Handle with care

Updated: Jan 5 2006, 05:30am hrs
The violent attempt by tribals in Orissa to stop the Tata Steel factory from coming up on their land is a reminder of the need for state governments to handle these matters humanely and efficiently. Apparently enraged at the compensation they received for their land, and with little faith in the official machinery, the tribals stormed the site, killing a policeman. The police retaliated, killing many; scores have been hospitalised with serious wounds. The story is not without precedent; the only thing new in this scenario is the refusal of the dispossessed to accept state dictates as an inexorable act of fate. The process of land takeover for uses deemed in the public interest has invariably been unsatisfactory, handled as it has been by an insensitive and uncommunicative bureaucracy.

This has to change and without delay. In Orissa alone, the Tisco project is one of dozens of big-ticket investment schemes of this nature and almost all will involve dispossession, sometimes a major one. This will be the case all over the country, too, as the momentum of growth and investment picks up. It is not just a question of investors money: if India has determined on promoting industrialisation and modern (and fast-paced) economic growth, it has to find a way of avoiding what happened at Kalinga Nagar on Monday. The poor and dispossessed are fully aware of the need to upgrade their lives. What they find extremely hard to believefor which attitude they have more than enough reasonis that the state has taken the trouble to understand and balance their interests and can be trusted to represent these fairly vis--vis developers and industrialists.

If we are interested in building an India where modernity and humanity go hand-in-hand, this must become history. It is for the state to sit down and discuss with the dispossessed the need for such takeover. And to work out a package that gives not only just compensation for the loss of land and livelihood, but also a stake in the change for those making the sacrificejobs, re-training, loans, approvals on the spot, etc. This is both justice and the way forward.