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More incidents of violence related to the Utkal project: Workers mistreat protestors

On March 29 new demonstrations were held against the alumina companies in Orissa. The demonstrations were met by people who used violence to stop the protests against the Utkal consortium, where semi-governmentally owned Norsk Hydro is the major shreholder, and their competitor L&T. Two persons employed by the Utkal project physically maltreated a visiting protestor at the previous Utkal Alumina office in Tikri. The two have now been fired, to show that the company dissociates itself from the incident.
- The event is yet another sign that the tension in the project area is deplorably high, something which Utkal is trying to prevent, says Public relations officer at Hydro Aluminium, Mr. Thomas Knutzen.

Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.

On March 29 new demonstrations were held against the alumina companies in Orissa. The demonstrations were met by people who used violence to stop the protests against the Utkal consortium, where semi-governmentally owned Norsk Hydro is the major shreholder, and their competitor L&T. Two persons employed by the Utkal project physically maltreated a visiting protestor at the previous Utkal Alumina office in Tikri. The two have now been fired, to show that the company dissociates itself from the incident.
- The event is yet another sign that the tension in the project area is deplorably high, something which Utkal is trying to prevent, says Public relations officer at Hydro Aluminium, Mr. Thomas Knutzen.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
Norwatch

On the 100th anniversary of Shri. Laxshman Naik's birth, the local people affected both by the Norsk Hydro alumina project and the competing company L&T, arranged a joint demonstration. Naik was a renowned freedom fighter for the indigenous peoples of the state.

Both Utkal and L&T are being accused of having paid local 'goondas' (hired mob) with booze, money and meat, and given them instructions to stop the demonstrations. It is estimated that about one hundred persons took part in this. The demonstration was to be held in the city of Kashipur, and people on their way there were physically hindered by the goondas. At least seven women and five men on their way to the demonstration were physically maltreated during the confrontations in Kashipur.

Mistreated with a knife
Also two visiting demonstrators from Puri and Bhubaneshwar were maltreated by the mob. The two of them, Shri. Rabi Mishra and Shri. Senapathi were arrested and taken in custody by the police.

After this, the planned meeting against the mining companies was cancelled, and people fled Kashipur. The police put Senapathi and Mishra on a bus headed for Kashipur. Mishra got off the bus in Tikiri, to go to Kucheipadar. According to our information, goondas allegedly hired by Utkal, at this stage seized Mishra and brought him to a building in Tikiri, which until recently had been used by Utkal Alumina as office fascilities. Here they cut off his hair, beard and moustache. Later he was driven to Judakabala, some 15 kilometres away, from where he had to walk his way back on foot. This information was given by Documentation and Information on Development (DID) Center in Orissa in a fax to NorWatch.

Fired
In a written statement to NorWatch, Norsk Hydro describes the incident thus:

"We understand that on March 29, activists supporting the project forced a project opponent to a building in "The railroad colonly" in Tikiri village, where Utkal previously rented a few small houses. The man had his hair and beard cut off, but from what we understand, he was not harmed in any other way.

Some of those who took part in the incident were hired by Utkal to do casual labour for the project."

Norsk Hydro also assures that neither Utkal nor any of the company's collaborators did initiate or have anything to do with the incident, and adds: "Those who were responsible for the abuse on March 29 have therefore had their assignments with Utkal suspended, and the company will implement measures to ensure that persons working for them behave properly."

Mishra says he was forced to write that he is himself a goonda, that he knows how to make bombs, that he knows how to use firearms, and that he is paid Rs 2.000,- a month by the secretary of the NGO Agragamee.

While the maltreatment of Mishra was going on, close to 400 people gathered in the city of Nuagan to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Shri. Laxshman Naik's birth. At the meeting, speeches were held on the topic of Mishra's and Senapathi's 'disappearance', and on the activities of the mining companies. After the meetings, the 'disappearances' were reported to the police in Tikiri, and the crowd from the meeting moved towards Dhodokawala junction. On their way to Dhodokawala junction, they were yet again attacked by goondas, and their clothes were torn asunder, according to the DID Center.

Asked whether Utkal Alumina, who has now fired the two culprits, will publicly dissociate themselves from the the incident and apologize what happened to Rabi Mishra, Mr. Thomas Knutzen replies:

- Just like we regret what happened, I assume that they may do so, without implying that they assume responsibility for the incident. However, I do not yet know what the company is doing or has done locally.

- In accordance with what the Ministry has said earlier, and assuming that the information is correct, I can say that the Ministry finds the incident regrettable, says Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Mr. Jan Farberg.

- Is the Ministry going to do anything at all, more concretely, about this matter?
- To that question, I will refer to what the Minister and the State Secretary have said previously, that we will keep in touch with Norsk Hydro on this matter, Farberg rounds off.

Attempted dialogue
In a letter dated April 19, the Land Aquisition Officer in the Rayagada-district of Laxsman Majhi in the Kucheipadar village, mentions that the Revenue Divisional Commissioner has called a meeting on April 22 at the District Collectorate's office, the Utkal-project being the agenda.

People from several of the affected villages participated, along with people from the local authorities and the Utkal project.

NorWatch has been in contact with people both in favor of and opposing the project, and there is a general agreement that the initiative to dialogue taken by the local authorities is a step in the right direction to reduce the conflict level in the future. However, no conclusions on how the process should proceed were drawn.

Towards the the end of the meeting, the project opponents handed over an extensive memorandum in the local Orya language with strong criticism of the Utkal project, to the local authorities.

Norwatch Newsletter 9/98

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