13 June, 2011
The people and especially the children of Dhinkia, Gadkujang, Govindpur and Nuagaon villages in Jagatsinghpur District in Odisha have shown the nation how people matter over governments’ plans for development of business corporations at their cost. The children “illegally” lay down on the hot earth under in the blazing summer heat and refused to move to allow entry to government officials to take over forest land and their villages for the POSCO mega-project. This was in the face of around 1,000 policemen armed with lathis, tear gas and rifles threatening dire consequences if the villages were not vacated, making loudspeaker announcements every 15 minutes. Apprehending night or dawn attack by the police, the people have also been maintaining overnight vigils. This situation prevails not for one or two days but for two weeks, during which normal life in the villages is completely disrupted; the area is essentially in a “state of war”. But the people have been strictly peaceful throughout and have been able to withstand the Odisha government’s terror tactics that work towards the strategy of acquiring the land for POSCO in terms of the MoU signed in 2005.
What could be the reason for such strong-arm methods by government and such determined and desperate resistance by the people? The Odisha state government, after clearly violating the Forest Rights Act, and receiving what is essentially an illegal environmental clearance wrongfully accorded by the Union government, is bent upon acquiring land for the POSCO project which is in the “public interest”. Thus, the people who joined together to block government entry to acquire forest land were declared an unlawful assembly subject to dispersal by use of police force. “Govt officials who are duty bound to acquire forest land here are being prevented. This is unlawful and immoral and so we will do whatever is lawful”, said Police Superintendent Devdutt Singh, going so far as to comment on the morality of the resistance. This is topsy-turvy justice and law, implemented by a callous and immoral bureaucracy and police under the leadership of corrupt politicians.
The present situation is a direct result of the environmental clearance accorded by the Union government. This disregards the findings of several independent expert committees appointed by the Union Environment and Forest Minister himself, which recommended that clearances granted must be cancelled as they were obtained by fraud and in violation of various forest rights, forest protection and environmental laws and norms. Now the Minister “hope[s] that the state government will not use this clearance as a license for forcible acquisition of land”, and that the intent and purpose of the clearance was not to allow forcible acquistion of land.
The Minister and all manner of elected and appointed government officials are perhaps under the impression that the heroic children of Dhinkia, Gadkujang, Govindpur and Nuagaon villages are unaware of the organized fraud that governments have committed to give the land to POSCO. It would surprise them to know that all details of the murky deal are known even to 6-year olds, because their future depends upon it. They would not lie in the hot sun and keep vigil at night and face armed police just because their parents required it. These future citizens of Odisha and India are asking, “Is this what development means – robbing thousands of their lands and livelihoods and threatening lakhs with water shortage and other catastrophes to suit the needs of wealthy corporations?”. They are well aware of government’s land-grabbing actions elsewhere in Odisha and India.
The writing has been on the wall for many years and was boldly visible in Nandigram. Now the writing is redundant; the action is here. That the action is by children is not merely a call for justice and adherence to law by the law makers, it is a battle-cry that accompanies the charge on government, which is seen as their enemy. Can anybody guarantee that today’s peaceful resistance by children will remain so, as they grow up in an ambience of outright terrorism by government?
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere retired as Additional DG (Discipline & Vigilance) from AG’s Branch, Army HQ, New Delhi. He is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org