they have been the worst victims of such large scale industrialization and even other development projects like Dams, Power Plants etc. The tribal communities of Orissa have experienced the benefits of industrialization and other projects better than anybody or any other community. The families displaced during 1950s for Hirakud Dam are still not rehabilitated. The issue of rehabilitation is still raised by the tribals displaced for SAIL’s Rourkela Steel Plant. Many a families displaced by the Rengali Dam Project are now living miserably, almost like destitute. The declared statistics of possible employment opportunities have always gone wrong. NINL, MESCO Steel Plant, Jindal Steel plants in Kalinga Nagar are the best testimony to this fact. Is this what we mean by development? Should these folks living peacefully with nature be dragged to industrial colonies and forced to be an industrial wage-labourer? Can we civilized people call it development?

Betrayed so many times, the tribal communities can not be blamed for accusing the government and bureaucrats of being unsympathetic and harsh to their problems, livelihood issues and rights. They have now come forward to protect their livelihood sources and oppose further displacement in the name of development. Movements are on against UAIL in Kashipur, against Vedant Alumina in Lanjigarh, against almost all projects in Kalinga Nagar, against POSCO in Paradeep etc. However, the movement is no more limited in the project sites or in Orissa. It has become the issue of tribals and unprivileged farmers all over India.

Industrialisation in forest areas or on agricultural lands will not only affect the people who are displaced for the projects. It will have a wider impact on the state and its resources. Large scale deforestation for industrialization has been the major issue not only in Orissa, but the environmentalists world over are concerned with such act supported by the government without giving any thought to the issue of global warming and climate change. Deforestation for Vedanta Alumina Project, which has been warned by the apex court of India for violating the environment guidelines, would have its worst impact in western Orissa. It may lead to havoc in this region as the atmospheric temperature goes up to 50 degree Celsius here usually during summer. What will be the impact of further deforestation and large scale industrialization in those areas? The irony is that Orissa government has not yet endeavoured to best use the vast landscape of Kalahandi and Nuapada with black cotton soil. Provided with extensive irrigation facility, these districts would meet the vegetable and onion demands of the state and enable the state to export also. But horticulture and agriculture are still some of the neglected areas not only in these districts but in other parts of Orissa also.

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The proposed POSCO plant and port at Paradip will displace many farmers who are living comfortably with their limited land resources, fishing ponds and other available resources. Once the lands and ponds are gone, they loose the permanent sources of their livelihood they have been using since generations. What will they do with the compensation money? How long can they survive on it? They will be virtually forced to work as daily labourers or industrial labourers. Some of them would start small shops or business units; many of them would migrate to other places in search of work; many would be forced to beggary. The whole consumer market in and around the project site will depend on other outside markets for basic needs like food grains and vegetables. The cost of living will go higher as the prices will never the same as on today. Can these people survive comfortably as living with what ever limited resources they have today? So what development we are planning with these corporate traders whose basic aim is to make money with the resources available in Orissa?

Industrialisation over agricultural lands is discouraged in most of the developed countries as they have realized the gravity of food crisis in the coming days. When population is rapidly growing in India, how wise it is to handover limited agricultural land resources to the industrial houses to build their plants and colonies? The advice of Israeli representative to focus on and invest in agriculture should have been the greatest lesson for the Orissa government.

The peoples’ movement against industrialization is primarily based upon these issues which should never be neglected. These issues must be looked into while planning for industrialization. Resettlement and rehabilitation package is the other important aspect. Government has to come up with a more convincing package in its forthcoming resettlement and rehabilitation policy. Otherwise, there would be hard times for the government as well as the industrial houses in the coming days.



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