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People's Movement at Kalinga Nagar

This article describes the essential characteristics of various people's movements in Orissa against the backdrop of the recent Kalinga Nagar killings and also analyses how society reacts to such movements.

Tribals and Projects in Orissa

People’s Movementat Kalinga Nagar

An Epitaph or an Epitome?

This article describes the essential characteristics of various people’s movements in Orissa against the backdrop of the recent Kalinga Nagar killings and also analyses how society

reacts to such movements.


wo thousand six began on a sad note for the peace-loving people of Orissa. On January 2, at Kalinga Nagar, police shot dead 12 tribals, who, along with hundred others, were protesting – as a sequel to months of opposition to the setting up of plants by different companies – against the beginning of construction work by Tata Steel. A policeman was also killed in the clash.

It is a common feeling that, had the state government been proactive and sensitive to the sentiments of people, especially the locals, the massacre at Kalinga Nagar could have been avoided. No amount of compensation or damage control can bring the dead – whether the policeman or the tribals – back to life. Whereas the blame should naturally be taken by the state machinery and the party in power, every political party in the state and the country must share the blame for espousing inhuman development paradigms and reckless industrialisation. The current regime, however, has come under heavy criticism, since, never before have as many as 28 tribals been killed in police firing at various places in the state – Maikanch, Raigarh, Mandrabaju and Kailnga Nagar.

One would have imagined that “industrialisation” would lead to a better quality of life for the masses. But when the masses are forced – obviously against their will – to shift away from the land that they have held for generations, what kind of “welfare” can it bring to them? Violence is bad, except when it is used for self-defence. It is indeed, a matter of grave sadness that a policeman was killed in the process. But, far worse is the fact that many tribals were killed by the police. The state – the police to be specific – should have exhibited restraint. It is – or, at least, should be – there to protect, not to kill. Should our industrial policies be oblivious of this uncompromisable fiduciary obligation?

It is a matter of grave concern that a large fraction of the land acquired for business is forest land, including the farm land of tribals. Though there is enough research to highlight that big business may not be ideal for a state like Orissa, what kind of industry suits such a poor state is at best taken to be a polemic issue. That is perfectly fine. Such issues, therefore, need to be debated in a sane and civilised manner, getting common people involved. One can clearly see the source of the state’s impatience with dissenting voices. In this era, when liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation (LPG) are eulogised and painted as the panacea for all problems – be it underdevelopment, poverty or inequality – the Kalinga Nagar incident is not just a reflection of the attitude of the government machinery or the party in power. To our horror, it highlights the current political mindset in the whole nation!


Even under previous governments in the state, innocent people died when they stood up against moves to evict them from their land to make way for industry. The past killings of citizens relating to a steel plant at Gopalpur and an alumina plant at Maikancha bear testimony to the “move them or kill them” attitude of all governments. If Kalinga Nagar type of blood baths have to be averted, the political and bureaucratic mindset has to change, sooner than later.

In 1992, Kalinga Nagar was earmarked as a steel complex. At present, it houses many companies such as MESCO, Neelachal Ispat Nigam (NINL), Jindal Stainless, Visa Steel and Maharashtra Seamless (the flagship of DP Jindal Group). As per Sudhir Patnaik [Patnaik 2006], displacement at Kalinga Nagar started in 1997-98. The state government initially paid displaced people Rs 35,000 per acre, which has since been doubled, whereas the land is sold to companies at around 10 times this amount. Hundreds of families have been displaced and many more are expected to be moved in the future. There were 700 families; now there are 250, with no news of the other 450 families!

As Patnaik points out, the majority of local people in Kalinga Nagar (tribals, dalits and general population) do not have proper land titles, though they have been cultivating the land for four to five generations. But the government only compensates those who have proper land titles. Naturally, many locals were and are worried about it. In fact, the recent Kalinga Nagar protest was not against industrialisation; the locals were merely demanding compensation for those who do not have land titles. Besides, the level of consciousness of the movement at Kalinga Nagar has increased over the years due to able leadership, whose resolve against involuntary displacement for “development” projects or industries has become stronger, because of their awareness about the plight of displaced people at different places in the state and outside the state. In fact, one of the current leaders, Rabindra Jarika, who has been “arrested” by Jajpur police on October 25, 2005, has a master’s degree in sociology from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar. Interestingly, Rabindra Jarika was “whisked away” when he was returning from a national tribal meet in Bhubaneswar.

Kalinga Nagar tribals were initially somewhat in favour of industrialisation, since

Economic and Political Weekly February 18, 2006 they had been sold dreams of a great future. As Patnaik observed, when the agitation started there three years back, they merely wanted land for land, and any land would have probably sufficed. Monetary compensation is often useless; it cannot give people the same quality of life they enjoyed before being displaced. If the land-for-land principle is followed, that is better; but where would the government get land as fertile as people had before? In Kalinga Nagar and other proposed industrial plazas, large patches are agricultural-quality land.

People’s Movements

In the preface to an issue on people’s movements in Orissa [Nayak 1996], Birendra Nayak, arguably the best socioeconomic analyst in Orissa and an insightful expert on people’s movement, gives an excellent account of such movements in the state from which we have been drawn the observations below.

The 1996 issue of the publication was based on a seminar that focused on three specific people’s movements, namely, the Baliapal movement against the missile testing range, the Gandhamardan movement against the Balco Alumina project and Chilika movement against the Tata-Orissa (government) shrimp project, besides touching on the Kashipur movement against the Utkal Alumina project. The Gopalpur movement against Tata’s proposed steel plant and the Malkangiri movement against wooden-log businessmen do not figure in its scope. It is interesting to note that while the earliest Gandhamardan movement was against a public sector project, the later Chilika movement was against a publicprivate project, while the more recent Kashipur movement was against an MNC project.

The seminar discussion revolved around some key questions pertaining to each of the movements.

Overall, as Nayak points out, one can draw some basic conclusions. First, in Baliapal and Chilika, where there is a tradition of movements, local people have got organised spontaneously due to a perceived threat to livelihood and environment; outside people have later joined the movement. But, in Gandhamardan, where there was no such tradition, local people started the movement only after young folks from outside made them aware of the dangers of the upcoming project and they (the locals) became victims of the project.

Second, wherever local people have voluntarily organised themselves and started a movement, the leaders have been upset at attempts by outside people to join the movement and belittle the local leadership. The resultant conflict between the local leaders and outsiders has often weakened the movement, as it happened in Chilika.

Third, political allegiance among people has not stood in the way of their getting united and involved in the movement, but the role of the leaders of political parties has been suspect. The same party that opposed the project while in opposition thrusts it upon the people after coming to power; similarly, the same party that has tried to impose the project on people while in power opposes it when it becomes the opposition.

Fourth, the role of local media and newspapers has not been that encouraging for the movements; it is rather the national newspapers that have brought the movements to public attention. Similarly, the local intellectuals have been quite apathetic to the movements (save the Sambalpur University faculty, staff and students in the Gandhamardan movement), while Delhi intellectuals have been quite interested.

Fifth, there has been an attempt by the local leadership to keep the movements confined to the local area out of fear of losing their grip if they spread outside. But, interestingly, the state and local leaders who provoked the local people against the projects they were opposing, also did not want the movement to break the local barriers, though for entirely different reasons. They were afraid that if people’s movements in general became widespread, they would pose some fundamental questions that would threaten the foundations of the establishment, to which actually both the ruling parties and opposition belong. A classic current example is the Kalinga Nagar incident itself. Opposition parties – mainly the Congress

– ran to the spot to benefit from the situation and severely criticised the state’s BJD-BJP government for the killing. But none raised the fundamental issue of mindless globalisation that is at the very root of such incidents. Quite appropriately, the tribals shunned all main political parties in the state (both local and national) during their ‘Sapatha Dibasa’ or Oath Day at Kalinga Nagar on January 21, 2006.

Economic and Political Weekly February 18, 2006

There are some other observations too. Many non-tribals, basically in urban areas, harbour – or have been brainwashed to harbour – a notion that tribals do not know what is good for them. This arrogance comes from an underlying complex that adivasis do not have any concept of the future. This Orissa “apartheid” is strikingly reminiscent of Africa, where earlier even some Indians used to feel that the Africans did not know what is good for the(ir) country. Such a feeling, which is either the cause or effect of disparaging the value of a tribal’s life, is reflected in jealousy among some urban folks at the “huge” compensation of Rs 11 lakh for each of the families of the 12 dead tribals. Who knows, this may be a clever ploy by different parties to create a difference between the tribals and non-tribals (and, may be among tribals), since the Kalinga Nagar incident is tantalisingly close to threatening the essence of the current establishment, no matter which political party is in power.

Industry Tactics

There are three other distinct tactics resorted to by industry and pro-industry lobbies (including the state government). If anyone stands up against the reckless industrialisation, they term him or her as “anti-industry”, which is quite misleading. Almost everyone – including the tribals and activists – has his/her own concept of the ideal model of industrialisation. Just because one does not subscribe to a particular model of industrialisation – say, one leaning largely on large industries – it is incorrect to term him or her as anti-industry. But, oftentimes, it is done intentionally by industry lobbies to divert the common man’s attention away from the “alternative” model(s). It also succeeds in creating an antipathy in the common man’s mind towards these people’s movements.

A second strategy followed by industry lobbies is to focus on “informed” decisions. Many pro-people entities, which are critical of the current concept of “development” – one based on material wealth – always stress that tribals should be allowed to take an “informed” decision, after weighing the pros and cons of development models foisted on them. This “informed democracy” argument is cleverly misused by the industry groups who invariably term every people’s movements a result of lack of “informed” decision-making by the locals; they go on to assert that if people knew how great it would be for them to have large industries and steel and alumina plants, they would not think twice before giving up their land for the purpose.

The third strategy is to send “pro people” movement busters (MBs) to the movement site. These MBs, who are normally government servants, are creations of the establishment through abject manipulation of the media and stage-manage “people’s” rallies in their favour. It is a different matter that they are recognised by the agitators and, therefore, remain ineffective; all their efforts to divide the people are frustrated.

A worrisome thing is that in the aftermath of a movement-related incident, it is typical for different groups – many perceived to be concerned about the “common man” and human rights – to lament that,

(1) globalisation – or the benefit of FDIs

– is not trickling down to the poor;

  • (2) gains from industrialisation are not reaching the tribal masses; (3) resettlement and rehabilitation (R and R) policy of the government is not up to the mark;
  • (4) the state’s mines are being doled out to big firms for a pittance. But most are not willing to talk about the kind of industrialisation Orissa should pursue and, in particular, whether the current policy of reckless industrialisation is at all acceptable and sustainable, whether it is excusable to destroy the environment for the sake of industrialisation, whether we should keep on exploiting our mines fast if we merely start receiving high royalties, and whether a good R&R policy can be a justification for forcing people to evict their land.
  • Kalinga Nagar is crowded with industries of corporate houses like Tatas and Jindals. The more vigorously they have pursued their projects, the stronger has been the resentment of locals. The people of the state had witnessed, on May 9, 2005, the abject misuse of state machinery for Maharashtra Seamless against the agitating tribals. It was only after eight months, on January 2, 2006, that the state government could realise how barbaric its attacks could be, but at a cost of 12 innocent tribal lives and the life of a policeman. The Kalinga Nagar incident has numbed everybody and left even the corporates confused. While a Tata Sons’ director, J J Irani says that “Tata Steel is keen to go ahead with its six-million tonne steel project at Kalinga Nagar in Orissa” [Bisoi 2006], Tata Steel says that, “Industrialisation has to happen but the poor should benefit from it, not the rich [Indian Express 2006].

    One wonders if the industrialisation perceived by the corporates can ever benefit the poor? Giving the benefit of doubt to the corporates that industrialisation can indeed help the poor, should they be urged upon to make a proclamation that they would not be involved in projects in Orissa that hurt the environment, the tribals, or the state? Would they pledge to be “good Kauravas” and not snatch – directly or through the government – even an inch of land from anyone against their will?

    Wealth Transfer

    We, finance professors, teach corporations that they should maximise shareholder wealth. They often do that, though they often fail to take into account – perforce intentionally – the social costs of their investments. But, governments do not maximise the “welfare” of the stakeholders of the state. If a private company were to issue new shares to new shareholders at half the “fair” price, there would be a hue and cry from existing shareholders following this “transfer of wealth” from existing to new shareholders. Why then should governments be permitted by its stakeholders, the denizens of the state, to indulge in such “wealth transfer” by selling stakes in the state’s future (be it land, water, forest, environment or natural resources) to big corporations and MNCs at throwaway prices?

    In fact, locals of a proposed site for a plant or project should have the “right of first refusal”. If they say “no” to it for whatever reason – their livelihood, environment or something else – the buck should stop there. But, if they say “yes”, one may think of giving the other citizens of the state a “right of second refusal”. These other citizens may possibly disapprove a planned project or plant because it may destroy the nearby environment (say, by polluting the air or sucking out groundwater from land) or threaten sustainability (say, by exhausting state’s natural resources, including mines, within too short a time). But, if the locals – “to be affected” people – have said yes in anticipation of jobs due to the project and, concomitantly, expectation of a better quality of life, other citizens opposing the project should come

    Economic and Political Weekly February 18, 2006 up with superior alternatives that can pull the locals up the social strata.

    The Kalinga Nagar incident was perceived by mainstream opposition political parties (including left parties like CPI and CPM) as a great opportunity to throw the BJD-BJP government out of power. So, not surprisingly, their top national leaders visited the area and announced various sops to the affected tribals. Even the partner BJP wanted to withdraw from the government, putting the entire blame of the incident on the BJD. To many it appeared the BJD-BJP ruling alliance was collapsing and the exit of the government imminent. But the failure of these parties to take a stand against such “reckless” industrialisation has disappointed the agitators. The January 20 rally, wherein participated thousands of tribals from various parts of the state at the call of grassroot organisations working amongst displaced and to-be-displaced tribals, not only expressed its protest against the party in power, but also vented its anguish over the opposition parties shedding “crocodile tears”. The absence of these political parties in the abovementioned Sapath Dibasa, organised by the tribals of Kalinga Nagar on January 21 or their “decision” not to participate in ‘Sahid Smruti Sabha’ on January 30 in the same locality, or an ex-minister declaring in a recent press conference that his party is not in the movement at Kalinga Nagar, only demonstrate an alienation of these political parties from the movement. Thus, there is no immediate threat to the government. Yet, the state administration being rendered powerless during the continuing road-blocks is an eloquent expression of the fact that tribals are on their own, which, given the response the Kalinga Nagar movement has received from tribals of the state and other states, may gather strength to upset powers inimical to their interest. As tribals increasingly perceive that any protection of the interests of the “industry mongers” – be they national or multinational – is against their interest, every government has to be extremely careful to maintain its survival. Big businesses and multinationals would not hesitate to dethrone the government if it does not serve their interest; and, if such interests are served, the threat from the tribals can cause instability. In this sense, tribals are pitted against big business; who shall ultimately prevail remains to be seen.

    But if one notices the cascading effect of the Kalinga Nagar incident on other people’s movements (say at the Rourkela Steel Plant and Mahanadi Coalfields), one can be sure that the epitaph of people’s movements in this seemingly sleepy and serene state is yet to be written. Unless there is a drastic change in the bureaucratic and government mindset, what we saw in Kalinga Nagar will become the epitome of all future people’s movements, not just in the state, but in the whole country.



    [The author thanks Birendra Nayak for very helpful discussions and extensive insightful comments. Views expressed here are personal.]


    Bisoi, Dilip (2006): ‘Kalinga Nagar Firing Kills Spirit of Industrialisation’, Net Edition, Financial Express, January 9.

    Indian Express (2006): ‘Walk through Kalinga Nagar Colonies to Know Why Unrest Happened’, January 19,

    Nayak, Birendra (1996): In Oriya: ‘Prak Kathana, Swadhinottara Odisare Jana Andolana’ (‘People’s Movement in Post-Independence Orissa’), Oriya and Orissa: Sameeksha ’96, Pradyumna Bal, Birendra Nayak, Bikalpa Sandhani Mancha, Debiprasad Dash (eds).

    Patnaik, Sudhir (2006): ‘You Cannot Silence People for All Time’, The Rediff Interview/ Activist Sudhir Patnaik, news/2006/jan/18inter2.htm

    Economic and Political Weekly February 18, 2006

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