By Morten Rønning
The three Norwegian NGOs support the local population in their fight to have the Utkal project halted, and fear that construction work on the project is about to begin. If implemented, the project would require forced resettlement of three villages, and additionally expropriate the lands of several thousand farmers in the project area in Orissa. During the process of implementing the plans, the local population has suffered very serious encroachments and physical abuse by the authorities and the implementing company. As the Norwegian state is the majority shareholder in Norsk Hydro, it may raise the problems related to the project on the company's general assembly in April.
State secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Harriet Berg, says that the people of the project area will get a reply to their letter to the Norwegian authorities. When receiving the letter, she also indicated that the authorities have a dialogue going with Norsk Hydro on the matter.
At the same time, she also put emphasis on the importance for the government to stay ahead of developments - to be able to influence the companies before decisions on future investments are made. The government is not very keen on using its power as majority owner to direct its companies in concrete issues concerning human rights.
The three Norwegian NGOs pointed to the fact that time is running short if one wishes to improve conditions in the Utkal project. The organisations fear that construction activities may start in the immediate future, and that there might be danger of conflicts with the local population if or when this happens.
In January, NorWatch visited some of the affected villages. On the occasion, the people asked us to take their letter and hand it over to the Norwegian government on their behalf. At the same time, great distress was expressed that in spite of the fact that the Norwegian state, through Norsk Hydro, is planning to make money in Rayagada, so far not one single Norwegian politician has been interested in visiting the area.
A similar letter, addressed to the Minister of Trade and Industry at the time, Jens Stoltenberg, in September 1996 is, after several reminders to successive governments, still put away in government archives - unanswered.
Norwatch Newsletter 7/98