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The new battles

Last week, at Jagatsinghpur near Paradip port in Orissa, a tense stand-off developed between 12 platoons of the state armed police and 4000 families belonging to three gram panchayats located in the middle of the proposed project area for the 12 million tonne steel-making complex of the South Korean steel giant, POSCO.

The villagers are resisting the acquisition of their land for the project and have erected bamboo barricades and even cut off an embankment road to prevent the police from entering the area. The MOU for the project was signed two years ago and Posco is now chafing at the leash at the delay.

However, fearing a Nandigram-like replay, the state government is reluctant to take any direct action against the agitators. It may come as no surprise if POSCO ultimately opts out of the Indian project and takes the Rs55,000 crore investment to another country. Orissa, incidentally, is ruled by the Biju Janata Dal.

Political parties looking on with unconcealed glee at the discomfiture of the CPM-led government in West Bengal following the Nandigram SEZ debacle may soon have to shed their grins. For, this isn't the first time in our country that rural landowners and the police have clashed violently over land acquisition proceedings. As the above instance shows, it won't be the last either.

Way back in December 2000, policemen deployed at the site of the Utkal Alumina International Ltd in Orissa had to open fire on a crowd of tribals protesting the acquisition of their land for the mines of the company. Three persons died. That project, which was given the green signal by the then Congress-ruled state government as far back as 1993, has never got off the ground.

In February this year, 15 people were injured when tribals in Lohandiguda village in Jharkhand attacked a government team which had come to survey land to be acquired for another Tata steel project. Jharkhand is governed by a BJP-led coalition.

As the examples quoted above make amply clear, the Nandigram fracas is but one pixel of a bigger kaleidoscope. And the contagion is rapidly spreading. The fight is not about SEZs alone. It is a part of a greater war that is being fought across the country. Ranged on the two sides in this war are the forces of stasis and development.

On the side of stasis is a motley group comprising NGOs, opportunist politicians, academic intellectuals, and Leftist insurgents. On the side of development are arrayed the state and Central governments, politicians, administrators, industrial establishmentsand others.

In this war, during the early decades after Independence, the forces of development were strong and the land needed for giant industrial, infrastructure and irrigation projects could be acquired without much fuss. However, the last two decades has seen the balance of power shift to the forces of stasis. This has come about due to fragmentation of political power, enactment of more stringent environmental legislation, increased foreign funding of NGOs leading to strengthening of their organisations, and, of late, the spread of the Naxal network.

Aiding and abetting them is a mainstream media which revels in being anti-establishment. On the other hand, the forces of development have become weak due to rampant corruption in the body politic as well as in the administration, and the entry of entrepreneurs who have no sensitivity to social issues.

If allowed to continue, this war can debilitate the economy of the nation in the future. The solutions are there for all to see: market rate compensation for land acquired, employment guarantee in the project for one person from each displaced family, setting up of industrial training institutes near large project-affected areas, levying a special development cess on all commercial and industrial turnover — the proceeds of which should directly be channelled for improving social infrastructure in rural areas — establishing state-subsidised financing for small and tiny enterprises such as vehicle maintenance, tyre repair, catering, retailing, transport, schools and clinics which will come up as adjuncts to the main industrial projects and result in considerable indirect employment of displaced persons. Involving local NGOs in many of these activities, especially social infrastructure projects, would make them partners and not antagonists in the war and defuse to some extent the lure of insurgency.


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posted by Resistance 4/19/2007 09:39:00 AM,


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