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Firepower for development defenders

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 13: Development should not be hindered in the name of “so-called environment protection”, a judicial commission that probed the death of three tribals protesting against an alumina project in Orissa has concluded.

High court judge P.K. Mishra, who inquired into the police firing in Rayagada on December 16, 2000, found the shooting “appropriate”, though he added that the use of force was “excessive in nature”. Mishra, who was with Orissa High Court earlier, now serves Madras High Court.

More than 19 rounds were fired on a mob which was protesting against the setting up of an alumina plant at Kashipur in Rayagada. However, the commission has not recommended any punitive action against the police department.

The Orissa government had granted lease to Utkal Alumina International Ltd for extracting bauxite from the Baphilimali hills in Kashipur. The Rs 4,500-crore project envisaged setting up a plant to refine the bauxite.

Orissa possesses 69.7 per cent of India’s bauxite with the KBK (Koraput, Bolangir and Kalahandi) districts accounting for most of the deposits. The Baphilimali hills are expected to have about 19 crore tonnes of bauxite.

The project ran into opposition in the tribal-dominated Kashipur following fears that it would have an adverse impact on the environment.

On December 15, 2000, a group of tribal protesters was assaulted by alleged supporters of the project. The next day, when the tribals assembled near Maikanch village in protest, policemen deployed there opened fire, killing three.

“While there should not be senseless destruction of environment, particularly the forest, we cannot afford to remain backward merely for the sake of so-called environmental protection. A balance has to be struck between the need for growth and the necessity for protection of environment,” the judge noted in his exhaustive report.

“The extraction of bauxite need not have any significant adverse impact on the environment, particularly relating to protection of water, as is evident from the mining operations undertaken by Nalco at Damonjodi (in Koraput),” the report said.

“The plan submitted by an industry need to be implemented carefully and there should be proper monitoring of the scheme. Instead of trying to export minerals as such, it would be more beneficial if manufacturing units are established, which would give rise to more scope for employment and reaping of more benefits of industrialisation in the long run.”

The synopsis of the report will be tabled in the next meeting of the state cabinet for approval.

Utkal Alumina was supposed to source bauxite through open-cast mining from Baphilimali. But the project ran aground after the firing.

A Norwegian company, Hydro Aluminium, that held a 45 per cent stake in the company, sold it to Birla-owned Indian Aluminium Company and Alcan of Canada in January 2001. After Hydro’s exit, Indal is the majority shareholder in Utkal Alumina with a 55 per cent stake while Alcan controls 45 per cent.

The commission has noted that “there is a crying need to sensitise all police officers, particularly those posted in tribal areas, regarding the attitude of the tribal people”. The police must work in an impartial manner and shake off the perception that they work under the influence of political masters or for the rich and the influential, particularly in comparatively less developed areas, the commission said.

The commission urged the government to take measures to ensure that dedicated officers are posted in underdeveloped areas by giving incentives.

It noted that “lack of concern among government servants posted in under-developed areas have created space for NGOs”. NGOs can at best supplement the government agencies and not supplant them, the commission added.

The panel has also suggested a better rehabilitation package. The government should explore the possibility of giving land in lieu of land taken.

It has recommended compensation of Rs 1,50,000 to the family of each of the deceased, Rs 25,000 each for the injured and Rs 5,000 for the cattle killed in the police firing. The panel has also suggested Rs 2,500 each for two women beaten up by the police and Rs 7,500 each to harijan colonies in the village.

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