Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fragile safety of women in Odisha

Series of fatal crimes against women in last few years and the latest one in particular make clean examples of how efficiently and promptly the whole system works to ensure enhanced security to women in Odisha.

Death of woman teacher Itishree Pradhan, who was set ablaze in a school hostel in Odisha’s Rayagada district, has once again brought the issue of safety and rights of women to the fore again. Growing numbers of such crimes against women have raised serious doubt over the actions of Odisha government to ensure safety to the women in the state.
Worked as a contractual teacher at Tikiri Upper Primary School in Rayagada district, Itishree was set afire on October 27 and she finally succumbed to the born injuries after struggling for life for five days in a private hospital in Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
The mishap took place in less than a month of CM’s address at the Odisha Police Duty Meet, on October 5, 2013, where he said that his government had initiated several steps to ensure enhanced security to women in the state. In the same event, Naveen Patnaik also said, “Investigation of crime is one of the most important responsibilities of police. Such investigation has to be conducted efficiently and effectively. Police has to be impartial, firm and prompt in handling crime and criminals.”
Series of fatal crimes against women in last few years and the latest one in particular make clean examples of how efficiently and promptly the whole system works to ensure enhanced security to women in Odisha.
She dared and died for it
As harassment by School Inspector Netrananda Dandasena gradually became unbearable, Itishree dared to register complain against him. She lodged her complain with local police on July 18, 2013; informed the district Collector and Superintendent of Police (SP) about her complaint. She also wrote to higher authorities including the Police DG, Women’s Commission and, even, the Chief Minister’s Office about the nonchalant attitude of local police and administration in her case. She informed everyone about the threat to her life from Netrananda Dandasena against whom she lodged the complaint. But all to no avail. Nobody heeded to her complaint and repeated letters till the 27 years old teacher was set afire in the school hostel she lived in.
With 90% of the body burnt, Itishree was shifted to a corporate hospital where she took her last breath on November 1, 2013.
Actions were started only after the victim teacher was torched. An Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) of Tikiri police station and the accused school inspector were suspended. The DI of schools was also suspended by the Raygada district collector for not taking action against the accused School Inspector Dandasena. On November 05, 2013, four government officials including the above three officials and the In-charge Officer of Tikiri Police Station were dismissed from their services.
After death of the victim, Odisha government also ordered an investigation by the crime branch into the case of sexual assault and murder of the contractual woman teacher.
But what still remains unanswered is – why after death? Why it didn’t happen when victim was very much alive and was desperately knocking all possible doors seeking action to ensure her safety?
Everybody knew, nobody responded
She lodged an FIR at local police station, approached the district administration, wrote to the women commission, Police DG and the CM’s Office with the hope that somebody at some point would take her case sympathetically and initiate action.
Coming across the allegations made by Itishree, the Collector of Raygada district, S B Padhi, instituted a two member inquiry committee to inquire into the case and give a report. The committee headed by District Social Welfare Officer Sanghamitra Kanungo submitted its report in the end of August where the school inspector was held guilty. The committee suggested immediate disciplinary action against him. Keeping the safety of the victim teacher in view, transfer of Itishree to another school outside Kashipur block was also suggested in the report.
But no action was initiated on basis of the report submitted by the committee. What and who stopped the district authorities from taking action immediately is yet to be answered.
The complaint was not given any importance even at higher levels. The question comes here is, why did the authorities remain silent about the complaint lodged by the school teacher? Why action was not taken immediately against the school inspector? How the women’s commission too opted to remain silent on this? Who was protecting the School Inspector? How the CMO too missed it? Or, under pressure from someone, did the CMO intentionally kept the CM in dark on this particular case? But authorities are mum to give an answer to all these obvious questions.
When the Collector, SP, DGP and officials in charge of the women’s commission and the CMO are more in doubt for opting to inaction in the case, suspension of officials of local police station and mass education department seems to be an eyewash attempt to keep the senior police and administrative officials safe.
Political connection
While stepping up campaign against Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his government over the death of lady teacher Itishree Pradhan, opposition parties in the state held BJD MP from Koraput Jayram Pangi responsible for police inaction and administrative callousness.
In a statement, claimed to be given before death, Itishree also blamed the Chief Minister, administration and local political leaders for what happened to her.  In her statement, as aired by a local TV Channel in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday evening, October 5, 2013, Itishree said that Netrananda Dandasena was a favourite of Koraput MP (Member of Parliament) Jayram Pangi.
However, political links behind such crimes against women is not new to the state of Odisha. Political involvement in crimes against women became issue since 1980 when Chhabirani Mohapatra, a woman journalist, was raped and murdered.
Fingers were also raised against senior BJD leaders in cases like a speaker of Odisha State Assembly assaulting a lady martial; rape and murder of Babina, a girl from Pipili; and the murder of an Ayush doctor Madhabilata in Puri. While former speaker Maheswar Mohanty had to lose his post for alleged involvement in the case of assaulting a lady martial, senior leader and then the agriculture minister Pradip Maharathi had to be sacrificed in Babina rape and murder case of Pipili in order to keep the face of BJD and the government led by it clean.
As the Urban Local Body polls are to be held in western Odisha this month and as the party is preparing to face the general polls early next year, such a face saving action from top BJD leadership cannot be overruled completely. However, who becomes the sacrificial goat this time is to be seen.
Challenge before the Government
Soon after the death of the victim teacher, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared an ex-gratia of 10 lakh rupees as he did in a few previous cases like the Pipili rape and murder case and the Mahakalpada murder case where rejection of love appeal resulted in torching and subsequent death of a minor girl.
“Announcement of compensation has become a trend for this government leading one to believe that the Chief Minister is trying to safeguard the alleged BJD leaders by bribing the surviving members of the victims’ family,” said Janamorcha Chief and former BJD leader Pyari Mohan Mohapatra.
“Compensation is no wrong in this case because victim was the only earning member of the family. But it’s not all that the government should do. We need some strong laws to deal with such cases,” said N A Shah Ansari, an activist and founder of community radio station - Radio Namaskar.
According to NCRB, rate of crime against women in Odisha, in 2012, remained 58.79 per one lakh population of women in the state against a national average of 41.74. The state registered 31% increase, in compare to 2011 figures, in the number of cases of rape, the highest among the larger states of India.
So the challenges are enormous. Instead of keeping the safety of women limited to slogans and programme names, the state government needs to act strongly and promptly to stop crime and ensure enhanced security to women in the state.
This piece first appeared on November 7, 2013, at the HotnHitNews.

Monday, February 18, 2013

People versus the State: Conflict over POSCO Project grows in Odisha

The dream project of Odisha government has become a nightmare for the people living in the proposed Posco project area. The conflict between Industrial development and livelihood has brought the State and people face to face. In such a situation, it may not become an easy sail either for POSCO or the protesting people to arrive at any logical conclusion.

No matter if it was lawful or unlawful. But the government of Odisha was determined to deal with any hurdle on the way of land acquisition for South Korean Steel major Posco’s 12 Million tonne Steel Plant project in the eco-sensitive coastal plains of Jagatsinghpur.
After a year long halt, Odisha government suddenly took an aggressive stand to restart land acquisition operations in Jagatsinghpur for the Posco Steel project. Accompanied by huge police forces the district administration entered the place of demonstration by anti-posco protesters on February 3, 2013, at about 4 am. The administration exercised its muscle to drive out the protesters by beating even the women and children brutally.
After hours long brutality by the police, the village of Govindpur finally came under the control of the government. Soon after there was demolition of betel vines and acquisition of land amid police forces.
Justifying the resumed land acquisition drive by using police forces as lawful, the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur, Satya Kumar Mallick, said repeatedly that “We are acquiring land with the consent from people while following all norms of the land acquisition procedure approved by the Rehabilitation and Periphery Development Advisory Committee (RPDAC),”.
But the realities on ground gave a completely different picture.
Take the case of Ranjan Parida of Gobindpur village whose whole family was in tear since their betel vine was demolished and the land was acquired by Odisha government for South Korean Steel major Posco’s proposed India project. The compensation money was no allurement to Ranjan or other family members because, to them, the family had lost its last hope – the betel vine – that provided a comfortable livelihood to the family since generations.
Ranjan was afraid of seeing too much of police around him and, out of fear, agreed to the demolition proposal given by officials of Jagatsinghpur district administration of Odisha. “I had gone to my betel vine. They asked me to give the land. There was huge number of police. I had never seen so much of police before. Out of fear, I couldn’t deny and said yes. They demolished my betel vine and gave me a cheque,” said Ranjan while crying. Sitting at the door of the house almost like a lost woman, Ranjan’s old mother Kanduri Prida said, “we lost our last hope.”
It’s not only Ranjan and his family that live with agony since they lost their ancestral vineyard, many others like Kamala Parida, Bharat Bardhan, Ramesh Bardhan and Nimai Rout of Gobindpur village are also upset for losing their vineyard for the Posco project. As the economy of this area is based on betel leaf business, losing the vineyard makes a reason for them to become upset.
“A betel vine,” usually raised on a land area of 40 decimal, “fetches a profit of minimum 85,000 rupees a quarter, thus 3,40,000 rupees a year. So vines built on an acre land area is to fetch us an annual profit of rupees 8,50,000,” said Bishnu Das, a betel leaf grower in the proposed project area.
But against an acre of land, these villagers are paid only 11 lakh rupees as total compensation money for all the time. So, no farmer is ready to hand over the betel vine against compensation money of about two and half lakhs. While some of the local representatives and Odisha government officials believe that the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy followed in the proposed Posco project is one of the bests in the country, the villagers at the receiving end do not believe so.
Rejecting any package under the R&R Policy, PPSS Chairman Abhay Sahu said, “We are not for POSCO. We are not for bargaining with the government. We are against POSCO and our fight will continue till the logical conclusion, and till the POSCO is out.”
On the other hand, the initiative undertaken by the Jagatsinghpur district administration to clear the required land for the project with people’s consent has been welcomed by the Posco through a release issued on its behalf.
So far, Odisha government has handed over 1700 acres of land to Posco Company out of which 400 acres are non-forest land and rest are de-reserved forest land. The company is in need of another 1000 acres to start construction works. But the ruling by the National Green Tribunal of India restricts POSCO to carry out any construction or related work in the project area till a direction comes in this regard.
Even though Posco is hopeful about a positive direction from NGT, the movement against the project re-gathers its strength on the ground. Because of strong protest by elders, women and children, the government has stopped land acquisition. Demolition of betel vines have stopped. But police continues to stay in the villages to have a watch on the movement against Posco’s 12 Billion USD integrated steel plant project.
Announcing that the movement is going to be much stronger than before, PPSS Chairman Abhay Sahu says, “We are ready to face any situation democratically to protect our rights to livelihood and to keep Posco away from this area.”
The dream project of Odisha government has become a nightmare for the people living in the proposed Posco project area. The conflict between Industrial development and livelihood has brought the State and people face to face. In such a situation, it may not become an easy sail either for POSCO or the protesting people to arrive at any logical conclusion.
This piece first appeared on February 18, 2013, at the HotnHitNews.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A potential Onion Exporter in Onion Crisis

Odisha produces less than 20% of its consumption needs and for the rest it has to depend on imports from other states. So, every time there is a problem in Nasik or Maharashtra, Odisha has to face Onion crisis.
This is happening because of negligence to Onion farming and apathy to the issues of Onion growers.

With all potential to be country’s largest onion grower and exporter, Odisha is now struggling to come out of the recent crisis of Onion that is sold at a price close to 35 rupees a kilo. Such crisis have almost become an annual affair with the State.
In order to control the price, District collectors have been asked to hold talks with traders and ensure no hoarding in their respective areas, said the Secretary of Odisha’s Food and Civil Supplies Department, Madhusudan Padhi. Stating that Odisha usually procures its onion requirement from Nasik, Padhi said that untimely rain in Nasik of Maharashtra resulted in loss of crop and led to rise in Onion price in procuring States like Odisha.
However, apart from taking steps to control the price, the issue of Onion crisis needs to be seen from a different perspective in case of Odisha.
To people like Jagdish Pradhan who are working for development of poor people and farmers of Kalahandi, Nuapada and Bolangir districts, the shortage of Onion in the state is purely because of the government’s negligence to Onion farming and in providing storage facilities. “If farmers are provided with adequate facilities and timely support, Odisha can become the highest producer of onion in the country. The state has a potential to produce at least 50 times it is producing now,” said Jagdish Pradhan, a Development Activist heading an organisation named Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA).
As per statistics provided by Agriwatch and Small Farmers’ Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC), for the year 2011-12, Odisha has produced 395,000 MT of Onion from a land area of about 35,500 hectares. The yield rate is only 11.13 tonne per hectare which is below the national average of 14.2 tonne per hectare and much below the yield rates of most of the onion producing states including all the neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and west Bengal whose yield rates are 17.01, 15.95, 17.52, 20.30, 20.20 and 14.04 tonne per hectare respectively.
Using a little over 10 times of land used for Onion cultivation in Odisha, Maharastra is the highest producer of Onion in India with a total production of 5,036,000 MT of Onion, in 2011-12. If one goes by the field experience of Jagdish Pradhan and his estimation that, given proper support and storage facilities, farmers of Odisha can produce 50 times of what it is producing today, the state can surpass even the onion ruler of India even if the production goes up to 20 times of the present production.
“Odisha produces less than 20% of its consumption needs and for the rest it has to depend on imports from other states. So, every time there is a problem in Nasik or Maharashtra, Odisha has to face Onion crisis. This is happening because of negligence to Onion farming and apathy to the issues of Onion growers of Odisha,” says Jagdish Pradhan who has conducted a study on the status and possibility of Onion cultivation in the State.
Though the district-wise data about Onion production during the recent years is not available in the public domain of the Agriculture Ministry of Odisha, the most latest, of 2008-09, available says that western Odisha as a whole is the major grower of Onion after Nawrangpur district. The irony is that such a potential area is better known for its poverty and the trend of migration as labourers than its capacity of making Odisha an Onion exporting State of India. To further disbelief, the migration takes place during the season of Onion growing, that is just after the harvest of paddy crop.
In Odisha, the usual Onion cultivation season starts from the winter and goes on till the early rain. And, after the harvest of paddy, thousands of agricultural workers migrate to other states to earn their livelihood, leaving most of the land unused till the next Kharif (rainfed) paddy season. Awareness, proper support and facilities would definitely motivate and convince those migrating farmers to go for Onion cultivation and earn a better livelihood while making Odisha self-sufficient in meeting its demand of Onion and enabling it to export the rest.
The major areas for the government to take care of are, creating awareness about onion cultivation; providing technical support and building direct link of onion farmers with the market. Even though the government has started supporting a few farmers to create low investment storage facilities of their own, it is inadequate to meet the need of all the farmers. So, adequate storage facilities have to be created to enable the farmers store their produce till the time they get a good buyer to sell their onion at a good price.
In the present situation, most of the Onion growers are compelled to sell their produces to a middleman or a greedy businessman at a very low price because there is no facility available to store the onion and wait till a better bidder approaches.
Apart from making Odisha self sufficient in meeting its own demands and save some for export, promotion to Onion farming can also stop migration of farmers to other places in search of job. This is not just a hypothesis because some of the villages of Nuapada and Bolangir have become migration free as they are making a good income by farming Onion during the same period. This has been possible after intervention of NGOs like SVA, Lokadrusti and many others. The government and local administration must work to imitate the success achieved by the NGOs and promote Onion farming in the these districts and more particularly in the migration prone villages.
This article first appeared on February 3, 2013 at the HotnHitNews.