Bhubaneswar, Jan. 2: Orissa, part of the eastern triumvirate nursing a dream of development through rapid industrialisation, ran into a seething wall today as fears of displacement triggered a clash that left nine tribals and a police constable dead.
The violence in Jajpur district spiralled after hundreds of tribals armed with bows and arrows asked contractors to stop constructing the compound wall on a land the Tatas had acquired for a Rs 15,400-crore six-million-tonne steel plant.
The Tatas and the Jindals are among several steel companies that are setting up units in the 12,000-acre Kalinga Nagar Industrial Complex.
Although the government acquired the plot in 1992, the tribals are yet to vacate the land and have been complaining of poor compensation and lack of employment prospects in the upcoming units.
The backlash could have a bearing on other states, especially Jharkhand, which along with Orissa and Bengal, is fuelling hopes of a massive industrial resurgence in eastern India. Land acquisition, a sensitive subject worldwide, is key to large business initiatives in all three states.
Tribal leaders in Jharkhand have already seized on the Orissa clash and vowed to intensify their agitation against “outsiders” setting up units in the state.
The clash is unlikely to derail the industrialisation drive in the three states but such flare-ups could turn big projects into a political hot potato. Political leaders, such as Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik ' the industrialisation drive was his brainchild ' will then find it difficult to take an unambiguous stand on investments.
Orissa police, who were accompanying the contractors, said the 800-strong tribals threw stones at them. “We lobbed teargas shells, but they just wouldn’t move,” said director general Suchit Das. Some of the injured tribals, however, said they retaliated after the police fired on them.
The tribals, from villages around the industrial complex, then allegedly turned violent and hacked constable Gopa Mohanty to death.
“As the situation was threatening to spiral out of control, our forces had to open fire,” Das said, adding that the “situation was tense but under control”.
In Jamshedpur, a Tata Steel official said his company had been given the land by the Orissa government. The villagers, added corporate communications chief Sanjay Choudhry, were given compensation and a rehabilitation package was also announced.
“On Sunday, January 1, the government gave us the go-ahead to start work on the premises which we did today,” he said.
Choudhry said his company is awaiting clearance from the state government to restart construction.
At the secretariat, Patnaik described the police firing as unfortunate and announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each for relatives of those killed. He has also sought a report on the incident.
Opposition parties called the police firing inhuman and demanded Patnaik’s resignation.
NGO activists say Jajpur tribals are feeling cheated as they have not been adequately compensated for the loss of land. A tribal-friendly rehabilitation package prepared in consultation with the UNDP has been gathering dust since July this year.