Fifteen years under Naveen Patnaik is often presented as the period of industrialisation and rapid development in Odisha. However, the period has seen massive land grab and large scale displacement as well.
Government’s unilateral approach in development planning and implementation has widened the gulf of mistrust between people and the government bringing the both face to face against each other in almost all project locations over the issue of displacement.
Narasimha Mishra, veteran politician and the leader of opposition in the Odisha State Legislative Assembly, explains the gravity of the issue of displacement is its impact on industrialisation in the state by saying, “People, hearing the name of development or industry, are being alarmed. They hate the idea of industry, they disapprove the idea of industry because they lose everything and in return they get nothing.” Mishra has said this in an interview carried in “The War for Steel” (2013), a documentary on the conflict between people and their elected government over the POSCO Project.
Displacement from homestead land, farmland and other perennial sources of livelihood has been the cause of conflict in most project areas. The state police, on insistence of the local as well as district administration and the state authorities, more often resort to repeated armed actions against agitated displaced and affected people.
The two known cases of firing by the state armed police on tribal people, who were opposing different industrial projects, took place during the rule of Naveen Patnaik. In 2000, the year of Naveen’s ascendance to power in Odisha as the Chief Minister, the State saw the first incident of police firing at Maikanch in Rayagada district, and the second one at Kalinga Nagar in Jajpur district on January 2, 2006.
During last few years, the state police forces have indiscriminately thrashed protestors and, even, opened fire on people while demonstrating against POSCO Steel plant Project in Jagatsinghpur district.
The Niyamgiri episode of people’s movement against mining stands as testimony to the Naveen Patnaik government’s idea of non-inclusive development, which has only helped hostility to grow in most of the proposed industrial, mining and large infrastructure project locations.
Despite formulation and implementation of the Odisha Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (ORRP), 2006, by the government, issue of displacement still continues to be a reason of mass discontentment. The government, while listing families displaced or affected by different projects, doesn’t give adequate importance to the issues of displacement of people from their natural livelihood sources.
Dispute over definition
According to the ORRP 2006, a family ordinarily residing in the project area prior to the date of publication of notification under provisions of the relevant Act and either displaced or required to be displaced from such area on account of acquisition of his/her homestead land is to be counted as a “displaced family.”
But the affected communities contest this definition placing the livelihood sources as equally important as house and homestead land.
Speaking on the issues of displacement and livelihood in case of the proposed POSCO steel plant, the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) project planned on the coastal plains adjacent to Jatadhar river mouth in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) leader Abhay Sahu says, “Taking the economic group into consideration, the fishermen community and peasantry both will be deprived of their natural livelihood. So, we consider the displacement of livelihood is the real displacement of a family. The family may be there; his house and homestead may not go in the project area; but if his livelihood is displaced; his dependency on the forest land is displaced; his dependency on the sea, Jatadhar River is displaced. That is the real displacement for which we have been fighting tooth and nail relentlessly against the POSCO steel plant.”
If snatching out the source of livelihood is to be termed as displacement, Naveen’s first term as the Chief Minister of Odisha is to be termed as the phase of mass displacement. Thousands of skilled and unskilled workers lost their jobs during this period due to closure of many state run public sector units (PSUs) like the Konark Television, Ipitron and many more including state run spinning mills and the Odisha Textile Mill (OTM). Supported by DFID, the British Agency for International Development, such closure of PSUs in the name of disinvestment is believed by many to be a conspiracy to make Odisha industry starved and pave the road for global players to exploit and loot the State’s huge mineral resources in the name of industrialisation.
Dearth of data
The industry minister informed the house of assembly, in March 2015, that 66 out of 92 projects the Naveen Patnaik government has signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) for have started full or partial production. But, ironically, a complete database on families displaced and affected by different industrial and developmental projects is not yet available with the government. This in itself speaks about the seriousness Naveen Patnaik government has towards the issue of displacement.
The department (of Revenue and Disaster Mitigation) launched a software named 'Project Punarbas,' in 2009, with the objective to automate the land acquisition as well as rehabilitation and resettlement (RR) process, develop database and survey methodologies, set up responsive grievance redressal system etc. for the entire state. But the project failed in its implementation stage after an expenditure of 1.40 crore rupees, according to the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.
However, on basis of records of 32 test-checked industrial projects in 13 districts, the CAG report reveals that 6533 families have been displaced and 35632 families affected due to acquisition of 36555.180 acre of land by industrial projects during the period between 1992 and 2013.
Taking all projects - industrial, mining as well as development projects - together, number of total displaced families goes up to 23,845, says a report published in The Hindu, which also brings to light that 38% of it or over 9,000 displaced families are yet to be resettled by the government.
Because of absence of any effective system for data gathering, companies and unscrupulous government officials find it convenient to tamper and produce fabricated data on displacement suiting to their own interests.
As per the CAG report, the minutes of Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (RAC) meeting notes that 1865 families are affected by Bhushan Steel Limited in Dhenkanal. But the figure is twisted twice to 1663 and 1296 in survey report and monthly progress report (MPR) respectively.
The government too plays its part in the nexus, which relentlessly works to deprive the displaced families of the due RR benefits. Citing the case of Angul based Jindal Steel and Power limited, CAG report mentions, while the MPR of October 2013 indicated the numbers of PDF (project displaced families) and PAF (project affected families) as 261 and 2073, a report submitted to the State Legislature in August 2013 says that the said numbers are 583 and 5029 respectively.
When non-availability of data creating scope for such manipulations is a reality, the obvious question is: which of the figures were taken into consideration for disbursement of compensations and other RR benefits under ORRP 2006? There is no single point where one can get an answer to this question.
Norms for the namesake
Instead of dealing with the issue of displacement, which means a lot to ensure an industrialisation friendly environment in the State, the government machinery has rather seriously attempted to deny RR benefits to affected families.
In an official order issued by the Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management Department of Odisha, it is clarified that families who are normally residing in or near the project areas for a period of at least 3 years prior to the date of notification may be considered as ordinarily residing and thus for the purpose of RR benefits as project displaced families.
The clarified definition of “residing in or near the project areas for a period of at least 3 years prior to the date of notification” has deprived many tribal families, who have been residing in villages affected by the mining project of Utkal Alumina International Ltd. (UAIL) in Kashipur block of Rayagada district since being displaced by the Indravati reservoir project, of their rightful benefits.
Though section 7 (iv) of the ORRP 2006 has provision of additional 50% of the normal compensation payable as ex-gratia to families facing multiple displacement, Indravati project displaced families resettled in villages like Durmusi and Suryagarh, near Baphlimali bauxite reserve, are being forcefully driven out by the local administration without giving any compensation just to serve the interests of UAIL.
This indicates how official orders in clarification of some specific norms have superseded the very intent and objective of ORRP 2006 and have made the policy almost dysfunctional. Multiple displacement cases are rampant in other districts like Sundargarh, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur etc.
CAG report confirms non-payment of any additional compensation in violation of ORRP norms by Aditya Aluminium Project and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) to at least 173 families facing multiple displacement in Sambalpur and Angul.
Not only in cases of multiple displacement, there have been serious lapses and negligence in cases of first time displacement for industrial and developmental projects in the state.
798 PDFs displaced during 1992-2013 have not been properly rehabilitated and full benefits due to them have not been extended because of inadequate institutional mechanism and absence of proper planning. Even the process of extending RR benefits to the displaced and affected families has been faulty in many cases, CAG report notes.
While project authorities in many cases have made payment at pre-revised rate despite fresh revisions in the amount for rehabilitation assistance on the basis of wholesale price index (WPI), the report also mentions about gross irregularities in distribution of Record of Rights to the resettled families.
Though the government has revised the amount of monthly maintenance allowance (MMA) to 3400 per month, with effect from 1.4.2014, the pre-revised rates are still in effect in many cases. As a fact to substantiate, MMA for the families displaced by UAIL in Rayagada still remains Rs.1800.00, which again has not been paid since last one and half years, as said by people of Bagrijhola, a village adjacent to UAIL plant.
The promises of social amenities in the resettlement colonies are not yet fulfilled in most cases. Many such colonies do not have basic health facility, piped water supply, provision of pond, street light, all-weather roads, school for education, place of worship etc., CAG report marks while classifying such resettlement habitats as “deficient on many counts.”
When original and amended norms of ORRP 2006 are being violated, the government has not set any mechanism for proper monitoring of the rehabilitation and resettlement process in order to minimise public dissent by extending all due benefits to the PDFs and PAFs.
“Review meetings conducted by the RDC and Collectors were also inadequate and no follow-up actions were taken. Grievance redressal mechanism was inadequate as several petitions were lying unattended by the district authorities as well as project authorities,” according to the CAG report.
Employment - an eyewash
The government has always showed employment generation as the primary objective of its drive for industrialisation. Reports based on facts presented in the Assembly say, in 66 projects that have commenced production either partially or fully, direct and indirect employment has been created for 100,410 people, which include 70,241 within the state and 29,442 hired from outside the state.”
The figure of 70,241 seems to be an eyewash attempt because a report published in The Hindu during mid-2014 reveals that only 19300 persons have been employed during the past decade by all steel projects the government has signed MoU for.
When employment provided to members of displaced families is concerned, the kind and nature of employment provided in various industries needs serious verification. In many cases, affected people working with companies are not taken as full-fledged staff members but as contractual or wage-based workers without any job guarantee and other benefits.
As it came to notice during a recent visit to the villages affected by the UAIL project in Rayagada district, local people who lost their land for the industry are not getting employment in the plant or mining site. Even those who have been working since commissioning of the plant are not yet taken as staff members. They are paid a meagre 3000 rupees a month. Some have also been arbitrarily asked not to work.
It’s also noted in the audit report that “adequate employment was neither provided by industries nor the scope of self-employment created in project areas.”
Five industries that should have sponsored 2085 members for ITI training could sponsor only 233 and “employment or one-time cash compensation in lieu of employment was not provided to 588 families displaced by 10 out of 32 test checked industries,” the report adds.
It also mentions that interviews conducted with 597 persons affected under 12 industrial projects in four districts in presence of representative of Collector during CAG audit reveals that 53% (315) of people want permanent employment to be assured with a perennial source of income.
It can be imagined how difficult the life of a displaced family becomes without any employment because of non-realisation or delay in realisation of a project. This is one of the major issues and a cause of resentment among people whose land is already acquired for the POSCO project. As the project is facing inordinate delay due to several reasons, land losers are forced to live without an assured source of income since more than last three years.
Same is the case with people who have lost their land for the TATA Steel project proposed near Gopalpur in Ganjam district which is now declared an SEZ project.
In fact, the volume of unemployed workforce created by the government is much higher than the number of employment it has generated through industrialisation.
Because mostly forest and agricultural land have been acquired for various industrial, mining and developmental projects, the forest dwellers and farming communities in the project areas have lost their natural sources of livelihood. And, as employment scope in agriculture is not limited to the land owners only, the population losing employment due to the land grab in the name of industrialisation is much larger than the official displacement caused by the projects.
Caring to the corporate houses
Despite its failure in addressing all the issues raised and analysed above, the Naveen Patnaik government has always promoted forceful displacement by limiting the constitutional rights of people in order to pursue its pro-corporate industrialisation agenda.
Be it for the TATAs, the POSCO, Vedanta and other big industrial houses, issues raised by people are not being heeded to at any level of the governance system. Bypassing norms set in Acts like Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as Forest Rights Act, has become the new norm. Rights of communities over forest and natural resources are being withdrawn to promote industrial and mining projects opposed by people.
In any case, the poor and ordinary people have always been the losers to make way for the corporate players to win in the game.
An unedited version of this article is published on May 9, 2015, at the HotnHitNews.
[An edited version of this piece is published in the report "15 years of Odisha governance," brought out by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA).]