Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pray a Kalinga Nagar is not repeated in Govindpur.

Pray a Kalinga Nagar is not repeated in Govindpur

Ranjan K Panda

After India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh gave the final clearance to the largest FDI of the nation to produce steel at the cost of poor people, their livelihoods and one of most fragile ecosystems of the nation, all through a process of faith – bypassing environment legislations of the nation, the state government has engaged all its energy to acquire land for POSCO.  Contradictory as it is visible to everyone, the so called ‘peaceful land acquisition’ is being done with help of 27 platoons of police.  At the opposition of these armed policemen are about two thousand poor villagers including women and children, who have been virtually fasting as they are spending sleepless nights in apprehension of the police to barge in anytime and snatch away their land, livelihood, society and culture forever.  Severely marooned by the Super Cyclone 1999, a lot of money was spent by the state government, NGOs, UN agencies and other donor organisations to rehabilitate them here.  Rich in betel farming, these people had never thought they have to see a day in their lives when their own government would be their enemy.  And ironic is the fact that the academia, civil society and other so called educated people of the state, who have been very vocal in support of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, don’t realise that thousands of poor villagers in the proposed POSCO affected villages are fasting by a design of the state. 

All efforts of the affected populace to lodge logical, ethical and legal battle seem to have gone into waste in this country where government and corporates have a perfect poisonous nexus to uproot democracy and violate all possible norms.  Technically, as the opposition BJP has just raised (after the water has galloped the neck), the government cannot acquire the land because the MoU between it and POSCO is not in force for about a year now.  But, violating norms by the rulers has become a norm in this state where nobody simply cares about the poor.  Happenings on the ground have come down to a conclusive phase, one can make out from the aggression of the state in swallowing the people and their lands for profit of a company.  The more than half decade long protest by the people seems to be heading to some sort of a conclusion for sure as the final battle grounds are being prepared between an armed state and empty bellied unarmed children, women, aged and a few youths. 

Reports from the ground at the moment, as on June 9, put it that the 2000 people, including 400 school children, have formed a human barricade since one week and are sitting in front of the Govindpur village border, day and night, to face any imminent attack from Police forces which is camping outside their village and readying to forcefully enter.   But not bereft of their last hope, even as the police and govt. are busy preparing their blue print to enter into the villages, the people are trying to invoke all possible ways to urge upon the government to resort to the constitution, the environmental and land legislations, and to respect fundamental rights of them as citizens of this nation.  As all other means have perhaps been exhausted, to do this, they have taken a new route to attract govt. and media attention as their last ditch to garner support for their democratic movement, and against the oppressive moves of the government. 

In a just issued release, in the late evening of June 9, villagers of Dhinkia, Patana, Noliasahi Gadakujanka and Govindpur have urged upon the Odisha Chief Minister to ensure that UN treaties and guidelines are respected.  They have reminded the CM that they are the victims of the 1999 super cyclone and have put together their broken lives and livelihoods with lot of difficulties in the last ten years; and that the government should not dislocate them all over again.

Even though cyclones affect them quite regularly, the super cyclone caused large scale destruction.  As the 25 feet high tidal waves swept through the area submerging three blocks of Jagatsinghpur district and wind with a velocity of 300kms/hr hit them with all its might, thousands were killed and more than 20 lakh houses were fully or partially damaged, much of the land was rendered useless for cultivation because of salinity. About 3.7 lakh cattle, 29,000 fishing boats were lost.  “Our lives & livelihood, in short, were paralyzed”, rue the villagers.

“It took us years to pick up pieces and rebuild our lives with the enormous help and generous efforts of the people of India and the relentless work by several government departments and international agencies.  It would be grossly inhuman to now displace us all over again for the highly controversial and illegal POSCO project, and force us go through the agony of further displacement and dislocation.  Thus, making all efforts in rehabilitating after the cyclone would go waste.  Besides, we would be forced into a very harsh reality of losing our livelihoods and fundamental rights if you do not reconsider your decision to establish the massive POSCO integrated steel plant at the eco-sensitive zone like Jagatsinghpur district.  This time though, the disaster would be human-made or rather government-made under your stewardship”, have said the villagers.

What the villagers have reminded the Odisha CM is that this dislocation of communities ravaged by natural disasters is not only disastrous but also a fundamental violation of the UN International treaties. There are many international guidelines and principles of the United Nations that India has ratified which advocate a humane consideration of rights of people ravaged by natural disasters, particularly if this has been occurring repeatedly to them in a generation or two.  In particular regard to communities, which have been physically displaced by natural disasters, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement is eminently applicable.  Further, Principle 6 of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement states that “[e]very human being shall have the right to be protected against being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home or place of habitual residence.” Principle 21 states that no displaced person shall be arbitrarily deprived of property and possessions.

The villagers have also said that, “in our case, decisions to dislocate and displace us are arbitrary and illegal as per the Rights to Life, Livelihoods and to a Clean Environment guaranteed to us by the Indian Constitution. In addition, it is an act of violence considering the widespread and blatant abuse of police force liberally used against us over the past six years merely because we have peacefully and staunchly resisted our displacement for the POSCO project”.

Time now is to see what happens tomorrow.  If the government forcefully enters through its armed police platoons, there is every chance that the protesting people would resist and, going by records, we would presume that the police will opt for violent ways to crush the protest.  ‘Will the government listen to its people or dance to the tune of corporates?’ would once again be evident in this battle.  The only wish that one could make and pray for is that “let the Kalinga Nagar incident not repeat”.  Or else, we are sure, the police will have all justifications to make for its action and the nation will forget the brutality in a few months since in this largest democracy people don’t count, corporates and their investments do. 

Written on 9th June 2011

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