Eleven years after the police firing in Kalinga Nagar of Odisha’s Jajpur district where a dozen tribal people and a police personnel died at the spot, the communities were hammered again when the report submitted by the commission of inquiry under retired High Court Justice Pradyumna Kumar Mohanty did not indict any government official for it.
The incident took place on 2 January 2006, when trigger-happy police sprayed bullets against people agitating against land acquisition for the TATA Steel project.
“So many adivasi people died in the incident. Who killed them and by whose order? And even dead bodies were mutilated by chopping off private organs of both male and female bodies! Who did that? Did they all happen while tribal people were dancing or making fun?” asked Sini Soy, mother of Bhagaban Soy who succumbed to his injuries on the spot from police firing.
Has the commission ever pondered upon these questions while preparing this report?
Biren Jamdua, a long-time project supporter, feels let down by the commission’s report.
Not making anybody responsible for the killing of 14 tribal persons [the community claims that two of the injured died later] would lead to mass killing of tribal people in the future. And this is probably what the government wants.
The inquiry report of the commission along with the action report will be tabled during the monsoon session of the Odisha assembly.
As per government sources, the Commission submitted its report to the Government on 3 July 2015. The government accepted it on 8 June 2016.
According to Suryanarayan Patro, Food and Civil Supplies Minister of Odisha, the recommendations of the commission included the formulation of a beneficial and comprehensive scheme for land losers and the displaced, suitable employment for one member from each of the deceased families, and additional ex-gratia to persons injured in the incident.
Claiming that the recommendations made had already been complied with, the minister said that at least one member from each of the deceased families had been offered employment by the beneficiary companies in Kalinga Nagar Integrated Industrial Complex.
Further, to justify the rehabilitation works of TATA Steel, Patro said that the schemes adopted by the company are similar to the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy of the state.
Recent visits to Kalinga Nagar, however, give a picture that is in contrast to the claims made by the minister.
Many turned homeless to make space for TATA’s expansion dreams. Recently, the parental houses of Chhabi Badara and her sister Durgabati have been demolished by the local administration in the presence of the tahsildar, without compensation or any arrangement for their immediate stay.
We are neither given any compensation nor any alternate piece of land to build our new home. With my young daughter, I am now living in open in the place where our parental house used to exist.
A letter issued from the Additional District Magistrate’s office said it considered married daughters to be separate families, not eligible to receive rehabilitation benefits as they had married into another family.
“How lawful is it for the government to make someone homeless like this?” asked Durgabati, who happened to be a primary school teacher as well.
“Who will be held responsible if anything unpleasant happens to any of these ladies while staying in the open?” questioned Biren Jamuda.
“The company has even occupied the land, building and hostels of the tribal welfare department-run Gobarghati High School, that houses 300 tribal students,” Jamuda said, wondering, “How could it be done?”
TATA company continues to acquire forest land without any official allotment from the government or approval from the environment and forest ministry, said Binod Nag, Chairman of the Ho Munda Development Society said citing to information he acquired by applying the right to information (RTI) Act.
“The promise of employment to the youth of the affected community remained largely unfulfilled. In many cases, the company cites insufficient education of the youth while in many other cases, qualified youth have been harassed and denied employment,” said Harischandra Haibru, who has been affected by the project.
Despite being selected through an interview and medical test, MBA graduate Biswanath Banara of Baligotha village still awaits a job in the company.
Though I have cleared the tests, the company asked me to give up another patch of forest land I possess in order to get the appointment.
While more than half the youth from the affected communities haven’t received proper employment yet, the company has engaged several youth for a meagre monthly remuneration of 3,000 rupees just to come to the aid of the company in times of trouble with affected people and communities.
“They are not entitled to get the benefits attached with a company employee and may be removed anytime,” said Biren Jamdua.
As the new trend, the company is now offering one-time money to the youth against regular employment in the company. Once the money is spent, what the youth will do?
The dreams projected during the acquisition of land are now shattered and people who sacrificed their land and lives of the kin are disillusioned. They are now forced to live their lives only as permitted by the company.
“We lost our land – the perennial source of our livelihood, we lost the houses with backyards. In the new setup, there is no space for our cultural and traditional utilities. To summarise, we as a tribal community have lost our identity,” Harischandra Haibru said.
“We were landowners and laborious people. Nobody from our tribe used to be a beggar. But now, the government and the company reduced us to that level by taking away our land, by destroying our forests and by forcing us to live a life that we never desired,” said Sini Soy.
“Everyone is interested in uprooting the tribal communities, throwing them out and grabbing their land in the name of development and industrialisation. Nobody ever tried to understand our culture and how integrated it is with nature,” she said.
Now, after the commission report is out, we are forced to realise that killing of tribal people has no more remained unlawful in the state.