By Morten Rønning
The episode in Maikanch followed trouble the day before, when project supporters visited the village to advocate the industrial project Utkal Alumina. In Maikanch, resistance to the project is total, and the provocation led to riots. Villagers were beat up by "goondas", hired guards brought along by the project supporters. It is assumed that the project supporters had informed the police about their plans in advance.
On the following day, project supporters and two police troops arrived at Maikanch, allegedly to investigate theft and arrest wanted persons. Some 4,000 people were gathered in the village, and most of them fled in fear into the hills. The police allegedly informed those remaining that they had come with orders to shoot, and that neither women nor children would be spared unless the men of the village returned. Policemen physically attacked the women and beat or kicked them, and a 55-year-old woman fainted.
A fight broke out between project supporters and opponents, and some of the villagers got out bows and arrows to defend themselves. The police then fired on the crowds, allegedly in self-defence. The youngest person killed was only 16 years old. Some reports indicate that as many as six people were killed, but only three have been identified. In addition, about fifty people were injured, some of them severely.
The Agragamee organisation is pointed out by project supporters as one of the organisations obstructing the project. In connection with the riots, the power and phone lines to the organisation's office were cut. The project supporters have demanded that the organisation be banned and that its leader, Achyut Das, be arrested. Achyut Das visited Norway in 1997 in connection with the organisation's work against the industrial project.
On several occasions, NorWatch has confronted the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which manages the Norwegian government's 44% ownership of Norsk Hydro, with the situation in Orissa. It is the ministry's expressed policy not to intervene in the company's operations, but they expect the company to behave abroad as it does at home.
According to the Aftenposten daily, the UN body Business Partners for Development is to mediate in the conflict in Orissa. NorWatch is not aware that such mediation is wished for by the local people, but thinks the initiative stems from the companies, as a step towards reducing the level of conflict.
Norsk Hydro is painfully aware that there is local resistance to the project, but has tried to sugar-coat the pill e.g. with promises of social undertakings. In the company's publicity materials on the project, the situation is portrayed as not dramatic, and Norsk Hydro quotes two sources, including the police chief in Rayagada, who claim that the project opponents are paid from outside.
Norsk Hydro's information manager, Thomas Knutzen, tells Aftenposten in connection with the Maikanch killings that the company does not want to work behind police cordons, and that the company depends on local acceptance of the project. Knutzen suggests that the deteriorating situation may put off Norsk Hydro's investment decision for Utkal Alumina, which was scheduled to be made next year. The project has already been delayed for at least six years.
Norsk Hydro in India
Norsk Hydro owns 45% of the Utkal project, which aims to build a bauxite mine and an alumina refinery in the State of Orissa in India. The other partners are Canada's Alcan and India's Indal (now owned by Hindalco). The project's first stage means investments of one billion US dollars, and the second stage is estimated to cost a further USD 800 million. Utkal has been met with massive local resistance, and will lead to the forced relocation of three villages. A further twelve villages will lose lands to which they hold deeds, and tens of villages will suffer reduced access to commons such as pastures and water. The Norwegian government, represented by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is the biggest shareholder in Norsk Hydro, with a 44% share.
Norwatch Newsletter 13/00