A series of anti-SEZ Conventions were held in various centres in Orissa, Andhra, Tamilnadu and Karnataka, in which CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya participated. A brief report.
“We are ready to be killed but not to part with our land,” these were the words with what the 40 years old Mrs Pratima Tarai, welcomed the delegates of CPI(ML)Liberation to the infamous POSCO area on Wednesday. And that was not the only voice in the area. Hundreds of people who had come from Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gada Kujanga gram panchayats of the coastal Jagatsinghpur district, where a Korean Steel giant, Pohang Steel (POSCO) is threatening to evict entire villages.
On 16 May a delegation of CPI(ML) Liberation, led by the general Secretary Secretary Dipankar Bhatacharya, arrived at the entrance of the village Dandasahi. Here a huge bamboo gate has been erected by the people to keep police out. Sankarsan Palai, a local resident of Dhinkia said this reporter that “the villagers have erected eight gates like this as a part of their road blockade programme. They have also cut all the connecting roads to these three villages to check the movement of heavy vehicles. People are patrolling twenty four hours all over the area. They blow whistles when they see any outsider inside the area and people gather immediately. Recently two officials of the company who entered the area were kept hostage for around 10 hours.
This is an area once represented by popular CPI leader and former MLA Loknath Chowdhury. The people here have already had a bad brush with eviction in the early 90s, when the Indian oil wanted to acquire land for a refinery. Faced with people’s rejection, the refinery was eventually set up 5 km away.
Inside the villages people showed Comrade Dipankar their ‘pan baraj,’(betel leaf vines), drumstick trees, the fertile land that produces plenty of paddy and green vegetables. They showed the wild Jatropha plants from which they extract juice and earn substantially. All these resources will be no more with them if POSCO takes nearly 4000 acres of land in this area. It also wants to grab land near Jatadhar Muhan (a place where nine rivers’ of the district meet the sea and a place which provides foods and earning to nearly 10,000 fisher folk) to build its own captive port for export of minerals. Though the state government (IDCO) says that a major chunk of the land belongs to the government, the fact is that on this land farmers have their betel leaf vines, paddy land, and vegetable farms. Now the villagers say that if Posco will take this land then they will lose their livelihood without a single pie as compensation, “because land is not in the name of the farmers,” said Mahendra Parida, a social worker of the state.
Hundreds of women gathered at Patnahat Padia where Comrade Dipankar, Abhay Sahu and others addressed a public meeting under the shade of old banyan trees.
In the evening Comrade Dipankar addressed a huge gathering at the historic Shaheed Bhawan of Cuttack city. Nearly a thousand people took part in the anti-SEZ Convention organized by the CPI(ML). In the convention presided over by Mr Khitish Chandra Biswal, the State Secretary of Orissa unit of the CPI(ML)Lib, participants included CPI(ML) activist and former MLA Comrade Radhakanta Sethy, as well as eminent citizens of the state like Prof Birendra Nayak(Utakal University), Mr Prafulla Das, hexagenarian freedom fighter and writer, Rajendra Sarangi(Lok Pakhya), Yudhisthir Samantray, Editor, Lal Lahar, Sudhir Pattanaik,Editor, Samadrishti, Prafulla Das, POSCO Birodhi Sangram Samiti, Gananath Patra, and leaders of CPI(ML)ND. Mr Dhanuj, a young Lawyer of Orissa High Court gave a vote of thanks.
Other programmes in Orissa included a Convention at Parlekhamundi in Gajapati district, in which prominent participants included Jagannathan, the secretary of a Srikakulam-based human rights forum, as well as veteran Communist leader Gananath Patra.
On May 5, a convention was organised at Sundarayya Vigyan Bhavan, Hyderabad on with the slogan ‘No To Sez-Kalinganagr, Nandigram Never Again’. Comrade N Murthy presided over the Convention. Retired Professor of Andhra Agricultural University K R Chowdhury addressed the Convention, at which Comrade Dipankar was the Chief Guest. Others who participated in the convention were Comrades D P Buxi, D Harinath, P Satyanarayana, K Ranadhir, S Swamy and R Nagamani.
On May 7 a Convention was held at Visakhapatnam at Ambedkar Bhavan. Here nearly 800 villages have been demanding Fifth Schedule status, and the leader of this movement, agrarian labour leader Ajay Kumar participated in the Convention. Also, apart from Comrade Dipankar, other participants included P Srirammurty of the APCLC, Comrade Bangar Rao N.Murthy,M.Malleswar Rao, B.Vasudeva Rao, R.Simhachalam,Y.Arjun Rao, B.Viplav Kumar and K Ratnakumari.
An anti-SEZ Convention was held at Chennai on 18 May (presided over by Com. AS Kumar), on May 19 at Kumbakonam (presided over by Com. Gunasekaran), 20 at Tirunelveli (presided over by Com. Sankarapandian) and 21 at Dharmapuri (presided over by Com. K Govindarajan). Comrade Dipankar as well as CCMs Comrades S Kumaraswamy and Balasundaram addressed these Conventions, joined by activists of workers' and people's movements. At these conventions, participants pointed out that SEZs are accompanied by reversal of land reform. Karunanidhi had made a poll-time promise of ensuring two acres of cultivable land for each landless family. Now he pleads that there is not enough land available to deliver on this promise. But while he can’t find land for the landless, he is handing out hundreds of acres for SEZs. Apart from scrapping of SEZs, the Conventions demanded reduction of land ceiling to 5 acres, and redistribution of benami land. Participants at the Tirunelveli Convention included Ganesan of the Forum against Koodamkulam Nuclear Project, C S Mani of the anti-Coke Federation, and Fr.Tilltus of Kanyakumari District Environment Protection movement.