Independent Media Update 01/12/2004
Based on telephonic contact with correspondents in Rayagada (please refer to our earlier report on 26th Nov. 2004).
A fast developing tense standoff between adivasis (tribals) in Kashipur and district administration is being reported today after massive lathi charge and blank firing on anti-mining tribals. Apparently, district administration led by the Collector Dr. P. K. Meherda and the Superintendent of Police, allegedly accompanied by over 500 armed police, had gone to Karal village to inaugurate the approach road to the proposed Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) bauxite mine on Bapahalimali (from Totaguda to Paikokupakhal). A nursery and a police outpost in Karal were also to be inaugurated. This was opposed by the anti-mining adivasis - as per reports, around 400 tribals, mostly women, gathered to stop the laying of the foundation stones. In response, the police tried to scare them away through blank fire, and then resorted to massive and indiscriminate lathi charge. The lathi charge took place at 3:00 PM. As per the reports reaching Bhubaneswar, the tribals were beaten up badly. Around 16 people have been critically injured and three tribal women were still unconscious at the time of reporting (6:30 PM). Over a hundred people have been taken to Rayagada (60 km from Kashipur) for treatment.
This news has spread all over the area, and thousands of angry tribals are reported to have spontaneously gathered on the roads and public places, armed with their traditional bow and arrows and other weapons. Meanwhile, the administration has brought in large number of CRPF and armed police force into Kashipur. It seems that the stage is set for a bloody confrontation between the police and the Adivasis. The situation is reported to be very tense and sources in Rayagada apprehend massive police repression on the angry and agitated tribals.
Background: The current situation has to be seen in the context of the developments in the last few days. On 24th Nov, 2004, the Chief Minister, in the Collectors conference, gave a clear instruction that all anti-mining movements must be suppressed with a firm hand (Dharitri, Nov 25th, 2004). Prior to that, sources in Rayagada report that the BJD Rajya Sabha MP and ex-bureaucrat Pyari Mohan Mohaptra (deemed to the closest advisor to the Chief Minister and allegedly the kingpin of all the mining deals in Orissa) held a meeting in Rayagada with the district administration and all Party district leadership in which he asked them that the UAIL mining project must be launched at any cost and the opposition to the mining project must be suppressed.
This was followed by an all party meeting conducted by the District Collector, Rayagada, where all district leadership of all political parties were called to generate support for the project. On 28th Nov. 2004, the district administration and UAIL trucked about 5,000 people from distant places like Gunupur, Rayagada, Laxmipur, Dasmantpur etc. (ranging from 40-100 kms away from Kashipur) to hold a rally in support of the UAIL project in Tikiri village close to the project site. It is alleged that over Rs.20 lakhs [$60,000 CDN] was spent in organizing this rally of outsiders. Very few people from the project-affected area were present in this rally. Sources from Rayagada say that all major newspapers and journalists have been given major advertisements by the UAIL to silence them.
It is these events that have built up to the current standoff.
It is apprehended that the whole situation has been contrived and planned by the District administration and the Company to launch whole-scale repression on the anti-mining tribals. The tribals of the region have a long history of rebellions (called melis) against repression, and it is apprehended that the situation may spin out of control very fast and lead to large scale violence.
We will update the breaking story on daily basis. The current update is based on telephonic conversation with sources in Rayagada.
The current situation in Kashipur shows to what extent the State apparatus in Orissa is co-opted by the mining corporates, specially as it follows the Lanjigarh bauxite mining controversy where Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been violated in favour of Sterlite. In the Tangarapada chromite mining lease, High Court has overturned the mining lease to Jindal Strips Ltd. and said that the deal would have led to a revenue loss of over Rs. 20,000 crores [5.56 billion CDN] to the State. Sources within bureaucracy allege massive kickbacks by the corporate to push through deals for stripping the mineral resources of the State at throwaway prices. For example, in the case of bauxite being mined by UAIL or Sterlite, the total benefit to the state would be a paltry Rs. 50 [$1.39 CDN] per tonne (the current royalty rate).