By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen,
In January, the large Indian corporation Tata announced that they would act on their threats to pull out of the Utkal project. Officially, it is said that the company withdraws from the project because they have reassessed their strategy and will concentrate on their core areas.
According to the Norwegian financial Daily Dagens Næringsliv (DN), one of Tata's top leaders claims that Tata does not want to take part in a controversial project which does not lead to anything. The newspaper article continues:
"According to DN's understanding, many in Tata think that the postponement is a sign that the project faces problems so large that it will be wound up."
After conversations with Norsk Hydro, NorWatch can establish that Hydro has no plans to give in. Utkal Alumina is working to rearrange the ownership structure after Tata's withdrawal.
At the same time as Utkal is facing problems, the NGOs in the area encounter increased pressure from local authorities. The arrests in early December were only the beginning of a witch-hunt against the opposition of the mining plans.
Several NGOs which are involved in the case, experience initiatives from local authorities to have their activity stopped. Among others WIDA and Agragamee, both organisations NorWatch has co-operated with, risk to lose financial support. This is also a problem for other named organisations in the area, and the Rayagada-based organisation Ankuran, which is working with issues of tribals and forced resettlement, is about to be banned.
In a press release from Amnesty International in London, the conditions of the NGOs are described under the heading "Human rights activists' work threatened because of opposition against industrial projects in Orissa". Amnesty has also contacted the Chief Minister of Orissa in this regard. The organisation does not take side in the Utkal case nor in any of the other project plans of the region in particular, but reminds of its stand that everybody has a right to express their views in a decision-making process.
Amnesty also informs that they will contact several of the involved companies directly, both the operators and the constructors.
The opinion poll about Utkal showed even greater opposition than described in NorWatch 20/98.
We reported that 92% of the respondents were against Hydro's project plans, that the poll was carried out in 40 villages, and that 2569 persons answered the questions. The youth organisation of the Norwegian Church Relief, Changemakers, has now given us new information.
The correct numbers are that 94% of the respondents were against the project. 3776 persons from 38 villages took part in the opinion poll.
Norwatch Newsletter 3/99