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Armed police clears the way for Utkal: Police violence and mass detentions

Once again there are reports of police actions to clear the way for Norsk Hydro's mining project in India, Utkal Alumina. The project affected people in the village Kucheipadar blocked the road leading into the construction area and was met by an extensive action from armed policemen. The offices of the NGO Agragamee were raided, and several staff members were arrested. Numerous police forces are now stationed in the area. And Utkal is assembling for a board meeting in Oslo to discuss the situation.
Once again there are reports of police actions to clear the way for Norsk Hydro's mining project in India, Utkal Alumina. The project affected people in the village Kucheipadar blocked the road leading into the construction area and was met by an extensive action from armed policemen. The offices of the NGO Agragamee were raided, and several staff members were arrested. Numerous police forces are now stationed in the area. And Utkal is assembling for a board meeting in Oslo to discuss the situation.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
Norwatch

On the 5th of June the police raided the road block which had been set up by the local population outside the village Kucheipadar in Kashipur. Kucheipadar is the largest of the villages which are affected by the planned development of a bauxite mine and a new alumina refinery, in which Norsk Hydro is the major investor.

The population in Kucheipadar resisted detention, and the result was a physical confrontation between the residents of the village and the police, says William Stanley from DID Centre, a documentation centre focusing on development issues in Orissa. A letter from the inhabitants of Kashipur addressed to Utkal's board meeting confirms the incident.

Armed police
Utkal, in which the participating companies are Norsk Hydro, Indal, Tata, and Alcan, is not the only consortium planning bauxite- and alumina projects in this part of the state Orissa. Two other projects, with different owners, are planned simultaneously, and there is a race to finish first. It is not clear whether there is a market for so many new projects at the same time. Getting started involves political tension, as Hydro has experienced.

To protect the mining companies, the local police force has been strengthened with 500 armed men. DID Centre and the NGO Agragamee inform that around 70 of them are responsible for clearing the way for the Utkal consortium. A group of policemen are stationed in the village Kucheipadar.

Agragamee, an Indian development organisation, urges the population to use non-violent methods.

But around 0300 in the morning on the 16th of June, armed police raided one of Agragamee's local offices, and an hour later they raided the organisation's main office. The operation has been described as very rough, and some of the employees were beaten. Eight staff members were arrested, and five of them were imprisoned for several days before they were released on bail. The charges, which Agragamee strongly rejects, were use of violence, rebellious behaviour, and suspicion of incitement to riot against the mining companies.

Construction start-up
- The local administration wants to support all of the three mining companies (Utkal, L&T, and Aditya Aluminium) in their work. This means that they support Utkal, especially in the work to lay down the foundation-stone and erect a boundary wall, writes Achyut Das, leader of Agragamee, as a response to what his organisation considers the reason behind the increased police presence.

The boundary wall he refers to (mentioned in NW 4 and 8-98), will fence off the core plant area on the plain called "The rice bowl". It will protect the company from unwanted disruptions in its work, and at the same time it will cut off the local population's access to cultivated land.

Board meeting in Oslo
For the first time, Utkal's board assembled for meetings in Oslo on the 24 and 25 June. Among other things, the relationship with the project affected people (PAPs) and the rehabilitation process were thoroughly discussed at the meetings. Representatives from the Norwegian Church Aid and their youth organisation ChangeMakers, together with the Future is Our Hands and the Stromme Foundation, met with Utkal's board. The NGOs presented a letter to the board.

The organisations expressed their views on violence against the PAPs, poor compensation arrangements and lack of communication with the affected people. In addition, they asked Utkal to discontinue propulsion of the project until they, through a dialogue with the PAPs could possibly come to agreement on what the project should look like.

The Utkal-partners agreed that there is a lack of communication with the affected people. Additional to the fact that there are also some formalities to be taken care of before an investment decision can be made, the company also acknowledged that the rehabilitation plan must be more in place than it is today before the project is continued.

Rejection
Utkal rejects that a police action took place on the 5th of June in Kucheipadar.
However, the action against Agragamee and the detentions on the 16 June were confirmed by the company, but they refused to give further comments on this.

Hydro Aluminium's PRO, Mr. Thomas Knutzen, writes in a fax to NorWatch that the company knows of the stationing of a police force in the area, but he denies that the company has a hand in financing it. He further writes that from what Utkal knows, the police force has been withdrawn from Utkal's project area. Yet, he explains its presence in the following way:

"One should be aware of the major festival season which is starting around this time, and which normally attracts large crowds of people. A certain increase in police activity in connection with these festivals is normal."

This makes a glaring contrast to Agragamee, which describes Kashipur today as a "war zone". According to Agragamee, the force in Utkal's project area has not yet been withdrawn.
The Norwegian organisations which met with Utkal's board on the 25 June asked the company to urge the police to withdraw from the area. Chairman of the board, Mr. Ivar Oellingrath from Norsk Hydro, expressed that this would be difficult. Knutzen writes in his fax on the 26 June that Utkal advises against escalation of the police force.
 
"One should be aware of the major festival season which is starting around this time, and which normally attracts large crowds of people. A certain increase in police activity in connection with these festivals is normal."
Thomas Knutzen, Hydro Aluminium

Norwatch Newsletter 14/98

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