Just as it takes grit and perseverance to break the mighty mountains, standing up to the oppressor demands conviction, solidarity and sustained agitations. Dhinkia, a small village in the costal district Jagatsinghpur of the Odisha state is a living testimony to this. Famous for its sweetest paan (betel vines), the village (also a Gram Panchayat) for decades has seen the bitterest days of state repression in the name of development. Be it with the domestic conglomerates like Tata, and Jindal, or the international players like South Korea’s POSCO and American AES Company, the various joint industrial ventures by the state and central government have left no stone unturned, in forcefully acquiring common lands, jeopardizing ecology and violating livelihood and human rights of the tribals and villagers in this natural resource rich region.

Paradip- Hyderabad Pipeline Project

Right now, Dhinkia is erupting in protest against the Indian Oil Corporation Liminted’s (IOCL) Paradip- Hyderabad Pipeline Project. The 1212 km pipeline intends to cover 329kms in Odisha, 723kms in Andhra Pradesh and 160kms in Telangana. At a project cost of Rs 3338, it envisages pumping stations at Paradip & Berhampur (in Odisha); Vizag, Rajahmundry & Vijayawada (in Andhra Pradesh); delivery facilities at Berhampur (in Odisha), Vizag, Achutapuram, & Vijayawada (in Andhra Pradesh) and Hyderabad (in Telangana) for transporting 4.5 MMTPA of petrol, diesel, and aviation fuel. The initial pipeline length of 91.4 km from Paradip will be laid in existing Right of Way of Paradip-Raipur-Ranchi Pipeline in the districts of Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Khurda and Puri.

                                                             The proposed pipeline route

IOCL has initiated the project by digging up around 11 acres of land in the Dhinkia Gram Panchayat. However, this isn’t any private land, but the common grazing land of the village (gochar land), where thousands of cattle are reared for sustaining a population of over 4000 people. This is posing serious livelihood challenges to not only Dhinkia but all the 11 villages in the Panchayat. The people who swear by the paan, meen and dhaan ( betal, fish and grains) for their life, alleges that the new pipeline construction is polluting their air and drying up water sources. Though IOCL provides water tankers, they say it is inadequate to meet the daily needs.

Ecological Damages

The PHPL also possess grave dangers in terms of ecological damages as it passes through the forest divisions like Rajnagar, Cuttack, Puri, City Forest, Khurda, Nayagarh, Ghumsur North, Ghumsur South and Berhampur. Already Paradip is one of the most polluted regions in the state owing to the port and refineries. Vast swathe of forests, farmland and water bodies are already exploited and polluted, thanks to a plethora of industrial projects. Now in case of any slightest possibility of pipeline leakage or accidental fire, the region may have to bear the brunt of unprecedented environmental and livelihood consequences.

                 

                                                             Pipelines laid across the grazing land

People’s Demands

In the following letter (placed in public domain) to the District Collector Jagatsingpur ,  people of Dhinkia Panchayat have put forwarded their demands:

“We the people of Dhinkia Gram Panchayat have been facing unprecedented repression in the last 20 years for demanding rights from the Govt. and companies like POSCO, Indian Oil and others.  We have been deprived from all facilities and are somehow managing to eke out a living. In this situation Indian Oil is trying to construct its pipeline on Dhinkia’s community grazing land without following any rules and without our consent.  This is a condemnable and undemocratic act. The District Administration and Indian Oil must meet our following demands else we the people of Dhinkia will protest against the project –

  1. We consider the act of constructing pipelines on our community land without our permission while our cows are grazing there to be a grave offense. We demand an inquiry into the matter and action to be taken against the guilty. The grazing land must be restored to its original state immediately.
  2. Twenty years ago Indian Oil snatched our farming lands for its refinery and made false promises of providing us with employment. We are yet to get any employment in the refinery and having lost our farm land we lead a very difficult life. Moreover outsiders are being given jobs but not people from our Panchayat. Indian Oil must fulfill its promise.
  3. Indian Oil had declared it would ‘adopt’ Dhinkia Panchayat but till date we have not seen a single development activity initiated by Indian Oil. The company has made no contribution in the development of health, education, agriculture, livelihood, transports, etc. We demand the following provisions from Indian Oil i)Drinking water facilities in the village ii)Construction and maintenance of village roads iii. Lighting of village roads iv) Repair and maintenance of Primary Health Centre, appointment of Doctors and supporting staff
  4. For hundreds of years we have protected and lived off the forestland. Apart from our betel vineyards, we grow cashew, coconut, moringa, mango, jackfruit, areca nut, pineapple, etc and raise our cattle and poultry in this forestland. This forestland should not be handed over to anyone else and rather the ownership of this land should be give to the landless villagers.
  5. During the democratic movement to stop the land grab for the POSCO project many of the villagers were framed under several false cases. We continue to live with fear and insecurity that these cases will be used to victimize us. We demand that all these cases should be immediately withdrawn.
  6. Due to the close proximity of the Indian Oil refinery we demand for a consultation meeting with the district administration, Indian Oil authorities, and the people of the Panchayat to address the several issues arising from its presence.

It is our heartfelt request to take up this matter with urgency so that the people of the Panchayat can be relieved from this two decade old mental, physical, emotional and economic trauma.”

Rights Violations

The fact that IOCL has not taken any prior permission officially from the Panchayat is in violation of the Odisha Gram Panchayat Act. The village also alleges that IOCL has also violated the Odisha Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2006, as there are already 143 families dispossessed and remaining without any compensation since the anti POSCO days. While corresponding to this writer, Debendra Swain, Samiti member of Dhinkia Panchayat has alleged of police highhandedness and public threatening against the protest. Considering the history of filing false cases and atrocities on the indigenous villagers during the anti POSCO and anti JSW movements, this isn’t a new norm.

Continuing the Protests

                                                       People of Dhinkia protesting agsinst the pipeline

According to Prasant Paikray, spokeperson POSCO PRATIRODH SAGRAM SAMITI (PPSS) & Co-ordinator Orissa State Co-ordination Committee for Campaign against Displacement & SEZ, the district administration on the 17th of November 2020, has convened a meeting for talks with the villagers, where they’ve asked for the latter’s cooperation and offered to implement the development activities in a gradual manner. However, in a meeting of the Panchayat on 20th November, the villagers have decided to adopt a two strand strategy of not cooperating with IOCL unless their demands are met, and to continue their fight legally.

Thus, for the people of Dhinkia, this agitation isn’t just a matter of their livelihoods, but also about asserting their basic right to live with dignity and freedom enshrined in the law. Or in reminding the state what Amartya Sen says in “Development as Freedom”:  that “Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.”

Lekshmi Sujatha is an independent writer


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