By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The firing in Maikanch village of Kashipur, Orissa, on December 16th last year (see also NorWatch 13/00 and 1/01) is referred to as a preplanned and cold blooded massacre by those who are resisting UAIL's proposed bauxite mine and alumina refinery. A couple of thousand tribals from several of the affected villages had gathered in Maikanch village to plan a peaceful roadblock that would take place few days after. The police arrived, allegedly to investigate theft and some fighting that had taken place the day before. They wanted to arrest some of the key tribals who are opposing the mining project. Since all them men in the village were hiding from the police in the hillsides surrounding the village, the police are said to have beaten an old woman with sticks until she fell. At this point the men were coming back from their hidings. The police immediately opened fire. The tribals were killed, seven of the severely, and many more received lighter injuries. Two cows and a buffalo were also killed, standing in the way of the uncontrolled firing the police sent up the hillsides.
NorWatch visited Maikanch in April, four months after the shooting. In the hillside, a memorial stone has been raised next to the ashes of the three bodies. The inscription is not the one you would expect on a toombstone. The words are these: UAIL GO HOME (UAIL means Utkal Alumina International Ltd).
NorWatch met 25 year old Suvarna Jodhia, the widow of on of the victims from the shooting. She is pregnant in her sixth month, having two children already. Today she has severe problems supporting the little family. The compensation of Rs 100.000 she was offered (1 US dollar is worth 46 Rupees) is considered such a low price that she regards it as a contempt towards the memory of her husband, and she has refused t accept it.
Suvarna Jodhia herself says that if it wasn't the company who ordered the firing, then it was done by local politicians in order to clear the way for the company.
- If Utkal Alumina did not do it, the least they can do is to contribute with what they know in the Judicial Inquiry, she says.
In Maikanch we also met Purno Jodhia, a 21-year-old man who was shot through his neck. He says he was hiding in the hillside when the police arrived, but that he was on his way back to the village since he believed that the police had killed an old woman named Dhanei Jodhia, the same woman that was beating with sticks until she fell. When he and the other men came towards the village, the police immediately opened fire and chased the back. He fell to the ground with a pain he had never known before when the bullet hit him. The police later took him to a hospital. The government promised to pay for his treatment, but the failed to do so. His medical expenses were covered by one of the NGOs operating in this area.
Knows who was behind the firing
Retired Chief Justice, Mr Tewatia along with the prominent social activist Swami Agnivesh went to the scene of the firing shortly after to find out what had happened. Their report clearly says that the police action must be regarded as a preplanned and pre-mediated, cold-blooded murder. It also connects Utkal Alumina to the shooting.
UAIL's CEO, Mr Ola Lie, rejects these allegations.
- I take it very personal when allegations such as these are tossed upon us. We did not order that shooting to take place, and we will never ever do anything of that kind, he says.
Also NGOs that NorWatch came in contact with during our visit, are today putting less of the direct responsibility on the company than they did immediately after the firing took place. Today they are saying the company has "created an atmosphere in which politicians ordered the firing to help the company".
NorWatch asked Ola Lie whether he has any idea as to who was behind the police action that led to the firing.
- Yes, I know who it was, he replies.
- Who was it?
- I can not tell you, because I would very much like to continue my work here in India, is Ola Lie's reply.
Asked whether Utkal Alumina will contribute with such evidence in the upcoming Judicial Inquiry announced by Orissa High Court, Ola Lie gives a negative answer. He says they should not be there, since the shooting was none of their responsibility.
- But, three people have been killed. You say you know whom where behind the police action that led to the killings. Is it not you duty to contribute with everything you know, when Orissa High Court has announced an inquiry into this?
- I am not going to participate, says Lie.
'Put on ice'?
Norsk Hydro, one of UAIL's three promoting companies, sent out a press release in January saying that UAIL will from now on reduce its activities. This was later referred with a Norwegian expression: 'The project has been put on ice'. After NorWatch's visit to India, our assumption is that this is, if at all true, a truth that needs to be modified a bit.
The level of activity within Utkal Alumina is low in the project area of the Kashipur block itself. The company has not even bothered to put up new company signs on site when local protestors have taken away the old ones. But there are other significant signs of a high level of activity.
In early May, UAIL will launch an entirely new environmental impact assessment (EIA). It will be sent to the Government of India for approval and will also be available for those stakeholders that would want to comment on it. UAIL has also opened their own website with updated project information, they have launched a company newsletter (Utkal Jyoti), and they are just now finalising a new forty page information package meant for journalists and politicians in India.
These new activities are all signs that activities have not been reduced, only shifted from Kashipur to other areas where decisions concerning the company are being made. The planned mining operation is so controversial that it seems impossible for the company to proceed with their plans without putting a substantial effort into improving their public relations image.
Box: Utkal Alumina
Utkal Alumina International Ltd is owned 45% by Norsk Hydro, who also has appointed the CEO of UAIL. The other partners are Canadian Alcan and Indian Aluminium. Utkal Alumina hopes to be able to build a bauxite mine and an alumina refinery in Kashipur block, Rayagada district, Orissa.
The project has two phases, and is in total estimated to cost about USD 1,8 billion. The local population, mainly tribal groups, has opposed the proposed project sine the plans were publicly known. They will loose their land and fear that their water resources will dry up.
Additionally, the mine itself will be an open pit in their sacred hill, Baphlimali, home of the Baphlimali goddess.
Four days after this article was published through www.norwatch.no, Norsk Hydro issued a news item at www.hydro.no where UAIL's CEO Mr Ola Lie claims he has been badly misquoted by NorWatch. Meanwhile, Indian newspaper Dharitiri had reproduced the content of the NorWatch article, and local actors in Orissa had filed affidavit demanding Mr Lie to be sumoned to the Judicial Inquiry into the firing incident. Ola Lie says in the Norsk Hydro news item that NorWatch has misquoted him in a serious manner, and claims his company never had any other intention than that to cooperate with the Inquiry Commission. NorWatch wants to underline the fact that Lie never contacted our editors and newsletter to correct these quotes, and we feel he has been qouted correctly.
Norwatch Newsletter 5/01