Police firing on adivasis leading to 13 deaths in Kalinganagar on January 2, 2006 to acquire land for a private company to usher in industrialization had sent shock waves across the country. Today, it is equally painful and shocking to see the findings of the P K Mohanty Commission of Inquiry that was constituted to inquire into the incident. As concerned citizens, we find it important to share our responses to the report:
Can the lathis, axes, bows and arrows of the people deemed to be “deadly weapons” stand against the modern arms and ammunition of the Odisha police? Based on the deposition of the Jajpur Collector, the Commission has said that near about 1000 villagers on January 2, 2006 gathered with lathis, axes, bows and arrows who posed a threat to the law and order problem for the construction of the boundary wall of Tata. Therefore 12 platoons of police (over 500 armed police personnel) were stationed with modern arms and weapons.
Here, the question arises how the gathering of those villagers with their traditional weapons to protect their lands and livelihoods has been termed ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’ whereas the presence of such a large contingent of armed police for the construction work of a private company like TATA as “adequate” and “cannot be faulted”? The Commission’s justification of this large presence of police resorting to barbaric violence for their “own self-defence” leading to the killing of 13 adivasis is once again establishing the monopoly of violence that the State and administration carry. The Commission is also making clear that citizens have no right to protect their own lives and livelihood. The protection of the interests of a corporate entity like Tata is the sole concern of the Commission like other Commissions have done in the past.
The Mishra Commission that was constituted to inquire into the police firing in December, 2000 in Rayagada district where three adivasis were killed and seven injured did not question the justification of police firing. The adivasis of Rayagada were fighting against bauxite mining and alumina plant of Aditya Birla. This time the PK Mohanty Commission too has justified police firing in the process of land acquisition for Tatas. Both Commissions have justified the killing of people for the self defence of police personnel. However, deployment of armed police forces to acquire land for a private company against the wishes and consent of the people have not been deemed unjustified by any Commission. In both cases, the police firing created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that became favourable for companies to forcibly acquire land; this has been overlooked by both by a sitting judge as well as by the retired judge. This makes us doubt the impartiality of both Commissions.
The Mohanty Commission has pointed out that land had been acquired between the years 1990 to 1995 and that from 1995 to 2005 people’s disappointment regarding compensation and rehabilitation built up. Those expressions of discontent were peacefully and democratically expressed according to the Commission. This is a success of the people’s movement that a Commission set up by the government has acknowledged the discontent of the people with the land acquisition process. It is to be noted that both BJD – BJP and Congress were in power, a fact that is pointed out by the Commission too. Why has the Commission not been able to point out that the administration and elected representatives in power have been equally responsible for the increasing discontent of the people? Had this discontent been addressed instead of their working in favour of the company, such a tragic incident of firing and loss of lives would not have happened.
The Commission has not hesitated to question the role of some respected citizens for the aftermath of the incidents following the police confrontation with local people in May 2005. The Commission in a biased manner has questioned the role of political activists and NGOs from events around May 2005 and onwards who, according to the Commission, have “taken advantage of the volatile situation, mobilised, instigated and led the villagers to adopt a path of confrontation.” Political activists and NGOs have been standing in protection of people’s rights and ensuring that the government machinery should work democratically in the interest of people. That is why they have been targeted by the State on several occasions. Here, in justifying the use of excess police force for land acquisition of a corporate entity reveals how the Commission has undoubtedly protected the interest of the corporate.
The Commission has held responsible three doctors for the incident of chopping of palms of the deceased after post-mortem and at the same time absolved them of any “oblique intent”. On the other hand, the Commission has highlighted the role of political activists and additionally attributed them with the intention of having “hijacked and converted the agitation.” It is questionable whether the Commission was working towards giving justice to the family of the deceased or instead giving a clean chit to the administration and police in order to uphold the business interests of Tata.
The Commission had ample opportunity to question the state government why measures had not been taken to implement land settlements as per the Odisha Survey and Settlement Act before declaring the area as Kalinganagar Industrial Complex. Of the 13,000 acres of land earmarked for the complex, the Commission has highlighted that 7,057 acres belong to the private owners. The area came under the control of the Odisha government from the Sukinda royal family under the Odisha Estate Abolition Act 1951. Subsequently, most of the private land in this area was claimed as public land which the government arbitrarily sold to a private company. This was one of the main grievances of the people. For what “public interest” did the government use its authority to keep compensation money of the private land to itself. The Commission has maintained silence on this matter too.
To recommend jobs of temporary nature to those who gave up their lives in protecting their land to avoid facing uncertainty is a travesty. Such a recommendation of the Commission to provide suitable employment to one member in each family is tantamount to the privatization of lives and livelihoods of individuals. No doubt that such precedence will establish a wrong trend. It would have been appropriate to offer a government job.
We, the undersigned citizens, strongly disagree with the findings of the Commission report. In the last many years when state violence has been increasing against those fighting for their lands and livelihoods, such a report is legitimising the coercive tactics and undemocratic actions of state and companies. We plan to come together on January 2, 2018 for a collective protest against the police firing and state repression on people’s movements struggling for the protection of land and livelihoods.
Biswapriya Kanungo (Human Rights Activist), Debaranjan (GASS), Lenin Kumar (Janabaadi), Lingaraj Azad (Niyamagiri Suraksha Samiti), Mahendra Parida and Banshidhar Parida ( AITF), Manohar and Pradip Sahu (CSD, Odisha), Narendra Mohanty (INSAF), Prafulla Samantra (NAPM), Pramodini Pradhan (PUCL), Radhakant Sethi (CPI-ML Liberation), Ranjana (WSS- Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression), Sivram (CPI-ML Red Star), Srikanta Mohanty (CPI-ML , Odisha), Tapan Mishra (Chaasi Mulya Sangha) and Srimanta Mohanty.
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