IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
Orissa and Jharkhand are not far behind in the sponge-iron industry race. As of December 2005, there were at least 61 sponge iron units operating in Orissa. Another 44 had been granted consent to establish and are awaiting no-objection certificates. But the truth is many of these are already operating without certificates or environmental clearance. Most of these plants are concentrated in Sundergarh, Keonjhar and Jharsuguda districts, areas that are rich in coal, dolomite and iron ore deposits. These areas also have rich forest cover and are home to tribal and forest dwelling communities that depend on subsistence agriculture.
Jharkhand has about 42 functioning sponge iron plants. Most of them are concentrated in the Giridh, Saraikela-Kharsawan, West Singhbum, and Hazaribagh areas.The Jharkhand Industrial Policy 2001 talks of special incentives like "exemption from environmental clearance," for industries but there is no policy for how these industries should contribute to the local economy or control pollution.
In the past two years, the state government has signed 44 memorandums of understanding (mous) for industrial projects. Of these, 42 are for sponge iron plants. Aware of the stiff opposition they faces in acquiring land for these projects, state officials have resorted to spreading disinformation among villagers to make them sell their land. In some places, they tell villagers that they have no choice but to sell their land because the government has approved the project and if they don't sell, the state will deposit money for their land in court and that will be more complicated for them to retrieve. Sometimes, they insert false reports in media that land has been acquired in the hope that it will prompt villagers to cut prospective losses and sell their land.
Acquiring land for setting up a plant is always the beginning of the conflict. Industry often acquires land through subterfuge. Land in villages near Raipur, originally meant for herbal plantations, is being used by the sponge-iron industry today to set up plants. And villagers are being misled into selling their lands. There have been instances when villagers have realised that they were duped after construction started. Bholaram, an activist with the Ekta Parishad, says, "Many villagers do not know that their land is being acquired for a factory. This is a common trick employed to keep prices low." In Bemeta in Chhattisgarh, villagers claim that land bought at the rate of approximately Rs 20,000 per hectare (ha) by the state government was sold to industrialists at roughly Rs 1.25 lakh per ha.
Industries are required to get a no-objection certificate from gram panchayats, but even that procedure is reduced to a mere formality, or at times, not adhered to at all. Mostly, sarpanchs are bought and documents manufactured. In Chourenga near Raipur, though the gram sabha did not pass a resolution allowing the plant to come up, blank spaces left in the gram sabha's register were used to manufacture the noc.
And when subterfuge doesn't work, plain pressure does -- a combination of muscle and money power. Villagers of Tamnar and Patrapalli in Raigarh district allege that when some of them refused to sell their land to Jindal Steel and Power Limited, musclemen threatened them, hot ash was dumped on their land, and finally, their villages were destroyed with bulldozers. But it is not only the Jindals; allegations of illegal use of public resources are quite common.In Chourenga, a canal was filled up and converted into a road by a sponge iron plant. The state government, while admitting that the canal was given on lease to the plant, refuses to admit that a road has been constructed. In Bemeta, a nursery was occupied and converted into a road after uprooting 5,000 trees.
In Ratanpur near Sundergarh in Orissa, Mahavir Hi-tech Chemicals Pvt Ltd bought around 30 ha along the Ib river in 2004 for a sponge iron plant, without even a gram sabha hearing. The plant affects four villages in the vicinity. A gram sabha was called after local protests, by Kiran Club, a Balijuri village youth club run by a group of tribal girls and boys. But the meeting was adjourned time and again by local administrators, first on grounds that there wasn't a quorum, though the villagers insist that the required number of people were actually present. Then on grounds of law and order breakdown, when meetings turned violent and police resorted to lathicharge. Villagers and the youth club members say, the company sent goons to disrupt the sabha proceedings.
It took five attempts at holding a gram sabha meeting before a resolution could finally be passed on February 28, 2005. Nearly 4,000 people attended the meeting and amid police lathicharging, said "no" to the proposed plant.
The factory has been stopped for now, but rumours are afloat that it will make a comeback bid under a different name and in the guise of an "integrated steel plant".
However, villagers know the score this time. "We don't want any plant, steel or otherwise," says Srimati Bag, a farmer's wife who's taken a trip to sponge iron plant sites in Keonjhar and seen for herself what it's like. "Once they make the boundary wall they can build anything inside, even a sponge iron plant."
Ratanpur may have got a reprieve, but in places like Kuarmunda and Podajalanga, plants have not only acquired land without gram sabha approval, they have even been built and continue to operate full steam despite strong protests by local residents.
However, it's not that villagers and tribal people are dumb spectators to this growth of the industry. There have been protests and in some cases, have taken a serious enough turn for industries to close plants. Chourenga in Raipur is a case in point (see box Epicentre of protest).
Anger, fear and suspicion are rife among tribal people who say they have been duped by factory owners and local administrators into giving up their lands and are now being threatened by the police and goons hired by the industrialists to desist from protesting.
In Nayagaon village in Chaibasa, Jharkhand, villagers woke up one morning, looked at each other's black faces through the thick falling dust and simply couldn't take it any more. So, armed with bows, arrows, sticks and whatever other weapons they could find, about 1,000 tribal men, women and children of Nayagaon village stormed the gates of Sai Sponge India Ltd on April 7, 2006. They ransacked the factory, damaged property and equipment worth Rs 1 crore and brought production to a halt.
"We had had enough," says villager Mangal Singh Tamsoy. "Ever since it started in 2004, there have been problems. We had no idea what kind of factory was being built next to our fields. We were duped." The land transactions took place without gram sabha approval. The Ho Samaj Mahasabha in Chandil has filed a case in the Jharkhand High Court accusing Sai Sponge management of violating the Panchayats Extention of the Scheduled Areas Act, which clearly states that land acquisition for industrial and development projects have to be first approved by the local gram sabha or panchayat.
Following the April violence, the plant had to be shut down for 58 days. Work resumed on June 4, 2006, after it finally installed an esp and after factory owners reached a compromise with the villagers.
According to the compromise formula, the plant promised to give the village Rs 1 lakh a year for "developmental work"; it would send a doctor for free medical checkups in the village once a week and the top student in the village would get a college scholarship. But villagers would be responsible for any further damage to the company.