Kalinganagar: At Tata Steel’s Gobarghati rehabilitation colony, two worlds meld into one. Concrete homes where the residents have gone out to work reflect an urban ethos. The livestock that meanders between those houses—cows, goats, ducks, chicken—speaks of the love of an agrarian life that the people who live in them can’t do without.
As Tata Steel constructs its six million tonne (mt) plant in Kalinganagar, relocated villagers are building their new industrialized lives, putting to rest five years of unrest over land acquisition.
Gura Soy, a man in his 20s from the Ho tribe, is a poster boy for the rehabilitation drive. He has masonry and carpentry skills and is currently working at the rehabilitation colony as a contractor. When the plant comes up, he could seek a job there.
For Soy, adjusting to his new life was easier than most others. At a young age, he travelled to Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi seeking masonry jobs while his family stayed at Kalinganagar, farming four acres of land. Most of the conflict between the villagers and Tata Steel over land acquisition took place while he was away travelling.
“When the plant starts, if they give me work, I could take it. Or I will have to seek a job somewhere else,” Soy said in the new home he has built on a small patch of land shared with his chicken, pigeons and ducks. “I passed my matric exam. I have faith. Sometime or the other, I will get a job.”
For many in Gobarghati, the Tata Steel relief and rehabilitation programme was an introduction to urban life, anchored by a job for sustenance without the comfort of owning land.
It’s also an introduction to nuclear families. Soy’s father got about Rs 25 lakh from the sale of four acres of land to Tata Steel. He bought land in Jharkhand and relocated there. Some are frittering away their compensation.
“There are people who are using their money to buy foreign liquor and cars,” Soy said. Others are being more careful. Ladura Bhadra, in his 20s, sold 18 acres of land on which his family cultivated paddy. He used the money to buy 9 acres of land in Dhenkanal although he won’t be personally supervising cultivation there owing to the distance. He will stay on in Gobarghati, where he works as a security guard.
The case of Sukumari Gagrai, 36, is a poignant one. Her husband Rama Gagrai was one of 14 who died in 2006 when police opened fire on protesters at the Tata Steel’s plant site.
Unable to support her five children and with little help from fellow villagers, Gagrai turned to Tata Steel officials for help. The company built her a house in Trijanga, where Gagrai has installed her husband’s stone bust.
Gagrai now works as a medical assistant in a clinic and has saved all of her compensation money. She’s also educating her children to ensure that they will be able to get jobs, with at least one of them working for Tata Steel when he finishes.
More people will find their way into concrete homes at rehabilitation colonies in this industrial belt of Orissa.
Since 2006, Tata Steel has shifted 3,057 people. It has yet to shift 808 people who are still occupying a part of their land.
Company officials said the legal process of acquiring the land was on and would take six to eight months. About 800 acres of the total area of 3,471 acres has yet to be taken under possession, they said.
An activist who has campaigned against the plant said the number is much higher and that people are not willing to move. “If they use force, if they use bullets, villagers will naturally be helpless and get depressed and leave,” said Ravindra Jharkia of the Bistapan Virodhi Janmanch. “Most of the people who have left, have left feeling helpless.”
Jharkia said there will be protests.
“I can’t tell what will happen,” he said. “Time will show how they will protest.”
Construction at the Kalinganagar plant started last year and is about 5% complete. Work is taking place simultaneously at the rehabilitation colonies. Once the Kalinganagar project starts, Tata Steel is looking for a total domestic production of over 13mt by 2013-14 (Jamshedpur and Kalinganagar plants). The Kalinganagar plant will produce 3 mt of steel a year in the first phase. Another 3 mt will be added in the second phase which is scheduled to be commissioned by March 2015.