A joint team of human right organisations visited Dhinkia and the surrounding villages from January 29 to 31. This coastal region of Jagatsinghpur district in Odisha is the place where forcible land acquisition for Jindal Steel Works by the Odisha government has resulted in brutal police repression on the protesting villagers. The team addressed a press conference in Bhubaneswar today. A report by Groundxero.
Bhubaneswar: A 17-member joint team of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO), Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sangathan (GASS) and Organization for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR) addressed the press today in Bhubaneswar after visiting Dhinkia and the surrounding villages from January 29 to 31 where land acquisition for Jindal Steel Works by the Odisha government has resulted in brutal police repression. The team also met Debendra Swain and Narendra Mohanty who were arrested on January 14 and are in the sub divisional jail in Kujanga. They were arrested along with some other protesting villagers. The police FIR has names of 18 people and 500 “others”.
Tapas Chakrabarty of APDR (West Bengal) said that more than 200 women and children have been injured in the police lathi-charge of January 14. Although more than two weeks has passed since this incident, villagers continue to live in terror. Many men are still in the forests fearing arrest. The police continue to visit peoples’ houses, especially after sunset. He asserted on behalf of the team that withdrawal of police force from the areas has to take place immediately. Tapas Chakrabarty said that the entire operations of the Odisha government aimed to help JSW is a travesty of justice and violation of the FRA, Land Acquisition Act and several other laws of the land. Not less than 50, 000 people will lose their livelihood as there is a huge number of landless people dependent on betel cultivation.
Swati Mishra of GASS reported how the police dodged their question of why there happens to be so many camps and police vans within the village and what is it that the police fear. The police repeatedly tried to draw the attention of the team to other points, thus making it clear that they had no reason to state. Kids in Dhinkia who were once on the roads with the elders are today too terrified even to walk small distances because of police vans parked there all the time. Villagers expressed hesitation to speak to strangers because of police scrutiny unlike the way it was until January 14 when all supporters were welcome to the village. Some women continue to hide in the nearby fields. People in Gobindpur and Nuagaon also live in fear. The police visit their houses regularly.
Bhaskar Rao of OPDR questioned the absurdity of the development model that needs such heavy police repression to be implemented. He said that the development model rests on the basis of constitutional violations and human rights violations. Odisha is rich in land, water and natural resources. Its abundance of mineral deposits is resulting in mindless exploitation by corporations. People’s Right to Life is violated daily. How can fertile lands be given away to corporations? If indeed 137.4 hectares is public land, it should be legalized in the name of the people who have been cultivating it since generations. Public land cannot be handed over to corporations. He spoke of the hazards of the proposed 300 KM long pipeline that will divert thousands of gallons of water for industrial needs. He concluded that the impact on the crops, land, forests and entire environment will be devastating if this project happens. He said that this anti-people prevailing development model has to be stopped.
Sreemannarayana N. of APCL put out the criminal cases foisted on the villagers simply because they do not want to surrender their land and livelihood to JSW. Of the 18 cases registered, 12 FIRs were filed suo moto by the police. He cautioned what the implication of 500 “others” can be unless the police are withdrawn and normalcy restored. This led to an animated discussion on the criminal cases and verifying the details among those present.
The press release issue by the fact finding team is given below :
On 14th January, 2022 a large contingent of police blocked the villagers from going to their betel vines. A commotion started and the police resorted to a brutal lathi-charge on the assembled villagers.
A joint fact finding team of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) comprising seven members, two members of Ganatantrik Adhikar Shurakya Sangathan (GASS) and eight members of organisation for protection of democratic rights (OPDR) visited the villages of Dhinkia, Gobindpura, Patana and Mahala on 29th-30th January, 2022. The team also met Narendra Mohanty and Debendra Swain lodged at subdivisional jail in Kujanga as well as the SHO of Abhaychandpur P.S. The team also met the concerned lawyer handling the cases against the villagers.
A total of 1193.974 Ha of land has been allotted to the Jindal Steel and works (JSW) Utkal steel ltd. by the Odisha Industrial and Infrastructure development corporation (IDCO) for the development of a steel plant of 13.2 MTPA, 900MW captive electricity plant, 10MTPA cement plant and a captive port of 52 million tons transport capacity. Out of which non-forest land is 137.64 Ha. The bone of contention is this non-forest land and a large part of the forest land where the villagers have been cultivating betel, other fruits (eg. Cashew) and paddy for generations.
The team has seen some proof of having rented parts of those lands from during the Bardhaman estate. The team has also seen some papers issued by the forest department of Odisha giving rights to the farmers way back in 1982. So the claim by the government and JSW that the villagers have no rights on the land that they tilled from long ago is wrong.
In 2009 the Odisha government tried to evict a large number of farmers from their rightful possession for the proposed steel plant and captive port by POSCO. At this time the Odisha government illegally took possession of 2700 acres of land. Since POSCO left in 2017 the land is with the government, barring the farmers from entering the land. Now JSW came into the picture. They have asked for 1193.97 Ha of land; the government is now trying to evict more people from their possession to meet the shortfall of the demand of JSW. The land acquired during 2009 was not used for the purpose it was taken. So in our opinion according to the then law keeping this land in a land bank is illegal and this is nothing but a table transaction. Even the committees constituted by the central government including Meena Gupta committee, Saxena committee and POSCO enquiry committee made some observations in favour of the farmers and the possession of the land also belonged to the farmers, the government chose to change the character of land illegally.
From 2005 people of the area have been continuously agitating against the loss of their livelihood and in recent times when they learnt that the government is going to dispossess them from more land for JSW the protests reached a new peak.
In June 2021 notification was issued and the villagers of Mahala started demonstrating from July in a democratic way and in August 2021 the village of Dhinkia held a peaceful demonstration before the revenue department demanding to stop the proposed project of JSW. In November 2021, a notice was posted in Patana village stating demarcation work will be conducted on 30th Nov, 2021. A similar notice was passed in Mahala on 1st December, 2021. All these activities of the government in the matter of so-called demarcation is against the spirit of the constitution and against the laws of the land. Because of the impact on their livelihood the people resisted these activities and the demarcation work could not be done. The police were filing fabricated cases against the villagers as well as the leaders of Jindal Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (JPSS) without their knowledge. During the course of the last two months police have setup at least three camps in the region with an intent to suppress the movement.
On 14th January, 2022 when the people of Dhinkia village were going to their betel vines, a large contingent of police blocked their path and desisted them from going to their work. A commotion ensued and police resorted to a brutal lathi-charge on the people assembled including women and children. We learnt that more than 200 children and women were injured. Since then a reign of terror has been unleashed on the villages mentioned earlier. The grown ups have not been staying in the villages during night time and according to the villagers, police make frequent night raids without being accompanied by women constables and officers. They also told the team that people entering or going out of the village are being asked to produce their id cards.
According to the SHO of Abhaychandpur P.S. eighteen cases were started since 14th Jan2022 against some named people and 500 “others”. As human rights activists we know it very well that police can and does implicate any person as one of those “others”. Out of the eighteen cases, 12 FIRs were filed suo moto by the police. Since independence, not a single case has been registered in any police station of India against those erring officials of the government. According to police, so far six people were arrested including Narendra Mohanty and Debendra Swain. It is also learnt that Debendra Swain was manhandled and insulted with filthy language while in police custody before his production in the court.
- The whole project of JSW if implemented will rob people of their right to life and livelihood as enshrined in article 21 of our constitution and the Jindals will become richer at their expense.
- The way in which the environment impact assessment (EIA) was done is being questioned by the experts. As an example of destruction of the environment we cite that according to the proposal of JSW iron ore mixed with water will be transported in 330 km pipes from the mining blocks at Keonjarh and Sundergarh to the plant site at Dhinkia. For meeting the water requirement it is estimated that 48.5 million gallons of water will be fetched from the Mahanadi river at Jagatpur.
- Immediately withdraw all the police force from the villages and lift all the cases which were fabricated against the villagers unconditionally.
- Stop the JSW project immediately and constitute a judicial committee headed by a sitting supreme court judge to examine all aspects including the forceful eviction of the farmers from their land.
- Compensate the farmers and the labourers affected by the loss of the betel vines.
Tapas Chakraborty (CDRO)
Azad Swati (GASS)
C Bhaskar Rao (OPDR)
31 January 2022
Participant members of CDRO :
- Tapas Chakrabarty (APDR)
- Prabhat Singh Ray (APDR)
- Parthapratim Dasgupta (APDR)
- Shankar Das (APDR)
- Chandrashekhar Chiluka (APCLC)
- Sreemannarayana N. (APCLC)
- Manu (CPDR-TN)
Participant members of GASS :
- Azad Swati
- Debi Rath
Participant members of OPDR and others:
- C. Bhaskar Rao
- R. Ramkumar
- Dipankar Bujan
- Sushma Sahoo (PSSM)
- Subal Sahoo (TUCI)
- Prameela (AIRWO)
- U Basu