By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The later months have been hectic for the partners in the Utkal consortium. They have been subject to increasing pressure from the affected people of Kashipur, the location area of the proposed alumina refinery. Furthermore, the Canadian company Alcan has almost finished negotiating an agreement to join in as a partner in Utkal. Substantial shares of Indal has been bought up by Alcan and Sterlite. On Thursday April 23, Norsk Hydro will have their annual General assembly. The Norwegian Liberal Party, lead by the Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry who is also formally the owner of Norsk Hydro, has passed a statement in which they request that the project should be subject to closer investigations regarding the human rights conditions. Simultaneously, the company has hired the local contractor OCC to build a 'boundary wall' around the planned factory site.
According to the plans, access to areas currently used for food production, will also be cut off by this wall.
When OCC arrived at Kashipur to start surveying on March 10, they were met with strong protests by a group of demonstrators from Kucheipadar and other villages in the area. The demonstrators were, from what NorWatch has learned, very aggressive, and the OCC chose to halt their work and withdraw from the area. According to our sources, the police were in the area, but did not interfere.
Speaking with NorWatch on the telephone, Tor Steinum of Norsk Hydro confirms the incidents on March 10. However, he is unwilling to comment on whether the police was present. He is also reluctant to tell which is the new date set by the company for starting construction work.
Violation of rights
Secretary-general of The Stromme Foundation Øistein Garcia de Presno, finds the latest development in the case surprising.
- It is puzzling how Norsk Hydro continues totally neglecting and not informing the local population and the general public. This also applies to Norwegian organizations that have taken an interest in the case. To begin construction work in this manner, without giving prior information, is yet another violation of local people's rights. Hydro has said, that using middlemen who used force and trickery to make people sell their land to the company, was a mistake. But now, by starting construction work without consulting the local population, they use the same kind of methods once again.
- This is merely another form of force, continues de Presno, clearly agitated. He also expresses great concern for the increased level of violence in the area.
- Hydro is well aware of the resistance against the project among a large portion of the population, and they know that this may lead to new violations of human rights and an unnecessary escalation of the conflict in the area. The only way to secure human rights, is to postpone the project until an agreement with the local population is achieved, de Presno rounds off.
The Utkal Project
When the last negotiations concerning ownership are done, Hydro will be the largest shareholder, with a 40% share. The other partners are Canadian Alcan and Indian Indal and Tata. The project includes a bauxite mine and an alumina refinery, with total investments amounting to one billion US dollars. Utkal has been met with massive local resistance, and implies forced resettlement of three villages. An other twelve villages lose land to which they have legal claims, and a great number of villages will have their access to common resources, like pasture and water, restricted.
Norwatch Newsletter 8/98