By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
After the attack on the representatives of Utkal and Norsk Hydro 16 November 1998, several accusations were put forward against Krushna Saunta. Saunta is the leader of the local population's organisation, the PSSP, which works to stop Hydro's bauxite mine and alumina plant in the Indian state Orissa. On 16 November the local population from the villages Korol and Kucheipadar attacked the Indian head of project for Utkal, and three representatives from Norsk Hydro were taken to the village Kucheipadar against their will. (Read more in NW 20/98 and 21/98).
Krushna Saunta has been singled out by Hydro as the person carrying the main responsibility for the incidents. This is strongly denied by the NGOs in the area and by PSSP themselves. But Saunta is active in the work against the Utkal project, and has on several occasions participated in popular meetings and protest demonstrations against the company.
The list of charges is long, and Saunta has been charged with violating a total of twelve different sections of the law. The most serious one regards attempted murder. Saunta was immediately suspended from his post in the Mining Irrigation Department of Orissa on 27 November, without having been subject to any formal procedures. William Stanley in Documentation and Information on Development (DID) Center in Orissa thinks this is directly related to the charges which have been put against him.
Along with Saunta, Ranjan Mahji was also arrested. He has also participated in the work against Utkal, but the charge against him is less serious. They were both arrested on 15 December, and will probably be imprisoned until sometime in January 1999.
The detentions are the latest of many indications of the bad relationship between the company and the local population. At the same time, Indian newspapers inform that the partners of the Utkal consortium are having arguments between them. Hydro is the major shareholder in Utkal with 40% of the shares. The other shareholders are the Indian companies Tata and Indal, and the Canadian company Alcan.
The Indian financial newspaper The Economic Times writes that Tata, which is India's largest industrial company, recently seriously considered whether they should opt out of the consortium. The alleged reason was dissatisfaction with the slow propulsion of the project, as the start of construction has now been postponed until the year 2000.
After two marathon rounds of telephone conferences, the partners reportedly agreed to continue, writes The Economic Times.
It may seem decisive for Utkal to have Tata participating in this phase of the project. To begin with, the major shareholders of the consortium were Indian. Today the relative strength is reversed. After Alcan bought up shares and gained control over Indal, the Canadians in reality control 40% of Utkal, the same percentage as Hydro. If Tata had opted out now, Utkal might be perceived as a company lacking close ties to the Indian community.
Norwatch Newsletter 23/98