There was no plan for a lecture, says official

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik , currently on a visit to Britain, was on Thursday caught up in a controversy after he was reported to have pulled out of a seminar at the prestigious Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in Brighton amid claims that rights activists and students planned to hold a protest and ask him “tough” questions about alleged violations of tribal rights as a result of Vedanta's mining project in the State.

While the IDS confirmed that Mr. Patnaik was scheduled to give a lecture on May 27 which had been cancelled because of changes to his schedule, his officials denied he ever planned to visit or speak there.

“There was no plan for a lecture. We don't know who started this rumour,” Karthikeya Pandian, a senior official accompanying the Chief Minister, told The Hindu.

He said academics from the IDS would meet Mr. Patnaik in London and “share” their views on development issues such as malnutrition.

Mr. Pandian declined to comment when told about the IDS's version, independently confirmed by the IDS students and activists of the Odisha Society of the U.K. (OSUK).

“We are very disappointed,” said Sounik Kajal Kumar Dash, a student from Odisha . He said he wanted to raise issues relating to safety of Indian students in Britain.

During his week-long stay here, Mr. Patnaik will meet officials of the Department for International Development (DFID) which funds several projects in Odisha and also heavily funds the IDS.

Campaign group Survival International described it as a “humiliation.”

“We planned to ask him some tough questions,” a spokesperson said accusing the Odisha government of “brutally crushing efforts by indigenous communities to protect their land from industrialisation.”

Its director Stephen Corry said there has been “an alarming State-wide abuse of tribal peoples' rights on Mr. Patnaik's watch.”

“Families trying to defend their land from industrial projects have met police bullets, batons and brutality. The tribal peoples of Odisha have learnt that their leader places the profits of the industrialists over and above their rights,” he said.

Amrit Wilson of the South Asia Solidarity Group said Mr. Patnaik reportedly cancelled his lecture after being told by the IDS that while he was “welcome” he would face embarrassing questions.

Some students planned to display photos and details of some of the alleged atrocities suffered by tribal people in Odisha.

Amnesty International said it had requested a meeting with Mr. Patnaik to raise its concerns about Vedanta's operations in the State.

“We have long-standing concerns about Vedanta's activities there,” a spokesperson said.


Naveen gets tough with dissidentsJune 1, 2012