Anti-mining activist Deba Ranjan Sarangi on the alarming situation in Odisha

Activist, filmmaker and writer Debaranjan Sarangi, actively involved in the struggle of adivasis in Odisha’s Kashipur to protect their lands from bauxite mining, was arrested on March 18, 2016 on the basis of a 2005 case. In this interview with following his release on bail, he describes his experiences and the present situation in Odisha.

Deba Ranjan Sarangi was arrested on March 18, 2016, by plainclothes policemen from the Kucheipadar village of Rayagada District, Odisha. Debaranjan was in Kucheipadar to attend a funderal ceremony of one of his friend’s father. He was arrested with a non-bailable warrant issued by the court of JMFC, Kashipur in pursuance of a case registered in Tikri police station of Rayagada district in 2005, when Debaranjan was actively involved in the struggle of the adivasis in Kashipur to protect their lands from the invasion of the bauxite mining companies.

Deba Ranjan Sarangi has been a consistent and passionate voice against injustice both within and outside Odisha. As a writer, film maker and human rights activist, he has highlighted and critiqued policies of destructive development, unbridled mining practices, displacement, police impunity, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasi issues , growth of communal fascism in Odisha, violence on women and farmers’ suicide in the context of acute agrarian crisis.

Deba Ranjan Sarangi is also a member of Ganantrik Adhilkar Surakya Sangathan (GASS). His films include: 1. At the Crossroads, 2. The Conflict: Whose Loss Whose Gain, 3. From hindu to Hindutva, 4. Visit to Basaguda.

After he was released on bail conducted an email interview with him.

Countercurrents: What was the reason for your abrupt arrest? The warrant against you was issued in 2005. Why did they arrest you in a funeral function so abruptly for a long standing warrant? Do you see a political motive in the arrest?

Deba Ranjan Sarangi: Definitely a political motive is there. It was an operation of police of two districts like Malkangiri and Rayagada. It is true that warrants were issued in 2005. During the days of Kashipur anti-bauxite mining struggle against Aditya Birla, FIRs were written in the police stations. In none of the cases ‘accused’ ever were informed or proper investigation by the police were ever happening. During 2005-07 many of our activists, in hundreds, were arrested and spent months or more than a year in jail for simple charges of 506(criminal intimidation), 323(causing hurt), 347(wrongful confinement), 147(rioting), 149(unlawful assembly) of IPC. Had I been caught during that time I would have been in jail for some months without any fault or crime.

Since 1950s, it has been a practice that the police often write FIRs to implicate activists. Here,Indian Penal Code (1860)has been a good weapon to vitiate the people’s movement. Since independence, all most all regional governments in many parts of India have succeeded on foisting false cases against the movement activists to suppress the movement, either of workers or peasants. Each and every big Indian Corporates we see today have such a black history of (mis)using police, administration and politicians to win over the aggrieved community. This is why the IPC and Police Act of British regimes are still operational even today.

For last few years we are seeing fake encounters and illegal arrests of those tribals in southern part Odisha in which Kashipur also comes. As part of human rights movement I became part of several fact findings and filing petitions condemning such deaths and arrests. I again came under scanner by the government. During this time of änti-naxal operation” all these governments have no minimum patience to digest any dissenting tone. They have gathered enough paramilitary forces, intelligence wings and experts not only to counter naxals/Maoists but also to others who are critical of the government policies. Even on the day of arrest I was not informed about the charges. In subsequent days when I demanded to get FIRs and charge sheets as my fundamental rights then only I was provided.

CC: Give us a brief about your case

Deba: There are five criminal cases are against me. All these cases are sub judice now. But I can say that in these cases at least I have not seen faces of the complainants. I don’t know them even by name. But common criminal charges are of 506, 323, 347 of IPC have been foisted. Rayagada police had not done minimum investigation about name of my father and actual address but they had included me in 5 criminal cases with others. Nearly 50 such criminal cases were registered against 500 people during the time of 2005-07. In some cases, judgments have already come and those were arrested earlier had been acquitted. The court did not say to compensate those activists who were put in jail for months in same cases in which I have been charged. Even our judicial system at lower level never says a word against those police officers or the government officials for harassing a citizen intentionally. Though court judgments in many cases in Kashipurhas favoured the tribals but in none of the cases guilty police officers and company officials have been punished for false FIRs. In my case the trial would start again.

CC: Is the bail conditional? If so what are the conditions?

Deba: Yes, this bail is conditional. I have to appear before the District Magistrate personally on each date. So, for that I have to travel 400km from my home town to Rayagada whenever the Court directs.

CC: How did they treat you in jail?

Deba: Jails are separate from direct control of the police. It has different rules and regulations. The jail authorities treated me like any other prisoner. I was happy with that. My co-prisoners were beautiful. Most of them are from poor tribals and dalit families who have been falsely implicated due to faulty investigation by the police. Had police investigation been proper one fourth of them would not have been in jail. In India police takes 3 to 4 months to file the charge sheet and Final Forms. During that time the áccused would be in jail and the police would gather evidence to strengthen the cases. Money and influences here matters a lot. Only when the charge sheet comes the trial would start.

Our legal system never feels sorry before the ‘accused’ for a prolonged trial. It has no time limit even. It can continue for months and years. These poor prisoners don’t have money to apply for bail. The Supreme Court should at least simplify the bail procedures and should make it free from clutches of the advocates. I helped 5/6 prisoners in writing bail petitions and had insisted them to present the same before the magistrate through the Superintendent of jail for bail. All of them have already spent 2-3 years without committing any crimes. I will write my prison experiences and about our legal system in another article later on.

On the day of my release my co-prisoners of my ward did a farewell meeting. They sat for two hours and many of them said many things about me – on what they had observed and what I had discussed with them during that month. At the end they gathered whatever fruits they had and we all ate. I will never forget it.

CC: A false case was slapped on you last year. Now this arrest, do you think that Odisha state is targeting you personally?

Deba: The Odisha government is in fear of human rights movements and fears human rights activists including every demand for protecting human rights and social justice. The government knows well that in this era of post-reforms they can not fulfill promises they had given and they cant go towards social justice. We are the people who often remind a government to protect human rights of every person and pressurise the government to work for social justice. In the past the government has targeted many of such activists in different ways including surveillance, detention and arrest. In such a series my arrest is a recent phenomenon only.

CC: Why do you oppose mining in Odisha?

Deba: I have said it several times that in these 60 years of development in independent India we have done sufficient damage to the community and the ecology. Instead of copying the principles of the World Bank, IMF and fulfilling requirements of CII the policy makers should review our development policy and find our own way of development. For example, I oppose big dams. In India it was started in 40s. In independent India, the ruling class accepted the same big-dam model as our development they used police force to vacate farmers. Our rivers are big and we are in a tropical climate. We are getting enough sunlight. Our model for generating power and providing irrigation should have been different from the European model of development. But the ruling congress tried to centralize the system of supplying power and water so that they could generate revenue as well as distribute both power and water according to their wishes. This model from Europe was copied here but we claimed ourselves as independent. Why there are aluminium plants of Aditya Birla (son of GD Birla) near to every dam like in Hirakud dam (Odisha) and Rihand Dam (border of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh)?Now they are anxious to complete the Polavaram Dam which would cause much more damage than any other dams had ever done.

The Indian ruling class did the same in case of mining. Now a days steel has lost its market and aluminium is replacing steel. So, all corporate houses and international agencies are after bauxite. There is absolutely no research on how bauxite preserves rain water and why in each and every bauxite-hilly areas streams are perennial. But our research is on how far aluminium would be better than steel and how to extract aluminium on a faster way from bauxite. This is capitalist development.

CC: Why is the Odisha government promoting mining in the state?

Deba: The political Party runs the government. The Party wants black money to run its campaigns. Earlier businessmen of forest produces, liquor barons, small mine owners and rice mill owners were richer people than any ruling party office-bearers. So, they were financing the Party. Now the ministers and district presidents have gathered wealth of that level. They are not aspiring much from above business people. But ministers and party office bearers are inferior to the mining corporates. Now mining corporates are of first interest for the government. But the party government has not left rice mill owners. That nexus is one of the reasons behind growing farmer suicide in the state.

CC: Do you think that there is an alternative to mining as a developmental model for Odisha?

Deba: Definitely. One should reverse definition of development. Instead of GDP growth social and economic justice should be the primary. Then things will be clearer. Why we should go for mass production when our resources are limited? How long would we do that? Even in case of agriculture, green revolution was meant for huge production. It did not consider condition of the earth and our climate. It forced the earth to produce more. Now a days our fields are barren.

Same thing is happening in case of mining. If one goes to any mining area one would see how head of those hills have been caught like head of an animal and a big hole has been made for extracting the intestines of our mother earth. Blood is spilled everywhere in the process . One would also see there how much devastation human beings could do in the name of development. All these extractions of ore are happening using brutal force because even after so many decades local community is not happy. If we consider that mining is for development then why illegal mining is everywhere? Shah Commission was set up by the Supreme Court of India to enquire about such illegal mining in Odisha and Karnataka. What happened to its findings?

In this short interview it is difficult to explain everything. But it is true that these Corporates and the government have created enough intellectuals, writers, journalists and activists in support of mining and are giving so much awards and fellowships that in coming days it would be more difficult to criticize present development.

CC: There are reports of many physical attacks, false cases and intimidation by state police and mining company goons on social activists in Odisha. Why is this happening?

Deba: We are not new to such attacks. These big corporates have taken help of goons, both the government as well as of the private, to spread fear among the resisting communities because, the government and the Companies fear unity of local community. These corporates fear us. Often they brand us as ‘outsiders’ and ‘anti-development’. Even after that local community protects us. That becomes point of anger for the agents of the Company and they use all methods to spread fear among the activists. So, they are attacking. All these are sponsored efforts. I also have been attacked. Recently I was also gheraoed by such supporters of NALCO mining at Pattangi area in Koraput district in February, 2016 when I was there on a fact finding visit. Here the police support such mischievous actions.

CC: There were many instances of police firing on people resisting mining in their villages which resulted in the deaths of several people in the past decades in Odisha. Has the resistance subsided or is it still thriving?

Deba: Just one such police firing or one such arrest has never become a reason of failure of a struggle. The government knows it. So it goes for series of action in different phases to suppress a struggle. Earlier they were accusing us as anti-development. Now a new weapon has come like ánti-nationals’. The police are often threatening activists to book under UAPA if they oppose mining. Even after that activists of Kashipur struggle are going to Niyamgiri and other areas wherever the government starts giving mining lease to Vedanta. In Kashipur the resentment against Aditya Birla bauxite mining project is there. It could turn into a movement at anytime.

CC: If we take Kashipur struggle in which you were actively involved for instance, while Aditya Birla – Hindalco Alumina Company is in construction stage , you are put in jail and fighting your case. Do you think that you lost the struggle, and the corporates have won?

Deba: The Kashpur struggle went through different such phases of repression. In 2000 police fired and three tribals died at Maikanch. People took time and re-gathered strength. Enough support came from outside. KP Sasi has brought it in his doc film ‘Development at gun point’ and Meghnath has done same in his film ‘Bikash Bandhukki Nal se Beheti he’.

During 2005-07, again the government went on for illegal arrest, detention, picking up activists from river side and road side, continuous lathicharge and sealing off of the area. That continued for three years and every other day we were listening of arrest at one part then lathicharge at another place. I am witness of several such incidents in Kashipur – how a government could behave with its own people for helping outside corporates. Several organizations like PUDR, PUCL, INSAF and HRLN have brought out report condemning such state repression. Several writers including Arundhati Roy have written articles and Vinod Raj made a doc film named “Mahua Memoirs” highlighting such repression in Kashipur.

The Company would not have succeeded had not they gone for sponsoring few members of the community and engaging them in inner fighting. This was the years of 2009-11. The local community got divided into “pro-company” and “anti-company”. This was most shocking time. We failed to settle the conflict. I am witness to such conflicts. During that time I was making documentary film. After my film on Kandhamal anti-Christian communal violence I did the second one titled ‘The Conflict’ (2010) on such subject for a reason that the world should know real work of these Corporates.

Dividing the community between “pro-company” and “anti-company” and engaging them in-fighting were practiced also in Kaling Nagar (Tata) and Dhinkia (POSCO). Later I came to know that it has become a subject for the MBA students ‘how to manage the community’.

In Kashipur, the government also brought allegation of ‘Maoists’ and did encounter and arrests in the year of 2012-13. My new documentary film “At the Crossroads” speaks about such incidents in Kashipur and Niyamgiri area also.

This series of repression in different phases broke our backbone. This also caused the Aditya Birla’s success. Still resentment is there and at any time it could turn into a movement against the Company.

CC: There are also positive news coming from Odisha which signal victory for people’s struggle. South Korean steel giant POSCO is withdrawing from their project in Jagatsingpur district. Do you think that a people’s victory still possible in Kashipur?

Deba: I often think so. It is interesting in part of Kashipur that there was no MOU signed between such foreign companies and Odisha government. In 1993 when this process started Biju Patnaik was the Chief Minister. During that time bauxite mining was opened up for the first time for foreign companies as part of LPG plan of Narasimha Rao Congress government. Hydro of Norway, Alcan of Canada and Tata and Indal of India formed this Utkal Alumina International Limited in 1993. Odisha government gave them unconditional invitation. But people resisted. Interestingly the UAIL ,now owned by Aditya Birla group, has never done any Public Hearings. Samata Judgement and PESA were not applied here.Still then we filed a case under PESA in Odisha High Court. The case came twice upto to the final stage. But in both the occasions the judges left the bench without giving any judgment. The case is still pending before the Odisha High Court.

CC: As a social activist what is your advice to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to take majority of the people of Odisha out of poverty?

Deba: The government should bow down before the demands of the people and cancel all MOUs with big corporates. The government should make its all functionaries including the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary accountable before public. They should be answerable for each and every plan they are adopting. Prior to that they should invite free discussion and should face legal battle when it fails. That will be a real test for the present government. This government has been ruling the state for last 17 years. They should have enough courage to face the questions from the community.

Now the government of Odisha has started “Aahar” programe, giving a day meal in few towns at Rs 5/kg. Money is coming from Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. The corporates like Vedanta, Tata and others are donating money to the Relief Fund and the government is diverting same for Aahar program. The Panchayat election in Odisha is around. In the long run, who will benefit – people or corporates? when we question the authorities, instead of answering us why are they taking help of the police and paramilitary forces to silence us?

None of the government is interested to mitigate poverty, neither in Odisha nor in any state of India, nor even the Central government. They know they cant do it. Specifically in the age of economic reform it has become a distant dream. It is causing more poverty than solving the economic crisis. So, all these governments want to make money for their Party people out of cheap slogans against poverty and to come to power again by giving such foolish slogans of “India Shining” or “Sabka Saath Sabke Vikas”.

Another Village In Odisha Rejects Mining
The community people of Kamanda Gram Sabhaof Kalta G.P inKoidaTahasilhave differed land acquisition by IDCO for Rungta Mines in Sundargarh. Using the PESA Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act, 2006 a Gram Sabha was recently held on 23rd March 2016 in which the community people unanimously decided not to give their private land for the Rungta Mines. The Gram Sabha meeting was presided by the present Sarpanch Sabita Nayak in which around 400 members of the gram sabha participated

(Visited 294 times, 1 visits today)