CPI(ML)’s South Orissa Bandh

RALLYCPI(ML) enforced a successful bandh in south Orissa on December 28, 2000 to protest against police firing on tribals at Kashipur in which three tribals were killed. The tribals, facing displacement due to an alumina project, were agitating against their eviction. The project is promoted jointly by the Birlas and Norwegian and Canadian multinationals. People, an overwhelming majority of them tribals, belonging to 24 villages of Kashipur block of Rayagada district are being evicted for the Rs.4500 crore export-oriented alumina project by Utkal Aluminium International Limited (UAIL). INDALCO of Birlas owns 20% share in UAIL and Hydro Aluminium of Norway owns 45% whereas the Aluminium Company of Canada has a share of 35%. The company, apart from acquiring 712 acres of ‘government land’ in tribal areas, has also acquired through the government 2,115 acres of land, mostly belonging to the tribals. The state government started issuing land acquisition notifications from 1995 onwards with meagre compensation. While some villages accepted the compensation under pressure from local BJD leaders who were acting as agents for the company, some other villages have not taken the compensation, either refusing to move or demanding more compensation.

CPI(ML), which has a presence in Rayagada district, has expressed solidarity with the tribals all along. CPI(ML) is also working on tribal issues in this region in close association with a predominantly tribal-based organisation Lok Sangram Manch. Another CPI(ML) group New Initiative and an NGO called Agragamee were also active on this issue. On 15 December, Nakkinti Bhaskar Rao, district president of the ruling BJD, went around the villages along with a band of followers threatening the people of dire consequences if they persisted in their refusal to vacate their lands. When he visited Maikancha village a heated argument ensued between him and the tribal villagers. Due to the high-handed behaviour of his men towards the villagers there was a scuffle in which a few people on both sides sustained minor injuries and his vehicle was slightly damaged.

The same day the BJD leaders went to Bhubaneshwar and pressurised the higher-ups in the BJD government to teach the tribals a lesson. Obviously, a conspiracy was hatched in Bhubaneshwar to terrorise the tribals in Kashipur so as to pressurise them to vacate their lands. On 16 December, the next day, a large posse of policemen reached Maikancha. Anticipating a crackdown, the men in the village climbed up on the hillsides while the women gathered in a group and blocked the police from entering the village. While the women were arguing with the police, a constable pushed an old woman and she fell down. Seeing this from a distance the men became furious and came down the hillside, throwing stones and shooting arrows in order to chase the police away. Only one policeman was injured. While retreating, the policemen stopped at some point and opened fire without any reason or warning, killing three tribals on the spot. Subsequently, the police brought in large reinforcements and blocked the approach roads to Maikancha and refused to allow even journalists to visit the spot. Despite police terror, the local tribals gathered in large numbers under the banner of Prakrutika Sampada Suraksha Parishad to organise a road roko on December 20. The state government rejected the demand for a judicial enquiry and ordered only an administrative enquiry into the incident. With the Rayagada District Collector Mr. DP Das zealously favouring of the alumina project, one can well imagine what the outcome of this enquiry will be. The leaders of the local BJD, BJP and Congress too were openly siding with the UAIL, against the tribals, and did nothing to protest against the police firing.

In this backdrop, the CPI(ML) and Lok Sangram Manch gave a call for South Orissa bandh on December 28 to protest against the firing and forcible eviction of tribals from their habitat. The bandh was successfully implemented by CPI(ML) activists in Gunupur, Padampur, Ramannaguda, Mukundapur and Paralakhimundi towns falling in the tribal belt. Groups comprising 50-100 activists, including a large number of tribal activists, moved around to enforce the bandh in these towns. The comrades of Lok Sangram Manch implemented the bandh in Mohana and Adaba centres of neighbouring Gajapati district.

Apart from UAIL, many other multinationals have evinced keen interest to set up similar alumina projects in Rayagada and Koraput districts to grab the rich bauxite ore abundantly available in this region. Along with serious environmental damage, bauxite mining in tribal areas poses the threat of massive displacement of tribals. The state government readily obliges the MNCs by acting as a middleman, ‘acquiring’ land belonging to tribal and handing them over to the companies for a meagre ‘compensation’. Though, under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, the Land Acquisition Acts do not apply to the notified tribal areas and tribal land cannot be alienated in favour of non-tribals, including companies, the Orissa government, through some arbitrary and unconstitutional rule, has empowered the district collectors to permit the sale of tribal land to non-tribals and companies. At one level, it creates a social problem due to tension between tribals and non-tribals and, at another level, big companies with their mega projects are out to displace the tribals on a large scale. The administration justifies this ‘industrialisation’ in the name of combating backwardness in the region. The CPI(ML) has challenged this manner of overcoming backwardness which threatens the very survival and livelihood of the tribals while looting the natural resources in their areas. The CPI(ML) and Lok Sangram Manch, in a 5000-strong joint rally held earlier at Berhampur on 20 November, demanded scrapping of this rule and putting an immediate end to land alienation among tribals. The CPI(ML) is also preparing for a sustained movement for the return of such land to the tribals grabbed away by the companies.

-- Malleswar Rao