By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
On 16 November three representatives of Norsk Hydro and the local project director in Utkal Alumina visited the village Corol in Kashipur. The intention of the visit was to examine the state of the developing programmes which have been launched by the company for parts of the population, and to gather information on people's views on the planned project.
According to information NorWatch has had from PSSP (a local grassroot-organisation working against the proposed project), the delegation from the company met other people in the village than those whom the Indian representative from Utkal wanted the shareholder Hydro to meet. The atmosphere became very tense.
Some project affected people attacked the local project director, Mr. Otta. What really happened in the bout of fighting is not clear. From LEAD, the partner organisation of the Stromme Foundation and the Norwegian Church Aid in the town Jeipur in Orissa, NorWatch is informed that Mr. Krushna Santa from PSSP calmed people down and invited the representatives from Norsk Hydro with him to his village, Kucheipadar.
Hydro Aluminium's public relations officer, Mr. Thomas Knutzen, says that it was people from Kucheipadar who attacked Mr. Otta and a couple of youths from the village Corol, who tried to defend Mr. Otta. The group from Kucheipadar was about 50 people, and they were armed with clubs and bows. Knutzen further says that it was women from Corol who finally managed to save Mr. Otta from "the mob". The representatives from Hydro who were in the area points out Mr. Krushna Santa as leader of "the mob", not as the one who calmed everything down.
The three representatives from Norsk Hydro, Mr. Ivar Oellingrath, Mr. Dag Syltevik, and Mr. Bernt A. Malme, were forced to go with the representatives of Kucheipadar, says Mr. Fredrik Gjernes in the Norwegian Church Aid. Gjernes recently returned from a visit to the area in question in Orissa, India.
When asked whether Hydro's representatives were taken to Kucheipadar against their will, Mr. Thomas Knutzen answers:
- They considered coming along to the village to be the only right thing to do. But it was a tense situation. They did not want the situation to get worse. And they were denied to use their car. They had to walk the two - three kilometres between the two villages.
During the meeting in Kucheipadar, Norsk Hydro allegedly criticized their Indian partners, who on several occasions have misinformed them on the local situation. This is claimed by Krushna Santa, the leader of PSSP, who himself was present at the meeting. Thomas Knutzen rejects this. He describes the incidents in Kucheipadar in the following way:
- Our people had a dialogue which made it possible for them to get safely out of the village again.
During the meeting, the representatives from Norsk Hydro wrote a brief report from the conversation that night in handwriting, which was sent as a letter to the Chief Ministerof Orissa and the District Collector in Rayagada.
The letter, which is signed by the three representatives from Hydro, was as follows:
"The people are not interest in the plant. They want to continue agriculture. The whole Kashipur Block and the project area is against the project. They want the project site shifted. Otta and Mahiyatra (who are employees of the Utkal administration, our note) has unjustified court cases against the people. Many people are arrested. Cases must be withdrawn. Suspension of government servants without case must be lifted. No police charges must be made against man, women or cheildren. Payment has been done by threatening. We surveyed the project area, the total population is not interested. The people want to express view and listen to ours. We have heard their views: They are for development, but against industry. Development should be agricultural."
In spite of the strong language of the letter, Mr. Knutzen rejects that it implies that the company has changed their attitudes.
- The letter is a report of the conversations our people had with Kucheipadar that day. It sums up some demands from the village which we have heard earlier, he says.
- The attack on Mr. Otta has been reported to the police. It was a physical attack on one of our project employees, and we consider that to be very serious. It is absolutely serious, says Knutzen, when asked what the company is doing now.
- And the day after the attack our people met the District Collector. Now some policemen are reportedly stationed in the area. Police presence has increased.
However, Knutzen emphasizes that the meeting with the District Collector had been planned in advance, and that Hydro on 15 November also met representatives of the NGO Agragamee.
Hydro states that "certain groups" use pure violence. This not only hampers the project, it also prevents people from other villages to exercise their democratic rights.
Majority against Utkal
This autumn SODAN (South Orissa Development Alternatives Network, a network of NGOs in the area) has carried out an extensive opinion poll in 40 villages in the area. Mr. Fredrik Gjernes in the Norwegian Church Aid has visited LEAD, the organisation that did most of the work on the survey.
- 92% of those asked have taken a stand against Utkal's development plans, says Gjernes.
- Further, 2% say that they can accept the project if one through a dialogue agrees on changing the project, and 6% say that they support the plans, says Gjernes, and adds:
- The survey was carried out in 40 villages which claim that they are being affected by the plans, either because they have to move, because the lose land, have reduced access to water, or other effects, like pollution. A total of 2569 persons participated in the opinion poll.
However, Gjernes reminds us of how the survey came into being.
- It was not a neutral party, like Statistics Norway, that carried out the survey. It was a NGO. It is an organisation in which we have confidence, but it is still not neutral.
Yet, Gjernes thinks that the survey clearly shows that the opposition against the development is overwhelming. And if the company does not accept the results, this only illustrates the need for a neutral party to carry out a regular opinion poll.
"No police charges must be made against man, women or children. Payment has been done by threatening. We surveyed the project area, the total population is not interested. The people want to express view and listen to ours. We have heard their views: They are for development, but against industry. Development should be agricultural."
Ivar Oellingrath, Dag Syltevik, and Bernt A. Malme in Norsk Hydro in a letter to the Orissa authorities.
"If the company return to establish the project, either they will die, or we will die.
Under no circumstances the people will leave their land."
People in the village Kucheipadar about the Utkal project on the 16 November 1998.
The Utkal project
Norsk Hydro is the major shareholder with 40% in the Utkal project, which aims at building a bauxite mine and an alumina plant in the Indian state Orissa. The other partners are Canadian Alcan and the Indian companies Indal and Tata. The project has an investment budget of one billion US dollars. Utkal has faced massive local opposition, and the project will result in forced movement of three villages. In addition, twelve villages will lose land of which they have titles, and tens of villages will have reduced access to common resources, like grazing land and water.
Norwatch Newsletter 20/98