Friday, March 28, 2014

For AAP, environment and industrial displacement, two key issues in Odisha

Economic Times, March 28, 2014
BHUBANESHWAR: The Aam Admi Party is still finding its feet in Odisha but is keen on claiming environment and industrial displacement, two significant issues in the state, for itself. 

One of the first names announced from the state was Lingaraj, who goes by his first name. He rose to fame in the eighties as 20-year-old in the forefront of anti-Balco agitation. He's been joined by activists committed to driving away Vedanta from Lanjigarh and Posco from Jagatsinghpur. Win or lose, they say they will give extractive industries that Odisha is betting its future on a tough time. 

Within Lingaraj's Bargah constituency lies Jharsuguda, where Vedanta group has a smelter and Bhushan Power and Steel has a power plant. "It's a myth that extractive industries are the only means of industrialisation. Mining, mostly exported, reduce forested areas into parched land and cannot be good for the health of Odisha," says Lingaraj, who has fought and lost the last two elections as president of Samajwadi Jan Parishad 

The anti-Balco movement against mining bauxite atop Gandhamardhan was so fierce that the state won't go anywhere near it, not even for Vedanta's bauxite-starved refinery in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi. Carrying on his anti-Vedanta crusade, activist Satya Mahar says, "Niyamgiri (the hill which was to be mined for the Vedanta's plant) has been saved. We have to now drive Vedanta out." 

He faces Bhakta Charan Das who stood by Rahul Gandhi's side when the Congress vice-president embraced the Dongriah Kond tribals' cause. Mahar says, "by suggesting that bauxite can be sourced from other nearby hills, he has exposed himself as an opportunistic politician. If it's not okay for our resources to be stolen, how can it be fine for our neighbours to lose theirs?" 

However, a leading Odisha-based activist who asked not to be named warns, "the past association of a few of AAP's key leaders with controversial projects could hurt its claim over this space especially since in Odisha there are many credible claimants." 

Educationist and AAP's state coordinator, Dr Dhanada Kanta Mishra, says he regrets his past support to the eventually shelved controversial Vedanta University. "The narrow and somewhat naive reasons for my initial support to the project was because I was resigned to the fact that the refinery was unstoppable and thought that at least the state would benefit from the university," says Misra, an AAP nominee for Berhampur. 

Party state secretary and Bhubaneshwar nominee, Bismaya Mahapatra, is a former TCS employee and founding member of Harshha Trust a non-government organisation funded among others by trusts associated with the Tata Group. "As a professional, my work revolved around creating livelihood opportunities among tribal people, skilling displaced people for better jobs in industries and getting professional to help do this in remote areas. In that capacity, I may have worked at Kalinganagar, as we have wi .. 

Meanwhile at Jagatsingpur, a 26 year old video- volunteer, Anupama Sethy says she supports the anti-Posco battle carried out by CPI-backed Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti there. Sethy, a state executive member, says she had tried roping in Prakash Jena, brother of one of the three killed in a crude bomb accident last year for which police eventually blamed protestors. She stepped in when he declined "to abandon the movement for party politics." 

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