Inviting conflict in the name of development

– Rajagopal P.V

For the last 2 days we have been in the thick of industrialization. On one side, we can see huge buildings, chimneys and cranes working 24 hours a day and on the other side, we see people struggling to retain their land and livelihood resources. The Korean company POSCO has succeeded in taking 50% of the land that they need to establish a sea port. Local people are still holding on to 2000 acres with a determination not to let it go and are willing to pay any price for protecting their lands. I am forced to wonder “are they fighting a losing battle?” On the road, we see thousands of heavy vehicles moving towards Paradeep, the government run sea-port. Someone gave us a rough estimate that about 7000 heave trucks move towards Paradeep everyday to carry material for export. So they call it a ‘road to loot’. A road that should have been ‘to heaven’ for the local people has ended up as a ‘road to loot’.
This port is being used to basically export steel, iron, coal etc. I am told that there is no need for a private sea-port by the Korean company POSCO while the government run Paradeep port has a lot more unused capacity. These two ports and the cities that are going to grow up around these ports will consume all the water that is now available for agriculture. Soon the place will become a dry belt causing the price of agricultural lands to come down. Farmers will then be compelled to sell their land as agriculture will no longer be profitable. They lose their primary livelihood and will not get a good price for the land. The companies will buy up the remaining land at a lower cost and may actually benefit from the farmer’s agitation. I have seen such a scenario being played out so many times.
What should social workers and marginalized communities do in such a situation? Should we keep up this struggle? If we do not raise a voice, then there is no limit to how many people will be displaced, how many people will lose all their livelihood resources. How do we change the game that is being forced upon marginalized people of this country. Dilemmas like this give me many sleepless nights.

Moving ahead on the same road we came to Kalinga Nagar. 18 people were shot dead some time back as they were protesting against the TATAs that was acquiring land for their steel factory. TATAs used to enjoy a good name in the world of corporate houses in the years following independence but now they are as good or as bad as any body else. They do not mind building their industry on the graveyard of adivasis and dalits. They were chased some years back from Chilika and then they were chased from Gopalpur in Odisha. But in Kalinga, they got their land after killing 18 adivasis. On the one hand, they go about subjecting communities to violence to procure land for their factories and polluting the environment around their factories, while on the other hand, they set up a number of institutions to do philanthropy. They also run an institute to produce social scientists. This is a contradiction in the practices of many corporate houses. On one side they want to show the world how good they are and on the other hand, they continue to abuse and displace ordinary people to make a profit.
Bringing small portions of their profit back to people in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility is a method to appease a small section of people and create a favourable impression about the organization. It may take year before they understand the concept of trusteeship proposed by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi ji said that while enterprises may bring in capital others are bringing in much needed labour, and raw materials. So entrepreneurs are just shareholders like anybody else. But in today’s world, anybody who can bring capital to the table, can take the entire profit of the venture nearly free of cost.

We were soon into another meeting where the farmers were fighting for compensation. Their land was taken some years back for a pittance and after some years of struggle, the compensation was increased to 1 lakh Rupees i.e., about $2000 USD per acre. The farmers are now agitating for a higher compensation because the land prices have gone up in a big way and they feel they have lost their land for nothing. This is the problem that the decision makers in this country are failing to understand. If the land of a farmer is taken what s/he is losing is his/her asset that can be used by generations. The market around him is ready to take the money back even if s/he receives compensation for the land. The farmers are often not very clever in managing money.

In spite of all these struggles from POSCO to Kalinga Nagar, the government of Odisha is keeping quite as if nothing is going wrong. Only a few days back, the local people who got tired of unfulfilled promises of Jindal Steel industry in Angul decided to walk into the factory and force the management to close it down. In this process the security of the company used violence and as a result 1 person was killed and many injured. Industrial unrest and conflict are becoming very common in Odisha. What happened at Jindal is probably an indicator of times to come and I suspect the conflict is only going to get more intense. There is a huge conflict between the perceptions about development. People are asking for agriculture and agro industries for generating wealth and employment whereas the government is proposing large scale industries by destroying the employment and resources of ordinary people. Time alone will tell us who is going to march forward.

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