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Joint Statement Condemn Police Excesses in Lower Suktel Project area in Balangir, Odisha

Warning sign for police brutality.

Warning sign for police brutality. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Scrap the Lower Suktel Dam project immediately

 

 

 

We, the undersigned, are anguished and appalled by the brutality and excesses of Orissa Police on peaceful demonstrators and concerned citizens near Magurbeda village of Balangir District in Orissa on 29 April 2013. At least 40 persons received severe injuries in this unprovoked lathi-charge and police brutality. We strongly condemn such police action and demand that responsible policemen be brought to book immediately!

 

Shockingly, during this standoff police dramatically turned into a confrontation, women were pulled by their hair, thrown on ground with policemen deliberately trampled over their feet and private parts as if they were trying to get confessions out of hardened criminals – all this under the supervision of the Sub-Divisional Police Officer and the Sub-Collector of Balangir, the latter with magisterial power.

 

It is absolutely unacceptable that state police in tacit approval of the state government engage in such brutality on peaceful protesters. The Odisha government needs to explain to its people as why Lower Sukhtel area has virtually become a war-zone, when people are democratically pressing for their demands.

 

Notably, Amitabh Patra, a journalist-filmmaker, who was shooting the confrontation, was purposefully targeted and rounded up by about a dozen policemen who beat him and kicked him ceaselessly on his head and face. Policemen seized his two cameras and broke both even as he lay unconscious for several hours. We would want an explanation from the government as what authority the Odisha Police has got to stop filmmakers from shooting such stand-offs? Under which rule of law, the Odisha Police has the power to strike at a journalist or a filmmaker with such brutality with intention to damage his head, when he was only a witness to what was going on? More shockingly, under pressure from the police and administration, the doctor at the government district hospital was refusing to admit Amitabh despite visible head injuries until a few local activists and journalists made a noise and forced him to do so!

 

At least 16 persons (including 9 women) were arrested from the site including Lenin Kumar, writer and editor of Odia literary journal – Nisan – and Amitabh Patra himself. We also strongly condemn the unilateral fatwa of Balangir Bar Council not to take up any cases in favour of any ‘outsiders’, as Lenin Kumar and Amitabh Patra are not from Balangir! Only after much deliberation, a lawyer friend from Titlagarh came forward to move the bail. Confrontation between police and a determined people has almost become routine since 8 April 2013 in the area; and on several occasions, the peaceful protestors are lathi-charged, foul-mouthed, and physically abused. In these last four weeks, more than 100 persons have endured massive blows of lathi and beatings in hands of an armed state. About two weeks back, 80 protesters were arrested and later released on bail. The demonstrators have been peacefully opposing the Lower Sukhtel project over concerns of loss of livelihoods and displacement for over 10 years. The project will submerge more than 56 villages, pushing the displaced and affected to precarious futures.

 

The project was seemingly abandoned by the state for a long time since originally conceived in 1979 following the rout of BALCO from the Gandhamardan Mountains (for bauxite mining). Water from Lower Suktel will be purportedly diverted to the mining company. The project has been variously criticized by several research and human rights groups since its inception. Most notably an authoritative study by Anita Agnihotri for UNDP (2008), only stops short of quashing the project calling it ‘prima facie unjustifiable in terms of anticipated benefits’ and in suggesting that ‘it will be worthwhile to explore an alternative to this costly undertaking’ and the government has viciously responded by refusing to make both the DPR (Detailed Public Report) as well as the Environmental Assessment Report public.

 

The present haste to start work on the project need to be seen in conjunction with the applications by a number of mining companies to mine the mountain. This renewed interest also needs to be located in the electoral dynamics of the state, which is going to face elections in 2014.

 

The trampling of peoples’ right to peaceful protests cannot be tolerated in a democratic polity! The Odisha government must answer some compelling questions. What calls for such mindless police brutality when people were peacefully raising slogans and organizing? Why concerned citizens and activists are repeatedly targeted, as is in Magurbeda at the moment?

 

The state government needs to remember always that people have constitutional right to protest and register their grievances. No state government, not even the Indian state can abrogate that right! It’s time that state governments, and police, are made accountable for their unjustifiable actions!!

 

We demand:

 

  1. Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of cases lodged against the people arrested on 29 April 2013
  2. The state must ensure proper treatments to all those who were injured in police brutalities on 29 April 2013
  3. The Superintendent of Police and the sub-Collector, Balangir, and all those police personnel who were engaged in the act must be put on trial immediately.
  4. Police force must be withdrawn immediately from the lower Suktel area.
  5. The Odisha government and the state police must apologize to those injured and / or arrested on 29 April 2013.
  6. Trumped-up cases against all those part of the Lower Suktel resistance since 2005 must be withdrawn immediately.
  7. Land acquisition on the Lower Suktel Project site must be stopped immediately.
  8. The government must immediately set up an independent judicial inquiry into the more-than-100-crore-rupee scam involving land-acquisition and compensation for the Lower Suktel Project, which even the CAG has pointed out. The inquiry must also look into all illegal land dealings done in the area by urban vested interests – with full knowledge and direct compliances of the district administration – in the submergence area even after land-acquisition notifications were made.
  9. The Lower Suktel Project must be scrapped immediately, and the suggestion by the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti to construct series of small barrages in lieu of a big dam be considered in all sincerity

 

 

 

In solidarity,

 

PUCL, Delhi; WSS; Socialist Front; Krantikari Yuvak Sangh; Inquilabi Mazdoor Kendra; People’s Democratic Front of India; Left Collective; Jan Morcha; New Socialist Initiative (NSI); National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM ); Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF); Students For Resistance; Gandhi Peace Foundation; POSCO Pratirodh Sabha; SANHATI; and many more individual, students of Delhi, and social organizations; All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM);Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan (JJBA);North Bengal Forum of Forest People and Forest Movement

 

 

 

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#India – Dams and the Doomed… min(e)d games of the state

 

April 29, 2013

 by Subrat Kumar Sahu

‘We all are living in a gang war… [in which] the state is just another gang!’ 
Arundhati Roy

In the wee hour 29 April 2013, at least 10 platoons of police cracked down on a gathering of about 2000 people, sitting in peaceful protest, on the bed of Suktel River, emanating from the magnificent Gandhamardan Mountains. Near Magurbeda village of Balangir district in Orissa, they were protesting against the construction of a dam at gunpoint on the river – their solitary lifeline – that will submerge more than 50 villages and devastate a self-reliant and robust agrarian economy. The forces came, saw the people, started beating them mercilessly, and invaded the ground. Several left injured and 16 of them arrested, including nine women. Among them were Lenin Kumar, poet and editor of Nisan (an Oriya literary magazine), and Amitabh Patra, an activist-filmmaker. Patra had received the severest of blows; understandably so, as he was filming the state-sponsored brutality live: his camera and head smashed. He fell unconscious and, only hours later, was taken to the hospital at the district headquarters of Balangir where he regained his senses.

Thousands of people of the Lower Suktel plateau have been agitating against this dam project for more than a decade now, facing brutal repression time and again. The state terror has magnified manifold since the past 20 days or so, as the state decided to push this project on war footing and complete it before elections next year – owing to unprecedented pressure from (1) the local politician class of all possible hues who have acquired huge tracts of farm land and hope to multiply returns if irrigation is ensured; (2) land mafia of Balangir who have duped and bought land from project-affected people even after the project was notified, which is illegal, in hope of pocketing hefty compensation amount (some of them are also leading a movement to raise the compensation amount); (3) big landholders of the area who have appropriated land from the aborigines (adivasis and dalits) over time; (4) the educated middle-class who see this brand of ‘development’ as a tool of salvation since the entry of a new market culture would cater to their aristocratic lifestyle and greedy capitalist aspirations (this includes many lawyers, engineers, doctors, professors, journalists, traders, contractors, and the likes). So, for the past 20 days or so, there have been unspoken brutalities unleashed on the people who have held the soil inviolate for centuries. More than a hundred people have been arrested so far and scores beaten up badly; a woman has also died of sunstroke while braving police aggression under a scorching sun.

What actually propels the state to get down to such excesses? Let’s have a quick take on it.

Nehru’s temple of doom

The fact that big dams and associated hydroelectric projects are actually NOT intended for irrigation and power-supply to people, as is always propagated, has come clearer to public perception in light of the recent controversy surrounding the Hirakud Dam in Orissa. The Orissa government’s decision to divert 478 cusec of water in 2007, originally meant for irrigation, from the dam reservoir to feed the mushrooming industries has created a political storm in the state in which ordinary folks have come out to the street in resistance. On 6 November 2007, more than 40,000 farmers gathered in front of Hirakud Dam and marched into the ‘prohibited area’ pulling down at least four police barricades in an unprecedented show of ‘civil disobedience’. The police though tried to push the demonstration back with a sudden and ruthless lathi charge, in which more than 35 farmers including women were badly injured, the successful act of civil disobedience by the strong gathering of ordinary people definitely jolted the powers-that-be in Bhubaneshwar out of their wits.

The controversy has even brought to fore how the dam has failed the originally promised irrigation plans and even produces electricity much below the promised and projected capacity. The water-carrying capacity of the reservoir has decreased drastically over the years, and nearly 50,000 acres of land in the irrigation command area has already turned dry. In such a demanding situation, the government’s plan to divert 478 cusec of water to industries would baffle any sensible mind. The fact that one cusec of water could irrigate 100 acres of land would arguably rage the farmers, especially when they were waiting for the government to set the worsening water situation right. Moreover, a large number of people displaced due to this project five decades back have not even been rehabilitated yet. Widespread reporting (for a change) of the harrowing facts that this movement brought forth into public gaze has had people learn a lot, especially that Nehru’s ‘temple of modern India’ for which innumerable sacrifices were made has only turned out to be the ‘temple of doom’ for the people! However, instead of learning from this blunder, the government kept on pushing numerous dams in various parts of the state down people’s throats, clearly indicating that dams are for industries, especially mining, and that industries are more sacrosanct than people.

Invoking the colonial ghosts

The fact that the Naveen Patnaik government has not left any doubt in public perception regarding its war-footing agenda to turn the entire state into an industrial graveyard explains it being so adamant and impatient in pushing several dubious dam projects throughout the state, despite strong opposition from the common folks as well as from environmentalists. Orissa now witnesses a sudden, uncomfortable, and outrageous influx of foreign mining and metal companies to set up shops there by destroying people’s homes, livelihoods, and cultures. These water- and energy-intensive industries, in turn, unleash unbearable burden on the natural resources, and the state government is only tamely obliging, pushing aside people’s needs and well being. Among these, the share of bauxite mining and aluminium-manufacturing units is the largest, especially in the western part of the state.

Supplying electricity and water to aluminium factories has historically been the central reason for the construction of big dams the world over. Europe and North America witnessed a spate of big dams built during the 1900s–1930s, soon after the technology of aluminium manufacturing matured in the West towards the end of the 19th century (Silenced rivers: the ecology and politics of large dams, Patrick McCully, 1998). This is because production of aluminium demands exceptionally large amounts of electricity and water. Producing one tonne of aluminium requires 15,000–16,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity and 10,000–12,000 litres of water.

It is little wonder that the present plans for intensive mining of bauxite in Orissa alongside number of big dams, aluminium factories, and rail links actually date back to the 1920s. In fact, British geologist Cyril Fox had then outlined the whole plan for Orissa’s aluminium industry, as a colonial undertaking, involving aluminium factories, dams, railways, and ports, fed by bauxite mines on the main mountains (Double death: aluminium’s links with genocide revealed, Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, 2006). The Orissa government, of late, is only invoking the ghosts of colonial exploitation by welcoming foreign mining giants to dig every bit of the state while making their business easy by building dams, railway tracks, and roads with public and borrowed money, displacing and distressing millions of people and ensuring the state’s long-term indebtedness.

Damning a people

As the general mass is now aware of the warped intentions behind building dams, they are opposing such projects wherever there is an attempt to evict them from their homes and lands. The movement against the Lower Suktel Dam project is one such movement that is in its peak now in the Loisingha block of Orissa’s Balangir district.

The project has an interesting history, which evidently links to the state’s notorious mining agenda. The first survey for the dam project (the Lower Suktel Major Irrigation Project) was done way back in 1979; soon after it came to public knowledge that BALCO had been given permission to mine the adjacent Gandhamardan Mountains for bauxite. But, the government’s contention on the dam project then was also that for irrigation. However, a strong and determined people’s movement threw BALCO out of Gandhamardan in the 1980s and the government eventually scrapped its mining plans there. Interestingly, following that, work on the dam project also did not move ahead from there.

Now that scores of mining companies (including the infamous Vedanta and NALCO) have applied for and are eagerly waiting for approval to mine Gandhamardan, suddenly the dam project has once again become the state’s priority agenda. As people clearly see a nefarious nexus between mining and the dam, they have pulled up their sleeves in opposing it. Moreover, the government is unbending in not making public the DPR (detailed project report) despite demands from all quarters. While the people are united in fighting under the banner of the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti, government officials have earlier forced people in many villages to accept the so-called compensation money. Police force has been used mercilessly against the villagers in number of occasions and false cases have been registered against hundreds of them, including teenagers. In 2005, 52 persons (including school-going girls) from Dungripali and Pardhiapali villages were arrested, beaten up badly (two of them later succumbed to the injuries), and sent to judicial custody. They were released on bail after 21 days after the intervention of a local lawyer while the cases are still pending.

The Lower Suktel area is known as the vegetable garden of Orissa and is one of the most fertile land sites of the state. Even without any irrigation programme, the area has never witnessed drought or famine in history. Moreover, its forests are abundant in medicinal plants and revenue-generating tree species, apart from containing a rich biodiversity.

Interestingly, the Suktel River does not have much water to make way for a dam meant for irrigation. Villagers believe that it is a dangerous ploy by the state to first displace majority of the population through this dam project so that there will be few left to oppose when some inane mining giant comes to mine the Gandhamardan Mountains. There is also a plan afoot to interlink the Hati River to the Lower Suktel reservoir considering that Suktel does not hold much water. That makes it clear why a reservoir is needed exactly where it is being built. That would perfectly serve the mining company by providing it with a water source just next door.

The people’s movement against the project here offers a microcosm of the political economy of mining, linked to dams, devastation, and displacement – all in the name of ‘development’ (of a tiny sect of people, as listed in the beginning, whose greed and aspirations are acknowledged by the state as ‘will of the people’)!

While the villagers are resolute in putting up a strong resistance and had till now forced to stop the construction of the dam, meanwhile the government, after setting up several police stations in tiny villages, in the middle of nowhere, and a massive police barrack next to the dam site, has now declared war on its own people.

 

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#India – ‘Development at Gunpoint’ in Odisha – Ground Report #Video

 

 

Apr 30, 2013

The vegetable garden of Odisha is going to be submerged and more than 50 villages displaced; and the name of the game is ‘Development at Gunpoint’ — meaning ‘peaceful industrialization’ as the chief minister claims! Thousands of farmers of the Lower Suktel plateau in Balangir are protesting against this upcoming dam for more than a decade now. After many a round of brutal repression and forceful land acquisition, the State has now declared the ‘final war’ against its own people.

On 29 April 2013, more than 2000 people were holding ground in opposition to the dam project. Early in the morning, 10 platoons of police force cracked down on the peaceful protesters. They started beating people mercilessly, without any provocation. They dragged women, clamped their feet with heavy boots, and tried to lynch Amitabh Patra, a filmmaker, who was filming the excesses first hand. The policemen, who appeared to be drunk, behaved like hired goons of some mafia outfit.

The police arrested 16 people, including Amitabh Patra and Lenin Kumar, editor of Nisan. Amitabh is still struggling for life with severe head injuries.

As the police unleashed this terror, they did not allow any media persons in, expect one channel — their chosen one. While they smashed Amitabh’s head and camera, they forcibly blocked our camera so that we could not shoot further.

 

 

  • #India – Why are people opposing Lower Suktel Irrigation project in Odisha ? (kractivist.wordpress.com)
  • #India – Report on Lower Suktel Project and People’s Protest (kractivist.wordpress.com)
  • #India – Work on Suktel irrigation project begins at gun point #oppression (kractivist.wordpress.com)

 

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#India – Why are people opposing Lower Suktel Irrigation project in Odisha ?

 

“O government! Open your ear and listen to us ,We do not need Suktel dam.”
                   – writing on a wall in GS Dungripali, one of the villages that will be submerged if the Dam comes up

piccourtesy- down to earth

 

Context / Background

 

 

 

The river ‘Suktel’ originates from Gandhamardan Mountain (situated in between Balangir and Bargarh districts) in Orissa and flows into ‘Tel’ river. As a part of Lower Suktel Irrigation Project, Government of Orissa plans to build a dam on Suktel river which will be located 20kms from Balangir. According to Government of Orissa (GoO) this irrigation project will wipe out all miseries of people in Balangir which is otherwise known for its droughts and poverty. If the project promises such bright future ahead, why is it that people are protesting against the project for more than a decade now? The issue is much more complex than it seems to be and it is understood by the people in the area – at least those who have been with the ‘Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad (LSBASP). In the following section we will explore more about the hidden and not so hidden agenda of this irrigation project and the larger politics behind it, the wrath of devastation, the evolution of a mass struggle and the process so far apart from understanding the organizational structure and systems.

 

 

 

The Project & the Scale of Devastation

 

 

 

The water resources department, GoO describes Lower Suktel irrigation project as a ‘major irrigation project’ where a dam and a spillway will be built. According to the GoO the dam will fully displace people from 16 villages and people of another 10 villages will be partially displaced. The survey that was done in 1996 pitched the figure of displacement at 4160 families which is much less than the real number. The GoO has apparently identified the land in three villages to build the rehabilitation colony. Around 638 hectare land will be affected due to this project. There are plans to hand over non-forest areas to the forest department for afforestation and GoO has a provision of Rs. 159.26lakh for this.

 

 

 

The dam project is stated to be planned with a help from the World bank worth Rs.600 crores.

 

 

 

The compensation package for a displaced family include 20 decimal  homestead land, 2 acre irrigated land or 4 acre non-irrigated land, money to build the house, financial assistance for one year, money for relocating in new place plus Rs.500/ -.

 

 

 

The GoO has obtained the required permissions from Central Water Commission, Forest Department and Pollution Control Board. This project entails an investment of Rs. 217.13 crores and the GoO has already given the permission for the same.

 

 

 

The number of villages to be affected as given by the government seems unrealistic and has not been updated with the changes in plans. The original height of the dam that was cited by the government was at 36 meters which is now slated to be at 56 meters. This essentially means many more villages coming under water. At least 142 villages (86 full & 56 partial) are estimated to be affected due to this dam/irrigation project.

 

 

 

Loisinga block of Balangir, with 48% tribal population, which will be affected by the project is known for its extremely fertile land. The thick forest around the area and through which Suktel river flows is known for rich flora and fauna and is said to be home for wild animals. The fertile land enables people to produce very good quality vegetables such as parwal & brinjal, mahul, mango, jamun, jackfruit etc and crops. People not only in Balangir district but also many other districts in Orissa are benefited by this produce. The area has a massive reserve for Kendu leaf.

 

 

 

There will be a loss of at least Rs.10crores due to the felling of trees which will lead to minimal rains ultimately affecting the eco-system of the area. It is not understood how a dam can be built and effectively used for irrigation on a river which is already not heavy flowing and without rain, it will be a dry river.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ground Swelling and the Process so far

 

 

 

There was enough speculation among the people about the project despite rigorous attempts by the state to create a favorable opinion among the masses about the project. In 1997, the then district collector Bijay Arora organized the first ever public hearing in Chudapali, one of the villages which will be affected due to the project. More than ten thousand people from 26 villages, which were said to be affected, came to the public hearing. The district collector invited 30 representatives from the gathering to present their views on the construction of the dam in the name of irrigation. Everyone except one representative voiced against the dam. The only person who did not cite against the dam had only said that the dam is ok as long as it does not damage the road. The district collector ironically concluded the public hearing saying that people have no objections to the dam. This was unacceptable to people who had gathered there and especially when 29 out of 30 had opposed the dam construction.

 

 

 

It is on that very occasion and at that place, people gathered there decided to organize their energy and fight against this conspiracy. The deceitful act of the government led to the formation of a campaign under the banner of ‘Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad’ (LSBASP). A Parishad was formed in each of the 26 villages that were to be affected, according to the government record, due to the project. An eleven member team was constituted in each village with a President and a vice-President to intensify the campaign and mobilise the affected communities.

 

 

 

Mobilisation on the ground grew as people understood the hidden agenda of the dam project. The politics behind the dam project was becoming clear as people could see a direct connection between the dam project with the mining plans in Gandhamardan. It must be noted here that the mining plans in Gandhamardan, which faced strong opposition in 1980s, is resurfacing now since as many as 200 companies trying to get permission. Strong peoples’ resistance in Gandhamardan in 1980s had forced the company to go back even after investing 32crores. Biju Pattanaik’s government finally scrapped the project in early 1990s. But the agenda of the state to give the mountain for mining remained and it looked for ways and means to get there. The dam project, otherwise portrayed as an irrigation project, was designed to get to Gandhamardan. It is rather ridiculous to even have a dam on a river which usually does not have enough water throughout the year. The reservoir is planned as such that water could be ultimately sourced from it for mining purposes in the Mountain, especially for the proposed refinery in Taankapani, a mere 20kms from the reservoir.

 

 

 

This inter-linkage was not difficult for people in Suktel area to understand and when they realized the actual danger inherent in the irrigation project, the struggle even became much broader. The support and solidarity action became much more vigorous as many other movements and peoples’ organizations joined in this struggle across the state.

 

 

 

Sensing the danger from the government in going ahead with the project, LSABSP adopted the strategy of establishing a shrine to worship ‘Banadurga’ at the entry point in Pardhiapali  village – giving a clear signal about the protest. The project faced a strong opposition from people when the government decided to lay the foundation for the project in 2001. LSBASP mobilized 30 thousand people on that day to stage a massive protest. Deterred by this agitation on the ground, the administration hurriedly located another place away from the village for the chief minister to lay the foundation stone for the project. The administration applied section 144 apart from issuing warrant against few agitators in the new area so as to keep the agitators away.

 

 

 

Defying the repressive measures of the administration broke the police barricade and entered the area cordoned off for the programme. Shouting slogans against the project, the youths waived black flags to the chief minister. Interestingly, the Pashim Orissa Krushaka Parishad, a government outfit in an act to appease the chief minister intentionally interpreted it wrongly and communicated to him that the group is happy about the project. Unfortunately, the state of Orissa has a chief minister who does not understand Oriya and also such protest measures. Police arrested around 70 protesters in addition to the warrants it had already issued. This was vehemently protested and demanded their release by 30 thousand people who had gathered there to oppose the project.

 

 

 

LSBASP continued to contact people in all the villages and build collective strength through various mediums such as cycle rally, mashal yatra, village meetings and so on. The village-wise Parishad unit was effective in building one voice of resistance. On the human rights day in December 2001, the Parishad mobilised around 10-12 thousand people and submitted a demand letter to the collector and also sent it to the President of India. Interestingly, the President’s office responded and asked for papers (20 sets) on their struggle and suggests ways of irrigation without constructing a dam. Being a mass organization, the Parishad has always given primacy to the needs of the campaign on the ground and thus the requirement cited by the President’s office was beyond their bound. The Parishad communicated to the President’s office about the their inability to accommodate the request and urged him to visit the area to understand the situation first hand.

 

 

 

LSBASP asked the administration on 18 November 2001 about the reasons for not consulting people before going ahead with the project.

 

 

 

As the Parishad intensified its campaign, the state tried to mobilize people with lucrative offers. In 2002, people of 6 villages decided to withdraw themselves from the Parishad as they fell into the state tricks of compensations and benefits. The administration continued to motivate people through various ways such as taking the village Sarpanch into their fold. The roles of the land acquisition officer (LAO) and the bank officials have been extremely destructive as they have decided to play to the tunes of the state agenda and have continued to mis-guide people. This has led to people saying yes to compensation and rehabilitation deals and another 4 villages have got added up who have dissociated themselves from LSBASP by now.

 

 

 

The usual trick played by the LAO is to motivate the panchayat sarpanch and getting the entire village say yes to the offers. There are several instances where he alongwith the loan officer in the bank have told people to take compensation and build houses in the same area so as to get more compensation later. In the area, there are absolutely new houses coming up rapidly. This goes alongwith the line maintained by the Rural Development Commissioner (RDC)of the state who recently said that ‘there will be only compensation and no rehabilitation.’

 

 

 

Despite public outcry and massive demonstrations by LSBASP, the administration went ahead and distributed compensation in Khutpali village in 2003. A massive demonstation was organized in front of the police station by LSBASP and the administration assured that no more compensation will be distributed without consulting the organization. Apprehensive about the motive of the administration, LSBASP continued to strengthen its struggle on the ground. It ahs been demanding the admistration to make the ‘detailed project report’ public which the administration has been evading. The rift between Khutpali and GS Dungripali is growing as it is fuelled by the administration.

 

 

 

Compensation was distributed in Parjhapali on 11 January 2004 with heavy police presence. In fact the police did flag march in the entire area to keep off the people from resisting the process.

 

 

 

LSBASP has always communicated its displeasure about the manner in which the administration has motivated people to take the compensation. The leadership has always maintained that they are against the dam construction and thus no question arises about discussing compensation package. They find it very unfortunate to see the RDC engaging in mobilizing the people as Gagan Dhal, the RDC once said that compensation will help people to buy vehicles which they could use during the construction of the dam and earn a living. Ever since the villages have fallen into the clutches of the administration and accepted the compensation, there is an increase in the number of egg and liquor shops, vehicles and new houses in the area. The happiness of those who have taken money is short-lived

 

 

 

For LSBASP 11 May 2005 was the day when the administration and the local representative made the biggest blunder so far. The day was slated for bhumi pujan by the administration and as usual there was a heavy deployment of police. The local MLA Narsingh Mishra, whom people used to have a lot of faith, had assured people that there would be no such activity in the area till the administration makes the documents public and till people agrees to go ahead with the project. On this day he duped people and got the police to raid GS Dungripali village. People in the village recount that day with horror and anguish as they stood mute spectator to the dastardly act of the police. Police picked up 70 people including minor children. Each house in that village was ransacked by the police and women were abused severely. There were 15 platoons of police deployed for this task.

 

 

 

People also retaliated and it can be left to imagination to think what would have happened to the local MLA if he was there. It was kind of a ceasefire that continued for quite sometime. It took more than a month for LSBASP to mobilize support and get the people released.

 

 

 

This gruesome act of the administration has left the people in other villages completely baffled and scared. According to a villager in Kaindapali, “we saw what happened to people in GS Dungripali as police beat people mercilessly. It was cruel and we do not want to face the same situation. Police can do that to us also and we do not want that. That’s why we said yes to taking compensation when the administration came to us.” Kaindapali is one of those villages where the people have taken compensation but now refuse to move if they are not given equally fertile land and appropriate house to stay. This is the village where a man has got Rs. 6/- as compensation in lieu of his big house. So, one can imagine the skewed way of calculations as far as compensation is concerned.

 

 

 

Earlier this year, 2008, the present collector said that the collectorate will engage in any kind of discussion with LSBASP only if it agrees for dam construction. This put off the leaders and they decided to meet the RDC who showed sympathy but expressed his inability to do anything. The helplessness of the state government is vividly seen all over the state. In fact, the state government is in this kind of a situation not by chance but by choice where all the decisions are made in serious consultation with the corporate and international financial institutions.

 

 

 

The main slogan of the movement is “Maribu pache chati pati, nai chadu; Maribu pache Daribu Nai.”

 

 

 

Demands

 

 

 

 

 

The stated objective of the dam is to irrigate Balangir and flood management. But the fact remains that ground will be prepared for mining companies to take over Gandhamardan Mountain which has a rich bauxite reserve in the name of community development by way of compensation during the irrigation project. This will essentially destroy the age-old practice of lift irrigation in the area. As mentioned earlier, this area produces maximum variety of vegetable in large numbers and the production here caters to at least 6 big towns in Orissa.

 

 

 

IN last more than a decade LSBASP has seen people coming together, drifting away under pressure, state repression and so on. But the resolve of the organization is far from shying away from the struggle. The organization has the following demands:

 

 

 

–       No dam for irrigation – promote lift irrigation

 

–       no displacement

 

–       the rich bio-diversity can not be compensated

 

–       government must make the DPR public

 

–       stop state repression in the area

 

–       withdraw the false cased filed against people in 2005

 

 

 

The organization functions as a mass organization and draws strength and solidarity support from like-minded groups and individuals. Each village where the organization is active has a Parishad which amalgamates with the collective. LSBASP is led by a President and vice-President who are also office bearers in the Parishads in their respective villages. Women have continued to play major role in demonstration, rallies, mobilizing people in their villages. The organization recognizes the contribution of women in the struggle but does not have a policy to have them at the decision making body. The common notion, as shared by a number of Parishad office bearers, the office bearers have to do a lot of running around and women are not in a position to do so. This is the reason, according to them, why women do not figure in the list of office bearers in any of the villages actively involved in the struggle.

 

Written by — Mamata Dash

 

  • #India – Work on Suktel irrigation project begins at gun point #oppression (kractivist.wordpress.com)

 

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#India – Report on Lower Suktel Project and People’s Protest

April 21, 2013

By Amitabh Patra

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Lower Suktel:
Suktel is a tributary river of Mahanadi in Odisha, flowing in the districts of Bolangir & Sonepur. The state Govt. has been trying to build a dam named “Lower Suktel Irrigation Project (LSIP)” at G.S. Dunguripali. CWC (Central Water Commission) allotted a sum of Rs. 217.13 Crores at 1994 estimate for the same later revised to Rs. 1042 Crores in 2009. State Govt is said to have spent Rs. 300 Crores for land acquisition, of which more than 60 crores has been mis-appropriated as pointed out in the CAG Report and is under recovery process. The project is said to irrigate about 31000 hectares of land, whereas the FRL will submerge more than 4000 hectares of already existing multi-crop agricultural land, forest, best kendu (tendu) leaf production area, vegetable and paddy production area and self-reliant 30 villages of the drought prone dist.

The supporters of the project – mostly the demand coming from the Bolangir town. It is being told by the affected villages of submergence area that many of the powerful people of the town and outsiders to the region, rich man with money and muscle have purchased huge patches of land and have converted that to make profit from the compensation money. A few powerful and influential political leaders of the region have purchased hundreds of acres of land as “Benaami” (anonymous) downstream keeping in view of the future mineral processing of Iron Ore, Thermal Power Plant, Bauxite, Lead and many other valuable minerals, including gem stones.

The question arises here: an irrigation project, why is it being opposed?

Resisting villagers have given the alternate proposals – that instead of the said 30 meters tall dam, small height multiple barrages be done at multiple stages across the river. That will not submerge the fertile agricultural land, productive forest, won’t uproot people and villages, are less expensive and low maintenance in the long run. That will be more effective for irrigation, keeping drought in control of a much larger region than the big dam, and maintain the bio-diversity. Large dams not only cause big displacement, but they also create water deserts. The biggest example is Hirakud Dam in the state, where the loss incurred to the people and environment is enormous. The huge reservoir is a big water desert of the region.

Possible Falsification of Facts by the Construction Company & Govt.:
In a fact finding journey to five villages, it was found that, the figures presented by the officials are misleading and full with lies. Some of the villages which the survey report states as partial submergence, checking on ground at those villages with GPS device, it was found to be under 8 meters of water during FRL, at the highest point at middle of the village. Also as with experience we have seen in Hirakud that the villages where there was never before submergence, flood of 2011 August, they were washed off, on the upper region of Hirakud Dam due to Back-water. So partial submergence is a myth during the monsoon.

Compensation issue:
People in some villages have been paid up compensation for their land, house, trees etc. The maximum amount that has been paid for per acre of agricultural land is Rs. 55,000/- + Rs. 10,000. With this price, it is almost impossible to purchase equivalent land at elsewhere. The burning example is displaced people of Tikhali Dam near Nuapada/ Khariar. Only a handful of the displaced about 10% have been able to settle at a new place. Remaining 90% people have lost their culture, society, rights to common land, cattle grazing land, forest and other common resources of human civilization. The displaced people are looked upon in an inferior manner at the new place where they go. Some pro-displacement people argue that they should move to nearby towns and live happily; but while saying so, they forget that it is impossible to live up without a neighboring society. As said by the uprooted at gunpoint people of the Tikhali (Lower Indra) dam project – “where ever we go, people kick us out. They say that we are detached flying leaves.” In a recent bizarre incident, the villagers did not even let the dead body of a displaced person being burnt at their mortuary. The dead body had to be brought back to a distance of 13 kilometers for the last rites. Many villagers still have not received any compensation whereas the dam construction is over by 70%. Those who were displaced are preferring to even come back, and rebuild their houses at the old place. Since past 5 years over a hundred school going children have been deprived of their basic right to education

Displacement by large scale water logging causes extinction – of culture, people, species, societies, forests, insects, birds, animals, reptiles, civilizations and brings in destruction, oppression, desertification, diseases, and deaths. Smaller is better, bigger is worse.

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Government of Odisha Status Report on Lower Suktel Irrigation Project[PDF]

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#India – Work on Suktel irrigation project begins at gun point #oppression

Author(s):
Sudeep Kumar Guru
Issue Date:
2013-4-11

Balangir district authorities use police force to allow construction work as anti-dam stir continues

imagePhoto credit: Sudeep Kumar Guru Work on the Lower Suktel irrigation project in Odisha was started this week amid public protests and heavy security. Police arrested 70 members of the people’s front fighting the project as they forcibly entered the project site to try and stop the work at Pardhiapali, about 25 km from Balangir town, on Tuesday. The dam authorities had began work on the project on the Suktel river, a tributary of the Tel, on Monday. Apprehending more trouble, extra police force was deployed at the project site next day. The Odisha Construction Company officials continued with the lay out work of the spillway of the project.

At least 1,200 people of the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad (LSBASP), including women and school children, thronged the project site and protested construction of the dam spillway which they say is illegal. Those arrested included president and vice president of LSBASP, Ghunu Sahu and Udaya Singh Thakur. Superintendent of police (SP) of Balangir, R Prakash, said the arrests were made to ensure that the work of the project continues. “We neither applied any force nor did we arrest any women or children. We will see that work of the project goes on smoothly,” Prakash said.

The Rs 1,041 crore project had been hanging fire for the past 12 years due to the ongoing conflict between the pro-dam and anti-dam activists. The project, when completed, will irrigate 29,146 ha of land in Balangir and 2,684 ha in Sonepur district, covering 189 villages. Despite the arrests, people of the area said that they will continue their fight. “Let police arrest us. Still, we will come here everyday and will oppose the project work. Under no circumstances will we allow the project,” said Pabitra Gadtia, an anti-dam activist. General secretary of LSBASP, Satya Banchhor, said the government had not kept its promise. “It is unfortunate that despite assurance by the state chief secretary during the bilateral talk that LSBASP would be informed about the project status, the government had resorted to secrecy about date of commencement of the project. Moreover, the government decided to start the project at gun point,” he alleged.

LSBASP says there is no necessity of a dam. “Instead smaller traditional water harvesting structures can be made to address the irrigation problem of the farmers. The government never delivers when it comes to rehabilitation and compensation to the displaced villagers. The Rengali project and Hirakud dam projects in Sambalpur district are glaring  examples. We don’t need the dam”, said Thakur, vice president of LSBASP.

As per the project plan, the project includes an earthen dam 1,410 metre long and 36 metres high. The scheme contemplates two main canals, one taking off from right bank with a length of 25.2 km and another taking off from left bank having a length of 27 km. The net catchment area of the project is 1,130 sq km. The are that will be submerged by the project includes forestland (583 ha), private land (3,847 ha) and government land (786 ha). The reservoir will submerge 16 villages fully and 10 villages partly. The dam will be constructed at Magurbeda village about 25 km from Balangir town.

Call for fresh project evaluation, clearances
Convener of Water Initiative Odisha, Ranjan Panda, condemned the use of police force to undertake construction work. “The irrigation project’s design was approved almost a decade and half ago. In all these years, even though the government could not proceed with the project, it did not do anything either to solve the drinking water and irrigation problems of the area. The current anger and agitations are, therefore, creation of government’s apathy. The government should not delay further on this and talk to all the people, both the villagers who fear submergence and the people who are proposed beneficiaries,” he said. He added that that the long delay has rendered all approvals and clearances, including environmental clearance, invalid. The government, therefore, has got no right to continue with this project without looking at the designs and social and ecological impacts afresh, he said.

These studies should be tabled before the people, he said. The government should also work on alternative proposals and place it before the people. It is only after that any further decision on the Lower Suktel Irrigation project should be taken, said Panda.

 


 

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