Prafulla Das

Rehabilitation of project affected people is finally in focus.

The killing of 12 tribals in the police firing at Kalinga Nagar in Orissa's Jajpur district has brought into focus the larger issue of rehabilitation of the people displaced by industrial projects.

The incident has sparked tribal agitations in different parts of the State. Most of these are against the plans of the Naveen Patnaik Government to industrially exploit Orissa's mineral wealth. The Government too now appears to have realised it will have to factor in the interests of the affected, particularly the tribals. Successive governments in the State never gave priority to resettlement and rehabilitation whenever any project faced resistance from the locals.

The present Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance Government has signed 43 memoranda of understanding for steel plants and three for aluminium refineries so far. Given the growing demand for steel in the international market, companies from different parts of the country and also abroad made a beeline to Bhubaneswar, their eyes on the huge mineral deposits in the State. The alliance Government was overwhelmed by the sudden rush.

"A gold rush, like that in the United States, seems to be on in the tribal areas of Orissa," B.D. Sharma, president of the Bharat Jan Andolan, said after a visit to Kalinga Nagar.

Till the firing on January 2, the demands of those displaced in the past and also those opposing new projects were given short shrift. District administrations were instructed to facilitate the construction of new projects at any cost. The State did not even have a comprehensive resettlement policy; a draft policy gathered dust since July last.

Widespread condemnation of the police action in Kalinga Nagar and accusations that the demands of the people were being ignored forced the Government to undertake a rethink.

Ministerial committee formed

A five-member ministerial committee has now been formed to study resettlement and rehabilitation. "We will adopt a comprehensive policy for resettlement and rehabilitation, of the project affected people and it will be a progressive one," said Biswabhushan Harichandan, Revenue Minister and head of the committee. Representatives of all political parties, social activists and tribal leaders would be consulted.

Those in the industry claim they were never averse to offer improved rehabilitation of those being displaced. Their stand is that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure proper rehabilitation.