(In May 2005, AISA councilors from the School of Social Sciences, JNU, organized an exposure trip to the Kashipur-Koraput-Kalahandi region of Orissa. 9 students – Dheeraj, Sandeep, Deepa, Banajyotsna, Sejuti, Jitendra, Nicholas, Elizabeth, Hansraj and …visited the region and took a first-hand look at the politics of development, displacement and hunger there – as well as the struggle to resist and organise. One of the team members recounts their impressions. )
THE students’ team from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that went to Orissa to observe the existing reality in the remote corners of India was aware of its limited capacity. That it can’t effect any changes was a fact that we bore hard. But, yet it was an attempt to question the notions with which we have grown with in big cities under bright lights. Notions that ensured security of living, prosperity of existence, that our country is a ‘developing’ one, that the Constitution encodes the word ‘socialist’! The short visit to Orissa, the limited experience we had gathered, deconstructed the developmental notion to naked reality.
We gathered in Orissa from different parts of India. Nine of us reached Rayagada town on 22nd May, 2005. A red flag welcomed us in the station. Our mission was to observe mainly two things: I) Displacement and ii) Land Reform. The following eight days we travelled through various villages, and each of them unfolded a new story of class, caste and gender discrimination.
Displacement as we have seen in Narmada Valley is not an isolated case in itself. Thousands of similar instances are strewn all over India. The scenario prevailing in Orissa is quite grotesque. The Navin Patnaik government in Orissa is determined to embark upon an absolutely uninterfered project of industrialization for Orissa. As a result, twenty projects on Aluminium extraction, one hundered on sponge iron extraction and twenty five on manganese and iron extraction have already been signed. All these projects would probably provide substantial mineral resources to the companies involved, but at the same time would also devastate the more crucial natural resources along with displacing a shockingly huge number of people residing in these areas. We saw two instances in Kuchai Padhar and Lanjiguda.
India accounts for 13 per cent of the world’s repository of Bauxite. After companies like BALCO and NALCO, new companies like HINDALCO and Vedanta have joined in the trade to extract aluminium. The Aditya Birla Group and the Canada-based company ALCAN have merged to form HINDALCO. Their extraction in the Niyamagiri range would directly affect and displace about eighty-two villages. The number of people going to be affected are a shocking fifty thousand. The government sources however record the displacement of only about twenty-four villages, the residents of which would get a minimal compensation. The environment in the Saubahumali and Waflimali range would also be affected. The dynamite blasting, bauxite dust and waste dumping would also bring enormous environmental peril and perpetual health hazards to the people residing there. The most alarming environmental fallout however is the fact that about three hundred water streams would dry up in these hill ranges. This includes two perennial streams called Wamsivali and Naganala which flow through five districts. The measureless problems, which this might bring about, are left unanswered by the State government.
The resistance that is being put up by the people of Kuchai Padhar are more cultural than political. A few NGOs are working against the projects. In some parts they are rendered support by political parties like the CPI (ML) Liberation as well as CPI (Maoists). A Prakriti Sampada Suraksha Parishad (PSSP) has been formed as a conglomeration of eight different organizations. They have put up a resistance mainly peaceful in its form for the last thirteen years. On 16th December 2000, the procession of PSSP was fired upon by the police in Maikanj. It resulted in the deaths of three villagers namely Damodar Jharia, Raghunath Jharia and Avilash Jharia. But little change has been effected ever since. The lives of thousands lie precarious before the combined oppression of the state and the MNCs, the former giving open support and security to the latter.
Similar depiction was seen in Lanjiguda, which is in Kalahandi. A UK-based company Vedanta would blast about twenty kilometers of land affecting about 400 villages and four lakh people. These highly technologised companies generate no scope of employment for the local illiterate tribals. They just receive state orders to vacate their homes and lands in which they have thrived for generations over centuries. The compensation and rehabilitation from the government reach a miniscule minority; the rest an obnoxious majority, are left nowhere.
However, we did find a sharp difference in the way and approach of resistance in Kuchai Padhar and Jagannathpur. Unlike the former the people in Kalahandi are more politically organized under CPI(ML) Liberation. They thus displayed better consciousness and did not, unlike the people of Kachai Padhar, see displacement as an issue by itself alienated from other forums of greater exploitation.
The other aspect of our study was to observe land reforms and the general condition of Oriya peasants. The peasantry in Orissa is a dreadful reminder of the colonial legacy. Despite an existing ceiling rate of land possession, some ‘landlords’ actually possess 2000 hectares of land. Most of the people are landless laborers and a few are marginal farmers. Two-third of the peasant community live below the poverty level. Women and children are also forced to work in the fields in the face of extreme poverty. Literacy rate is quite low. There is not much of provision for higher education and the health facilities are minimal. Probably this is a truth all over rural India but our first-hand experience was unnerving.
However, one ray of hope shimmered in the land snatching instances we had come across. In Patraguda village of Bissam Cuttak a substantial amount of land had been snatched from Manmatha Rao, a Congress advocate and Babulal Sahoo, a BJD MLA. The villagers, under the leadership of CPI (ML) Liberation engaged in strifes and physical fights with the goons of the landowners to capture the land. The crops yielded from this land is divided into three parts. One goes to the local fund of the CPI (ML) Liberation, one part is spent to meet the expenditure on land related litigations and a third is distributed among all the families of the villages. The instance of Patraguda as we found out had become one of the inspirations to other villages of nearby locality.
In a village called Lauguda, also under the leadership of Tirupathy Gomango, the MP candidate of CPI (ML) Liberation from Rayagada, land snatching took place. The struggling people faced police firing; yet carried their struggle successfully through. Padampur, a village that faces caste discrimination as it is a Harijan village, also had snatched 12 acres of land. In 2002, two people were killed in the course of their land struggle.
Orissa was a great experience for us. We saw from closest proximity how the people suffer, how they are being exploited and how they are putting up a resistance. The eye-wash of development was exposed in its utmost crudity.
Independent - are we? Probably in the pages of history books, yes. But this new colonization by the MNCs and the Indian state itself of its people tells a different story, hitherto untold or probably unheard of. But one thing remains clear - we need to fight a second battle of independence, right now!
WITH the complicity of the Government officials and Public Administration authorities, public lands around Bhubaneshwar and all over Orissa are being grabbed by powerful citizens. In particular, forest lands are being grabbed by those who wield influence in the State Administration and are wealthy enough to bribe revenue officials. Forest lands, right from coastal lands to the Eastern ghats, are thus being illegally privatised. It is not uncommon to see farm houses belonging to bureaucrats and others come up on what was once dense forest land in the Chandrika forests.
How is this made possible, given the Forest Conservation Act (1980)? Through an ingenious method evolved by bureaucrats: community lands are now open to privatisation through back-dated pattas from ex-rulers of the former Estates like Kalahandi. These hand-written sale deeds (Hata Patta) issued by ex-zamindars and ex-rulers are being entertained by revenue officials. Through such a ruse, public lands worth crores of rupees are either tenanted or in the process of being tenanted in the Bhubaneshwar tehsil. Overnight, vast areas of coastal mangrove forest lands of the Mahanadi estuaries were sold out through the issue of back-dated hand-written sale deeds by the ex-Manager of the Kujang Zamindari! Subsequently such Hata Pattas are regularised to Stitiban or tenant-right, issued by the Anchal-Adhikari/Tehsildar. The entire Tiger project Similipal Forests covering an area of 2200 sq. km, is in danger of being grabbed and privatised by anyone who can arrange back-dated pattas from the ex-ruler of Mayurbhanj.
Corrupt bureaucrats play the greatest role in these land scams. All land records and maps are with these officials. They can easily tamper with these records as it suits them. Not only the coastal tracts of Orissa but even the ex-Gadjat forest blocks and other public lands are victims of such scams. Even now, no correct map of any forest block of the State is available for scrutiny by conscious citizens.
Other than Reserve Forests, areas where forest growth is removed are deemed to belong to the Revenue Department - such lands are called Anabadi lands. It is shocking that 31,785.80 square kms of forest lands lie with Revenue authorities, which lease them out for different purposes. Due to such practices, the forest cover in the State is gradually depleting. Lessees like different mine owners in the State illegally occupy forest lands other than those granted to them for mining operations - they indulge in deliberate destruction of forest cover in such areas. So far, the State has not prepared a consolidated map of mines, where information about mine-lease-hold areas is publicly available.
The mercury column in Orissa is sharply increasing largely due to the mishandling of dense forestlands and changing topography of Orissa. These lands will soon turn into deserts if steps are not taken to curb such scams in forestlands.
Today, several cases relating to land scams are pending in law courts and at the level of the member, Board of Revenue, Orissa, awaiting a decision. But many such cases are lost because State-appointed advocates oblige the corrupt top bureaucrats by failing to fight the cases seriously. These top officers who have tampered with public records in order to privatise public property are being protected rather than punished! If public awareness on these scams is not heightened, and if immediate steps are not taken, Orissa will be irrevocably defaced.
– Nadiya Chand Kanungo, Rtd. DFO