Tribal life amidst industrial resurgence – Odisha

The Telegraph, Sunday, January 15, 2006

Orissa needs jobs and revenue, but tribal life is being torn asunder as the government tries to turn the mineral-rich eastern state into an industrial powerhouse, reports Debashis Bhattacharyya

Where shall I go
Leaving this land,
For which I am only a trustee
As a tribal, I am duty bound
To pass it on to the generation next! 

Chakradhar Haibru has no time for or patience with poetry. Not even when a stirring verse is penned about the plight of his people by Bishnupada Sethi, a Bhubaneswar-based official crusading on behalf of the displaced.

The last time the 38-year-old tribal leader of Kalinganagar where 12 tribespeople were killed in police firing on January 2 opened a book of poems was in school years ago. Poetry, says the engineering college dropout, means nothing to him when the rhythm of tribal life is being torn asunder in a relentless government campaign to turn the mineral-rich eastern state into an industrial powerhouse.

To be sure, Orissa caught in a quagmire of poverty needs industry for jobs and revenues. But the questions increasingly being asked are “for whom and at what cost?” It’s perhaps a supreme irony that the very people the tribals the Orissa government is trying to lift out of poverty through rapid industrialisation are becoming victims of it.

Orissa has made remarkable progress over the last few years. According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Orissa accounts for the highest total investment about 11 per cent reported in the country last year. “The state’s performance on the investment front is outstanding,” notes Aniruddha Chatterjee, business development manager of CMIE in Calcutta.

Yet as investors flock to the state to take advantage of an “industrial resurgence”, thousands of people (mostly tribals living in mineral-rich districts) face displacement.

Orissa is no stranger to displacement. Some two million people have already lost their homes to make way for mega projects since the 1950s, says Sethi, an Orissa-cadre IAS officer working on the rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced for the United Nations Development Programme. Most projects from the Rourkela steel plant to the Balimela hydroelectricity venture have come up on tribal land.

Still, what sets Kalinganagar apart is the grim determination with which the state administration sought to clear the area for a Tata Steel plant. The orders came from the Naveen Patnaik government, which has so far been tom tomming its “pro-tribal” image. And therein, many believe, lies a web of politics that involves land acquisition. The poor, who wind up displaced, are often pawns on a shifting political chessboard. […]

“The government acted like a developer. It forced us to sell our land cheap and then made a whopping profit,” says Haibru.

Industry, too, feels shortchanged. Though in the Nineties, the government acquired the 12,000 acres of land that constitute the industrial complex, the transfer is mostly on paper. “People continue to live there as the recent face-off between the police and locals demonstrates,” an industry source says. […]

The political shadows over displacement keep lengthening. But slowly, the trusting tribespeople are waking up to all this. At Kalinganagar, for instance, villagers have barred politicians from meddling in their affairs. “We don’t want to be used as a political tool,” says Debraj Balmuch, a 20-year-old art college dropout with the Visthapan Virodhi Manch, spearheading the agitation.

Manch secretary Haibru smiles as he shoos away a cow munching on a marigold garland lying on a square of burnt cinders, where all the 12 bodies of the locals were cremated. “Tribals do have a right to live on their land like others, don’t they?” he asks.

Source: The Telegraph – Calcutta : Look
Address : http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060115/asp/look/story_5718123.asp
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