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Displaced on road with dead

Jan. 3: As wails of those the dead left behind rose from a highway in Kalinga Nagar, a political outcry gathered steam within and without Orissa against industrialisation through land acquisition.

“Naveen Patnaik has killed my son for his steel plant. Why spare me'” asked Nagi Barla, breaking down over the bullet-ridden body of her 25-year-old son, Sudam, laid out on a charpoy that was placed in the middle of the Chandikhol-Duburi road.

Three other bodies, among the 13 killed in clashes triggered by complaints of inadequate compensation for land acquired by the Orissa government for a Tata Steel plant, were also spread out in the same fashion.

The highway, 110 km from Bhubaneswar, is Orissa’s ore lifeline without which the raw material from the Keonjhar mine will not reach plants in the state.

As soon as curfew was lifted today, the tribals blocked the highway at four places.

“We would not give up a square inch of land, be it homestead or agricultural. Naveen should come here and speak to us,” demanded Siddheswara Banara of Masakhia village, keeping a vigil over the four bodies.

The tribals eventually agreed to hand over the bodies for post-mortem after a few Opposition leaders met them. But the road blockade was continuing till late tonight.

The tribals were enraged by revelations that the state government had sold 2,000 acres to the Tatas for Rs 3.35 lakh an acre last year but passed on only Rs 76,000 an acre to the original landowners. The current market rate for an acre here is Rs 5 lakh.

The Rs 76,000 was meant only for title holders, who account for 20 per cent of the tribals in the area. A job for each displaced family, a home allowance of Rs 50,000 and Rs 5,000 as aid for a temporary shelter were promised, but not many received the assistance, NGO activists said.

“It is easier for the government to escape responsibility by branding the unlettered encroachers and pay a meagre compensation,” an activist said. Such allegations have turned the controversy into a political issue with several parties jumping into the fray and seeking a rethink.

The CPM today demanded a “full-scale review of the policies of allotting industrial projects and mining contracts on the traditional lands of the Adivasi people”. The Congress high command is sending a delegation to Kalinga Nagar.

The Orissa government has ordered a judicial probe into yesterday’s firing.

In Jharkhand ' another state betting big on industrialisation that needs huge tracts of land ' political parties, church leaders and academics warned that the state could witness bloodshed because of the acquisition policy.

 

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