Indian police fire into crowds on steel plant protest

By staff writers
June 2, 2010

There have been calls for an urgent investigation in the Indian state of Odisha, where police are reported to have fired into crowds demonstrating against the UK-linked company TATA, which owns Jaguar, Land Rover, Corus and Tetley.

There are reports of one death and at least nine people injured. The demonstrators in the Kalinganagar area of Odisha were protesting against a TATA steel plant planned for their land.

The dead man is Laxman Jamuda, a member of the Munda tribe. His relatives report that he was carrying his great-niece in his arms when he was shot in the back while being chased away by the police; the child was hit by shrapnel on her cheek.

Survival International, a global NGO, say that the Odisha administration has been “actively supporting” companies such as TATA, Vedanta and POSCO, with projects that have failed to gain the consent of affected communities on whose land they operate.

“The police attacked us and chased us out of the village,” said Jamuda's nephew, Chandramohan, “Elderly women, children, little girls – all were beaten up”.

Jema Hanaka says she had already been beaten by police last month. This time, she said, “the police attacked us on all sides and beat us up mercilessly”.

The incident has brought back memories of a similar occasion in 2006, when at least 12 people were killed when police fired on demonstrators opposing TATA's project. About 20 people were injured in March this year when police and private agents – whom it is claimed are hired by corporations – opened fire in the village of Baligotha. Witnesses say houses were destroyed and kerosene poured into drinking wells.

Similar incidents have occurred elsewhere in Odisha. In the Jagatsingpur district, police used tear gas and batons to break up a protest by farmers, who have been resisting a POSCO steel project for five years. Survival International insist that the protest was peaceful.

Campaigners say that they fear there will be increased violence in attempts to suppress protests against a mine planned by the FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources. Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe of the Niyamgiri hills have made clear that they are firmly against the mine, which has the backing of the Odisha government. A large number of protesters are reported to have been arrested.

Staff at Survival International have received reports of intimidation against people who speak out against Vedanta. They say that the NGO's staff were themselves followed and harassed when they visited the area six months ago.

“The violence must stop,” insisted Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, “Forcing large industrial projects on to tribal peoples who don’t want them is unjust, illegal, and can only end in disaster”.


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