By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The building was intended to be a model to show to the local population who will be forced to resettle as a result of the project. Utkal wanted to build a house to be able to discuss with the people who will have to move what the houses should look like, and to see whether they were happy with the proposal.
After a meeting in Kucheipadar, a group of people decided to smash the house. It was seen a symbol of the forces wishing to ruin the area. They brought sledgehammers and other tools, and smashed the unfinished house to bits and pieces. About 200 people allegdely participated in the direct action, but only 15 were charged for the incident afterwards.
- Only the roof was left to build, Thomas Knutzen, PRO in Hydro Aluminium admits.
- It is regrettable that this happened, but we achieved much of our end anyway. We showed the nearly finished house to people from the village for whom this house was meant, the village Koroll, he says.
A threat to livelihood
- We are three NGOs in the area, and we have also been accused of taking part in this action, says Achyut Das, leader of the local organisation Agragamee.
- These are false accusations. People in Kucheipadar did this themselves. They are angry. But the authorities and the mining company are trying to shift the focus of the conflict from the indigenous people to the organisations. For people in Kucheipadar and other villages in this area, this is really a struggle for livelihood, Das continues.
NorWatch has reported on the conflict in Orissa earlier (NW 1, 4, and 10/96, 8/97), and has focused on both environmental problems, forced resettlement of people, and lacking compensation. The village Kucheipadar is the largest village which will be affected by the Utkal project, and it is also the village which will lose most land. In spite of this, the houses will be left where they are. People here consider themselves as "indirectly resettled", because they lose so much of their means of livelihood to the developers, that they can no longer survive in the traditional way.
Last autumn, more than 5000 people from Kashipur signed a letter to then Norwegian Minister of Industry and Energy, begging him to withdraw the company from the project. But Hydro has defused the issue, claiming that their relationship with the local people is improving.
The sabotage against the model house is a strong reminder that the developers are still unwanted by the local population.
"For people in Kucheipadar and other villages in this area, this is really a struggle for livelihood".
Achyut Das, director of Agragamee 24.9.97
Norwatch Newsletter 13/97