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Kashipur Solidarity
Why does Kashipur burn?

By Satya

1 December 2004. The Rayagada District Collector P.K. Mehrda and the district Superintendent of Police Sanjaya Kumar led the police in a brutal attack on a people’s demonstration at village D-Karol, near the proposed alumina plant of Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) at Doraguda. Rape threats, filthy abuses, tear gas shells and an aggressive lathicharge targeted more than 300 adivasis and dalits who were protesting against the forcible setting up of a police station and barracks for armed police at D-Karol. This place is not far from village Kucheipadar, the nerve center of the people’s movement against the alumina project. The proposed police station is part of a plan to violently crush the people’s movements in the area. At least 16 persons, mainly women, were seriously injured in the unprovoked attack ordered by the government. The Collector was seen celebrating the occasion by dancing in a party later in the evening…

Another December day, four years ago…

On 16 December 2000, police fired upon adivasis in Maikanch
village of Kashipur block, killing three protestors and seriously injuring 30. The people had put up a barricade on the road at Maikanch as part of their resistance against the alumina project. The day before the massacre, this barricade had prevented a delegation of political leaders from fraudulently representing the people in a ‘multi-stakeholder dialogue’ organized by the company at Nuagaon village. UAIL and CARE International (a corporate-funded NGO) had formed this “All Party Committee” by handpicking representatives of various pro-project electioneering parties. The people forced these pro-project leaders to return to Rayagada, the district headquarters.

The UAIL project will destroy the homes, lands, forests, mountains and perennial water streams that form the basis of life and livelihood of more than 20,000 people in at least 82 villages. But the same project is so dear to the heart of the state machinery that it doesn’t hesitate to launch armed attacks on the people opposing it.

About the Project:

UAIL is a 100% export-oriented joint venture alumina consortium. In 1992, INDAL, Tata, Norsk Hydro of
Norway and Aluminium Company of Canada  (ALCAN) formed the initial venture. Norsk Hydro withdrew in 1997, owing to adverse public opinion generated in Norway by reports of the hostility of the Kashipur people towards the project. Subsequently, Tata also withdrew the same year, because of the ‘disturbed climate’, i.e. the popular resistance against the project. Today, HINDALCO and ALCAN hold 55% and 45% respectively of the UAIL shares. HINDALCO is an Aditya Birla Group company that has acquired INDAL.

The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs. 4,500 crores. Bauxite would be sourced through open cast mining from Baphlimali of Maikanch Panchayat, with an estimated 200 million tonnes reserve, and will be transported to the plant site 25 kms away at Doraguda in Kucheipadar Panchayat via a conveyor belt. The capacity of the plant would be 2.5 million tones per annum. The minor irrigation dam at Baghrijhola village would meet the water requirement. When this dam was constructed in 1984, the people were told that it was for the development of the irrigation infrastructure in the region.

The alumina generated at this refinery, proposed to be sold at US$ 85 a tonne, is estimated to be the cheapest globally. In the 22-23 years before the alumina reserves get exhausted the joint venture would reap a profit of at least Rs 2,88,000 crores. The government will get royalties of Rs 1,300-1,400 crores during that period.

The UAIL project acquired 2,865 acres of
land of Kashipur block in 1995. This includes 1,000 hectares of land presently under cultivation, besides forests and the dangars, which are also used for farming.

UAIL claims that the project will displace only 147 families from three villages of Domkarel, Ramibeda and Kendukhunti. The Norsk Hydro’s estimate puts the number of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) at 750 families, and the Norwegian Agency for Development’s estimate puts it at 60,000 persons. The Doraguda plant alone will directly affect 2,500 persons. Open cast mining in Baphlimali would adversely affect another 2,500 families in 24 villages in Chandragiri, Maikanch and Kodipari panchayats.

ALCAN, the Canadian multinational company, faces a several-billion-dollars lawsuit filed by indigenous people at Kemano in
British Columbia, Canada, for destroying their ancestral homeland through mining activities. The Aditya Birla group that owns HINDALCO has a notorious record of violating environmental norms through their various projects and causing environmental disasters that have destroyed the lives of local people.

Extraction of alumina is banned in the developed countries because of the pollution that it causes. Open cast mining has always been severely criticized on environmental grounds. One of the inevitable by-products of open cast mining is the piling up of highly obnoxious solid effluents such as red mud. This would raise the pH levels of the soil in the region much beyond the permissible limits, irreversibly damaging large tracts of fertile topsoil.

The project would cause the drying up of perennial natural springs, desertification of the area, landslides, flash floods, and loss of the natural habitat of the local fauna and flora that sustain the diverse indigenous communities in the region. These costs are not accounted for in the cost-benefit analysis of the project.

How did the UAIL and other companies come into the region to mine its hillocks in the guise of developing the area?

The story begins with reports of starvation in Kashipur in 1987 when the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ‘air dashed’ to witness the ‘underdeveloped’ hinterland of Orissa. A ‘new vision of development’ was thereafter chalked out for the poor communities of the region by the central and state governments. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) provided loans for undertaking programmes worth Rs 40 crores. The agricultural development scheme replaced many of the dangars, where the communities grew local cereals and obtained a substantial part of their livelihood, with plantations of coffee and mulberry for rearing silkworms. Plans for infrastructural development, including construction of roads and railway lines, were drawn up. A road was laid from Tikiri to Kashipur. A railway line from Rayagada to Koraput became operational in 1992.

And the very next year a number of projects of private mining giants made a beeline for the bauxite reserves in the region.

Slowly but steadily, the people in the region understood the hidden motives of IFAD and saw with their own eyes how the ‘idea of people’s development’ actually served only the interests of the foreign companies, big industrialists and top bureaucrats. They figured out that the roads and railway lines were meant primarily to facilitate the transport of the bauxite that would be extracted from the area.

All this alumina extracted by destroying the lives and livelihood of the local people will be exported to feed the growing demand of the global automobiles, aviation and missile industries.

Displacement, alienation and further disenchantment with the state machinery have always accompanied such projects in the region. For instance, in Panchpatmali and Damanjodi of Koraput district, where NALCO in 1984 began mining operations and set up an alumina refinery, those evicted from their land and homes were ‘resettled’ in abominable shacks, alienated from their means of livelihood. The promise of employment to locals in the company proved to be a farce. In fact, the company later announced,  “it did not need hands, but sharp heads.”

The survey work for the UAIL project was started under a veil of utmost secrecy. To all their questions, the people received only one standard response – “This is government land and we are doing it for the government.” The block as well as the district administration maintained a tight silence over any query related to the survey work.

After a long gap of over 8-10 months, the communities heard about ‘a huge project that would be set up for the development of the region.’ Initially, Agragamee, an NGO, organised signature campaigns and assumed a significant role in mobilising the people to seek information from the administration and in providing litigation support to the falsely implicated adivasis. Following this, a number of local NGOs showed interest in the issue. But due to the inherent limitations of being institutionally funded organizations registered with the government, their involvement had nothing to do with popular mobilisation. In fact, their contradictory positions have only alienated them from the people. Agragamee itself today plays no role in the people’s struggle.

Concerned over the possible impact of the project on the people in the region, on
1st December 1993, an 18-member team of the local people went to Bhubaneswar to meet the Chief Minister and demand the cancellation of the proposed project. As the assembly elections were due the next year, the CM promised to do so as soon as possible. Consequently, the activities of the company slowed down till mid-1994 and then resumed with a vengeance.

The people fight back and organize a resistance movement.

The agitated people decided to resist every activity of the company in the region. The state resorted to terrorising the people, arresting a number of adivasis and implicating them in false cases. Company goons began to move in the villages, manhandling and coercing the villagers to end their resistance. This first phase of repression found mention in the Muchkund Dubey Committee Report of 1999.

The state repression, however, went on unabated. Even peaceful expressions of dissent, like raising barricades and organising road blockades, were brutally suppressed. Apprehending that more and more mining companies would flock to the bauxite-rich region, the people saw the need to build their own organisations for strengthening and intensifying their resistance movement.

Prakrutika Sampada Suraksha Parishad (PSSP) was thus formed at a mass meeting in 1996. Its methods of protest have mainly been: organizing road blockades, raising barricades, and conducting public meetings and pada yatras. They have bravely faced the vicious attacks both by company goons and the police.

The state resorts to desperate measures again.

State repression has been intensifying in the area today because plans by UAIL to start mining operations are imminent. The production process was originally scheduled to begin by 2002. The people’s organized resistance forced the project to be later rescheduled to 2005.

As the deadline approached, on
25th November 2004, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was quoted as saying that anti-mining struggles will be firmly dealt with. From late November, villages that are protesting against the Utkal Alumina project have been under siege by the police.

After the brutal lathicharge on
1st December 2004, the CRPF has been deployed and has been holding flag marches in the area. The Indian Reserve Battalion and the Orissa State Armed Police have also been deployed.

Police have been roaming the villages even at nights and picking up people, hence causing fear in the area. Private goons employed by the company have been terrorizing people in the area. At least 18 people from Kashipur and Laxmipur are still in custody.

1st February 2005, Delhi-based youth and human rights activists, writers and intellectuals joined members of PSSP in a protest demonstration at the Orissa Bhawan in New Delhi against this reign of state terror in Orissa. They also submitted a memorandum to the Resident Commissioner of Orissa, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the arrested people and the withdrawal of armed police from the region, besides the dismantling of the new police station and barracks. They also demanded criminal prosecution of the police officers and company’s goons involved in attacks on the protestors.

The situation in the rest of Orissa is no different. 

Five bauxite mining and alumina projects are in the pipeline, covering five blocks of three districts: Kashipur (Rayagada district), Luxmipur and Dasamantpur (Koraput), Lanjigada and Thuamulrampur (Kalahandi). Sterlite would source bauxite from Sasubohumali of Kashipur block, Larson and Tubro from Sijimali and Kutrumali of the same block, Birla from Kodinga
Mali of Luxmipur block, and Vedanta from Niyamgiri and Khandualmali of Kalahandi district. The total investment in the Orissa bauxite projects is to the tune of Rs 20,000 crores.

In 1995, L & T and ALCOA obtained provisional clearance for its project and started survey work in Sijimali and Kutrumali of Kashipur-Thuamal-Rampur blocks of Rayagada-Kalahandi. It is a 100% export oriented joint venture alumina consortium. All the alumina produced would be transported to the
USA. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs. 2,500 Crores. It will mine bauxite through open cast method from Sijimali and Kutrumali of Kashipur-Thuamal-Rampur blocks of Rayagada-Kalahandi, Sasubohumali and Indrajeetmali of Kashipur block of Rayagada, and Ghusuri and Khandualmali of Thuamal-Rampur blocks of Kalahandi. The proposed plant would uproot the Kusumsila village in Sikarpai panchayat of Kalyansinghpur block of Rayagada district.

Sasubohumali hill was leased to BALCO in 1995. Sterlite Industries Limited acquired the majority stake in the company in 2001. Subsequently, Sterlite Industries Limited owns the project. Another hill, Niyamagiri, which is 5 kms south of Lanjigada village, has also been leased out to it.

Lanjigada is the key project of Sterlite, whose funds come from its twin company, Vedanta Resources. Vedanta was launched on the
London stock exchange in December 2003. It raised a record of $1 billion dollar for this Lanjigarh project. Both Sterlite and Vedanta are headed by a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) Anil Agarwal and the chairman of the Sterlite is Brian Gilbertson, an Australian who is one of the world's wealthiest mine owners. The total estimated cost of the proposed one million tonne export oriented project is Rs. 4,500 crores. The project will source bauxite through open cast mining from Niyamagiri hillock (also a protected forest) of Lanjhigada panchayat in Kalahandi, with an estimated 7.5 crore tonnes of bauxite reserves. According to the company, the bauxite can be extracted for 23 years. The refinery will be set up at Lanjhigada and Batelima panchayats, with a capacity of 30 lakh tonnes per annum.

For the purpose of mining, this project would acquire land from the Niyamagiri protected forest and Palbor, Phuldumer and Konakuda of the Kalahandi and Rayagada districts. More land would be acquired at Lanjhigada and Batelima panchayats for setting up the refinery near the mining site. Only a small part of this land belongs to the government, whereas the rest of it comes under private holdings that the adivasis use for agriculture. The refinery would displace 60 families from two villages, and adversely affect another 302 families of 12 villages. Moreover, since Niyamagiri forms the lifeline in the region, more than 30,000 people in the area, who directly depend upon the Niyamagiri forests and its streams for their livelihood, would be adversely affected. The mining of Niyamagiri hill will result in Bansadhara and Nagabali rivers drying up. This would affect more than 100,000 people.

In conclusion…

All these projects are being resisted by the local people because of the cost of ‘development’ being forced upon them. Their resources will be looted and they will be displaced from their means of livelihood. Their lives are inseparable from the dangars, the forests and the land that sustains their communities. The projects will not bring the benefits of modern industrial society to the adivasis.  Instead, their displacement and alienation from the basis of their livelihood would surely turn them into paupers. The projects will rob them of the little that they have.

What the people need for their development are not giant industries that displace them but schools, good health care facilities and an irrigation infrastructure. After all, these industries produce commodities that are not even meant for the people they displace. They generate profits that are appropriated by big foreign and Indian capitalists, and commissions that are pocketed by the bureaucrats, technical experts and politicians. For the oppressed people, these projects are only signposts on the road to their further deprivation and loot.

In the course of their struggle, the people have begun to see the true character of the state machinery, which is essentially at the service of the corporate and feudal interests. They are fighting against the unholy alliance of the corporate exploiters, the lawmakers, the policy experts and the implementation apparatus (administrative officials, police and paramilitary forces), united against the will of the people, against their real development.

In fact, this nexus is the main obstacle on the path of progress. It needs to be smashed, bit-by-bit, in the interest of the well being of all the toiling people.



CONTACT EMAIL ID: deep.satya@rediffmail.com

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