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New report from Christian aid organisation: Criticizes the Utkal project

In 1993, the Stromme Foundation was asked by Norwegian authorities to carry out organisational development and education in Orissa, India. Secretary General Øistein Garcia de Presno has visited the area, and is shocked to experience that Hydro's bauxite project in the area represents the precise contrary interests of those the Stromme Foundation was asked to encourage. The tribals whom the Stromme Foundation was supposed to help, are threatened by devastation of their entire livelihood and culture. Below, NorWatch makes a mention of the report.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
In 1993, the Stromme Foundation was asked by Norwegian authorities to carry out organisational development and education in Orissa, India. Secretary General Øistein Garcia de Presno has visited the area, and is shocked to experience that Hydro's bauxite project in the area represents the precise contrary interests of those the Stromme Foundation was asked to encourage. The tribals whom the Stromme Foundation was supposed to help, are threatened by devastation of their entire livelihood and culture. Below, NorWatch makes a mention of the report.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
Norwatch
 
Øistein Garcia de Presno tells that he received a request from UD (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in Delhi in 1993 to encourage the development of local organisations in Orissa and to help the local population to solve their problems. Therefore, his organisation is involved in education (especially of adult women), health initiatives, and information on the local population's rights. In one of the areas visited by de Presno, the Utkal project was a dominating problem for the local population. de Presno was surprised at Norway's dual role in this region. He emphasizes that the involvement of the Stromme Foundation in Kashipur is indirect.

- One of the organisations we give indirect support to, is Save Baphlimali Movement, a grass roots organisation in Kashipur. They do the most active work on the grass roots level to raise consciousness about and work against the Utkal project.

- The Stromme Foundation (SF) feels that Utkal does not take into consideration that the culture of the Adivasians is threatened by complete devastation. Their means of life disappear. The forced resettlement will snatch them away from their traditions and prevent them from leading the life they want.

He tells about the dialogue he has tried to initiate with the UD (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Hydro after he returned from India. He has had a meeting with Hydro, but he was refused to meet with both the Ministry of Aid and Development Cooperation and with Norsk Hydro at the same time, in order to clearify Norway's various interests in the region.

- I was called and told in speaking that it was impossible to arrange a meeting between the Stromme Foundation, the UD, and Hydro. My guess is that these questions are too sensitive for the government, he says, obviously surprised.
 
"If they build without local support, they have laid the foundation for large future conflicts. Possibly armed conflict. We see it all over India. The indigenous people stand up, and they are tired of losing."
Øistein Garcia de Presno, Secretary General of the Stromme Foundation, to NorWatch 6.8.97

The poorest
The report initially discusses how the Stromme Foundation became involved in Orissa, and explains some important aspects of the situation of the poorest, particularly in the formerly undivided Koraput district. Koraput has now been divided into four smaller districts, one of them is Rayagada, the district where Utkal will be located.

First and foremost, de Presno writes about "PAPs" (Project Affected People), those who are directly affected by the development, but he also mentions those who are indirectly affected. Most PAPs are tribal (adivasies), and for most of them the project implies loss of land. One of the main problems in the area is disagreement on the quality of the soil. Another problem is that the land title documents are not properly updated.

But de Presno's main focus is the poorest among the tribals. Those who do not own land themselves, and are dependent on the common land of the village (CPR - Common Property Resources). When he says that there are no routines for compensating these people according to Indian guidelines, Hydro admits that they have a problem here.

Lack of dialogue between the company and the local population has resulted in lack of trust between the parties. The local population feel that decisions are made over their heads. They are not given access to essential information, and they experience trouble with the police when they present their views.

- The Stromme Foundation clearly sees that there are connections between Utkal and the police, says de Presno.

Unwanted
In the report, de Presno mentions a visit with the district collector in Rayagada (the chief administrative officer of the region). He made an ordinary field visit as a representative of a Norwegian NGO, on the request of Norwegian authorities, and he expected that the UD had adhered to the usual practice of clearing such activities with local authorities.

But the district collector made it clear that both the Stromme Foundation and other organisations hampered the desired development, and that they were unwelcome in the area.

Members of one of the local organisations did not dare to join the meeting with the district collector because they feared to be arrested. de Presno informs that he met several representatives of the villages and organisations in the area who had either been arrested, or were wanted by the police, because of activities related to the business plans.

Hydro has clearly stated that they do not want to get involved in police matters. During a visit to Kashipur in February, Thomas Knutzen in Hydro Aluminium said that if someone in the area breaks the laws, this is a matter between them and the police, and not a matter the developers should get involved in.

The local population, on the other hand, think that there is a clear connection between the arrests and the company.

"I was called and told in speaking that it was impossible to arrange a meeting between the Strømme Foundation, the UD, and Hydro. My guess is that these questions are too sensitive for the government."
Øistein Garcia de Presno, Secretary General of the Stromme Foundation, to NorWatch 6.8.97

The World Bank
The Stromme Foundation (SF) has also compared the World Bank's (WB) guidelines for forced resettlement with Utkal's rehabilitation plan. Point by point, the report comments on how Hydro's plans do not meet the standards of the World Bank:

1. WB: Involuntary forced resettlement must be kept at a minimum.
SF: This appears to be the case in Utkal's first phase. But what about the next phases, which the local population is not informed about?

2. WB: Forcibly resettled people shall be followed up by a project aiming to re-establish their former standard of living, earning power, and level of production.
SF: This quality level has not been met at all, as far as we can see from the limited access to information that we have had with Hydro. Official documents were promised in a meeting with Hydro, and will be sent from Utkal. (SF later received the documents, and they still think that the rehabilitation plan is far from adequate. (Editor's note).

3. WB: Both those in charge of resettling, and those living in the area already, must be involved in the process.
SF: So far this is not happening at all.

4. WB: A time limited rehabilitation plan should be in place.
SF: This far, Norsk Hydro has not shared their plan with the Strømme Foundation, but we understand that Utkal's plan has great deficiencies, and that it primarily serves Utkal's interests. (Hydro has argued that the Strømme Foundation has not seen the plan, but they still do not want to present it. (Editor's note).

5. WB: Guidelines for assessment of and compensation for land etc. which is affected by a project in an area is necessary.
SF: Once again, Utkal is a far step from meeting the World Bank's standard.

Follow-up
The Stromme Foundation will continue their support to 10-12 organisations in Orissa, among other places in Kashipur. And they will continue to raise the issue in the Norwegian political debate.

- We have asked for a meeting with the Ministry of Aid and Development Cooperation, to have clarified the role they want us to play in the area. We also want to know what this Ministry thinks of the attitude of the local authorities towards NGOs, says de Presno.

He adds that he believes Hydro understands the criticism, but is uncertain whether they manage to change the policy of their partners. He is particularly concerned about Indal, which is a state-owned aluminium company with a reputation of being old-fashioned and difficult to deal with in issues of indigenous people.

- Does the Stromme Foundation believe that it is possible to stop the development?

- Let me put it this way: It will be completely wrong to start the construction process in the current situation. Utkal must start over again, with a different approach, and discuss the development of the area on the terms of the local population, de Presno replies.

- It is not impossible that one may then come to a solution which the tribals also can accept. And in that case, it is not desirable to stop the project.

- But if Utkal never offers a solution good enough for the people who live there?

- Then they will have a problem. If they build without local support, they have laid the foundation for large future conflicts. Possibly armed conflict. We see it all over India. The indigenous people stand up for their rights, and they are tired of losing. It is not a good idea of Hydro to get involved in that conflict. Their only hope is to convince their partners that the dialogue with the local population must be taken up again. Then we will see what happens.

Stromme Memorial Foundation
The Stromme Foundation is a Christian aid organisation, founded in 1976. It has its base in Kristiansand, Norway, and offices in four other countries. The organisation runs no projects of its own, but supports local organisations and churches financially and professionally in their own aid work. Poverty orientation is very important in the aid work of the organisation.

- We want to encourage a variety of local initiatives with organisations and private individuals. We want to help people to self-help, and this means things must happen on their own terms, says Secretary General Øistein Garcia de Presno, and continues:

- Of course we bring our own set of values with us, our Christian ethics. But we do not want to impose it on anybody. The Stromme Foundation is not doing active missionary work, it is an aid organisation.

The Stromme Foundation supports several organisations in Orissa professionally and financially, and runs a project for education on people's rights in several villages.

Hydro in India: The Utkal project
The Utkal project includes a bauxite mine and an alumina plant which will be located in Kashipur in the Rayagada district of Orissa. The plant has an investment budget of more than USD 1 billion, and is run by Norsk Hydro and the two Indian partners Indal and Tata. Since 1993, there have been massive protests against the plans in the area, and more than 5000 people will lose land or be forced to resettle during the initial phases of the project. See also NorWatch no. 1/4/10-96 and 8-97.

Norwatch Newsletter 11/97

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