Not bowed down

Not bowed down at least 12 tribals and a policeman were killed in a clash at the Kalinga Nagar steel complex in Orissa's Jajpur district on January 2, 2006. The state government has ordered a judicial inquiry. Nearly 800 tribals from nearby villages were protesting the construction of a boundary wall for a proposed mega steel plant by Tata Steel when the violence broke out. Protestors also blocked the Daitari-Paradip express highway and dug up the asphalt.

The protest stemmed from a dissatisfaction with the rehabilitation and resettlement package offered by the state government. The threat of displacement without any alternative livelihood has stirred tribal resentment.

Villagers and members of citizen groups who rushed to the spot allege that 25 armed police battalions (around 700 policemen) started the fracas. But the police claim they fired, lathi-charged and shot tear-gas shells only after the tribals pelted brickbats and shot arrows at them and the construction crew.

Steeled for conflict For over three years now, tribals in Jajpur have been fighting against the state's attempts to acquire their lands for steel companies. In the 1990s, the government had used the Land Acquisition Act to acquire 4,856 hectares rich in ores of iron and chrome deposits in Kalinga Nagar. But due to inadequate survey and land rights settlement, most tribals did not receive proper financial compensation. They were also not offered adequate rehabilitation options as compensation for the loss of the land that was their sole means of sustenance.

Going for broke After the Kalinga Nagar clash, the tribals have demanded a Rs 20 lakh compensation package for families of the dead, Rs 10 lakh for each injured person and an immediate withdrawal of all projects in the area. They also want the immediate suspension of Jajpur district collector, superintendent of police and the additional district magistrate who were present during the firing and the resignation of the government. But the state government has offered only Rs 1 lakh as compensation for the dead.

The killings are "nothing short of a massacre' and "and a blatant violation of human rights,' says Pradip Prabhu of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of tribal and forest community organisations from 10 states. Opposition leaders, including the Congress and the Left parties demanded Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik's resignation. A statewide shutdown was observed on January 7, 2006, to protest against the killings.

Tata refuses responsibility Meanwhile, Tata Steel has said it had "nothing to do' with the incident. The issue was handled by the state government and "we were nowhere in sight', J J Irani, director of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, told reporters in Bangalore. He added that Tata Steel needed the government to clear people off the land before it could begin working on the plant.

Clashes over land rights are not new to Orissa. However, this incident happened when the state is trying to attract big investments from the steel and aluminium sectors. Investment experts fear such outbreaks might scare investors away from the state.

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