Unlike other countries, India has a very high population density, with 1.3 billion people and becoming the first most populated country in the world. Coal mining and other sources of energy are growing quickly. This chapter explores environmental conflicts in India’s state of Odisha, with clear examples of environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous, and some successful outcomes. We find water, biomass extraction, mining, and industrial conflicts, where we can see that India’s economy exploits some states as providers of raw materials in a pattern of ecological internal colonialism shared by neighbouring states like Jharkhand and Chhatisgar. In Odisha bauxite (for aluminium), iron ore, hydropower displace Adivasi populations which sometimes successfully resist as in the Vedanta and Posco cases but not in Kashipur. Violence is mentioned in some conflicts which are motivated not only by profit making and social and political domination but also by the structure of social metabolism.


We now move to South Asia, and later to East and West Africa, and America. To do research on the environmentalism of the poor, a South‒South comparative approach is essential. Culturally, India and South America don’t have much in common. They have a colonial past but their history and their religions are quite different. However, both subcontinents show hundreds of similar struggles of the environmentalism of the poor and the Indigenous, some of them with successful outcomes. India is the most populated country in the world (1.3 billion), while Latin America and the Caribbean have half that population. India has a vibrant environmental justice movement that has much to teach overseas.

Internally, the Indian economy exploits some states (such as Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh) as providers of raw materials in a pattern of ecological internal colonialism, but internationally India is not subject to ‘ecologically unequal exchange’, contrary to South America and Africa. India's economy is not geared to cheap exports of raw materials, with some limited exceptions like iron ores. India is a net importer of fossil fuels. This is one difference. Another one is the population density, very high in India and not so high in South America. But there are many commonalities in the political ecology of India, South America and Africa (Figure 8.1).

Map of states of India.
Figure 8.1

States of India

Source:  A. Grimaldos

India is the country where after the Chipko movement of the 1970s the notion of an “environmentalism of the poor” was born, in opposition to the “cult of wilderness” and the “gospel of eco-efficiency and ecological modernization” (Martinez-Alier 2002). Ramachandra Guha and I published Varieties of Environmentalism. Essays North-South in 1997, and in 1999 an article in the Austrian journal Kurswechsel with a title novel at the time: “Political ecology, the environmentalism of the poor and the global movement for environmental justice”. This book as well as the EJAtlas itself intend to show that this movement for environmental justice exists through cross-national, cross-cultural similarities and differences. Environmental conflicts have common causes: the growth and changes in the social metabolism ‒ whether the metabolism consists of sand and gravel mining, fossil fuel extraction, metal mining or biomass extraction, whether it furthers hydropower or nuclear power or windmills, whether it is for domestic consumption or for export.

I have lived two years in India since 1988: often in conjunction with conferences of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics. In this and the next chapter I tread familiar territory. The EJAtlas has 350 cases from India (by July 2021). I have revised many entries for India together with Daniela Del Bene and Leah Temper. Main collaborators have been Swapan Kumar Patra (at JNU in 2012‒15), Brototi Roy and Eleonora Fanari (at ICTA UAB), Arpita Bisht (ISS, The Hague) and others like Arpita Lulla, Radhika Mulay (of Kalpavriksh) p. 154 p. 155between 2016 and 2022. There is much information in the extraordinary CSE “green files” and the Land Conflict Watch database.

A long book on the practice of environmental conflicts and environmental justice in India as a whole with a focus on impoverished people as protagonists (Dalits and Adivasis, scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST), religious minorities and “low” caste) is waiting for an author. I choose here only three states: Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Odisha. Other regions appear in the thematic “transversal” chapters.


Odisha (formerly called Orissa), is an Indian state overlooking the Bay of Bengal, made up of rural and mountainous hinterland with relatively few urban centres and home to around 7 million Indigenous Adivasi people. The total population is almost 44 million (similar to that of Spain or Argentina). Population density is high.

Of the four big conflicts cases considered in the first pages of this chapter, two have succeeded in preventing the evictions of local populations and the extractivist investments and two have failed. Hence the suspicion that in Odisha, as in India in general, it is the national extractive industries (often private, sometimes state-owned) that more easily abuse the people, and not so much the transnational companies yet.

There were a series of conflicts on bauxite mining and aluminium smelting in Odisha that I followed from 2001 onwards with travel to Rayagada, Kucheipadar, Lanjigarh, drawing on help from B. P. Rath, Leah Temper, and Samarendra Das and Felix Padel (the authors of the book Out of this Earth). There is a moving documentary film, Matiro Poko, Company Loko, meaning ‘Earthworm, Company man’. Political power was too asymmetrically distributed. However, some foreign companies had to leave, such as Alcan from Quebec and Norsk Hydro from Norway. One of the conflicts was won at least for the time being, that of the Dongria Kondh against the Vedanta company.

The Kashipur Struggle 1

The state of Odisha is the largest producer of bauxite in India. After the economic liberalization in 1991, impulse was given for the “development” of the “backward states” with large forest covers and high concentration of minerals underneath, and tribal population inhabiting those forests. In March 1993 the new National Mineral Policy was announced opening the mining sector to private investments. The Utkal Aluminium Industrial Limited (UAIL) was formed as a consortium, originally as a joint venture between ALCAN (Canada), Hindalco of Birla Group (India), Tata of India and Norsk Hydro (Norway) to mine bauxite from the Baphlimali Hills of Kashipur block in Rayagada district and construct an alumina refinery for export. The open-cast mine was scheduled to produce 195 million tonnes of ore per year and the refinery was meant to have a capacity of 1 million tonne production capacity. The project, however, was resisted and delayed by the local Indigenous people in the area. Commonly known as the Kashipur anti-bauxite movement, it has a long and violent story, and is one of the historic environmental justice movements of India.

A paper by Patibandla Srikant (2009) from ISEC, Bangalore, traces the chronology of the Kashipur bauxite struggle. The multiple movements in Odisha were strengthened by the p. 156interactions between them. People of the Baliapal (anti-military rocket testing) and Chilika (anti-shrimp aquaculture) movements came to Kashipur and explained how they won their rights. When the people of Kashipur heard about the success of the protest against BALCO (Bharat Aluminium Company) and the leaders of Gandhamardan Suraksha Samiti explained the methods of protest against the BALCO, they were more motivated to keep the struggle alive. Many international and national solidarity groups were also crucial, like the ALCAN’t movement in Montreal or the Adivasi-Dalit Ekta Abhiyan (ADEA).

In 1993 Utkal Alumina Industries Ltd. was established, and in 1996 UAIL visited the tribal village of Kucheipadar for a meeting during which 6000 villagers presented a memorandum to the District Collector, MLA of the constituency and to the management of UAIL. The PSSP, a political organization, organized a protest in front of the UAIL's office with 10,000 tribal people. In 1997, UAIL started construction of a resettlement colony near Dama Karola village. In August, the tribal people demonstrated against this, and in November people of Kashipur submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister through the District Collector. The PSSP led a protest march with 5,000 people in Tikri demanding the withdrawal of UAIL.

In 1998, the PSSP conducted a referendum over UAIL across 40 villages. In November, tribal people armed with clubs, bows and arrows abducted three of Norsk Hydro's employees and one Indian official to Kucheipadar village. In 2000, a rally from Kucheipadar to Tikri was organized. In March, another rally was organized against UAIL, from Tolo Dhaska to Gorakpur. In December 2000, around 4,000 tribal activists blocked the All-Party Committee meeting and the BJD district president Bhaskar Rao from entering Maikanch village.

Opposition to the Kashipur bauxite mine was spearheaded by the Prakrutik Sampad Surakshya Parishad (PSSP) and several Adivasi-Dalit movement organizations in South Odisha (Kapoor 2006). PSSP had more than 1,000 members, many of them tribal, many of them women. Their protests were met with violent repression from the state ‒ be it the police force or the goons employed by the mining companies. The PSSP (Council or Assembly for the Protection of Natural Resources) had given a call for Rasta Roko (a blockade) on 20 December. On 16 December 2000 the police fired upon Adivasis in Maikanch village of Kashipur block, killing three protestors, permanently disabling six and seriously injuring 30. The people had put up a barricade on the road at Maikanch, preventing a delegation of political leaders from attending a fake ‘multi-stakeholder dialogue’ organized by the company at Nuagaon village.

The firing resulted in mass uproar against the project, with the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) sending an “Urgent Action Alert” to international human rights organizations. Four years later, in December 2004, the Rayagada District Collector P.K. Mehrda and the district Superintendent of Police Sanjaya Kumar led the police in a brutal attack on a people's demonstration near the proposed alumina plant of Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) at Doraguda. Allegedly rape threats, tear gas shells and an aggressive lathi charge targeted more than 300 Adivasis and Dalits who were protesting. There were numerous such incidents over the years.

In October 2006, a panel of the Indian People's Tribunal headed by Justice S.N. Bhargava inquired into alleged human rights and environment violations by UAIL. The Panel members visited Kucheipadar which was the centre of the resistance. The panel recommended that the Government of Odisha should abandon the UAIL project. It was convinced that the bauxite-mining project by UAIL would have adverse environmental and health effects: water sources and agricultural land would be contaminated by toxic wastes, grasslands and forest p. 157land would be destroyed, and there would be pollution including the release of cancerous gases. The project would threaten local Adivasi communities by radically altering their livelihood options, agrarian lifestyles, cultures and identities.

After the firing at Maikanch in 2000, the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro ASA had withdrawn from the Utkal project due to the lack of progress on the construction of the refinery, which was soon followed by Tata. After the withdrawals, Hindalco and Alcan held 55 per cent and 45 per cent respectively of the UAIL shares, which Alcan finally sold off in 2007 due to many mobilizations in Canada. Currently, UAIL is a 100 per cent subsidiary of Hindalco, part of the Aditya Birla group.

The initial reason why the people resisted the project was because they were aware of the false promises of employment, basic amenities and infrastructure and development which NALCO had made in the early 1980s in the neighbouring regions for the creation of the biggest bauxite mine and refinery in the country. Although the protest delayed the project for 15 years, it was finally taken up in 2008. By December 2012, when 90 per cent of the construction was completed, the tribals still hadn’t given up. They gathered again on the anniversary of the Maikanch killing to protest. The company had projected output of 1.5 million tonnes per year. “Utkal today is a world class asset and our captive alumina bagged by captive bauxite is proving to be a great strength. We believe that operational improvements ensure that better performance will be sustained in the coming quarters”, said Satish Pai, Managing Director of Hindalco Industries in February 2017 (Menon 2005 2 ).

Districts of Odisha (A. Grimaldos).
Figure 8.2

Districts of Odisha

Source:  A. Grimaldos

Vedanta vs the Niyamgiri Hill 3

This was a conflict of the Dongria Kondh against the Vedanta company on the preservation of the Niyamgiri Hill against bauxite mining. In 2003, Vedanta Resources, a UK-based mining company had signed an MoU with the Government of Odisha (GoO) to construct a 1 MTPA alumina refinery and a CFPP (75 MW – half a million tons of coal per year) at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district to the north of Rayagada district. In September 2004, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave environmental clearance to the company on the basis that it would not divert forestland. The alumina refinery project would require 3 million tonnes per annum of bauxite mined from the nearby Niyamgiri hills, sacred to the local Dongria Kondh.

Following this, in 2004 the clearances granted to the Lanjigarh alumina refinery were challenged by local activists and a special committee was sent to investigate and report back to the Supreme Court. The committee noted the lack of in-depth studies about impacts of the mine on the water regime, flora, fauna and on the Dongria Kondh. It also pointed out that the area came under Schedule V of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits the transfer of tribal land to a non-tribal group. While the arguments continued in the Supreme Court, the company started the construction of the refinery in 2006, causing the displacement of over a hundred tribal families, and the company then argued that the adjacent mine was essential to the refinery. In 2007, the Supreme Court granted permission to Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite to proceed with the mining, despite the mobilization of local communities, as long as they paid some compensation. However, forest clearance was still pending, following a report in 2010 by the Saxena Committee that argued that the local tribes should have the right to protect their rights under the Forest Rights Act. Finally, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the local inhabitants should decide if mining in Niyamgiri hills would affect their religious and cultural rights.p. 158 p. 159

The Odisha government drew a list of 12 affected villages in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, to hold palli sabha (referenda in their local councils), which unanimously voted to reject the mining project. The rejection of mining in Niyamgiri meant Vedanta's gaze shifted to neighbouring districts that hold bauxite deposits of some 1.8 billion tonnes to feed the refinery. Whether the communities there will also be granted the same right to decide remains to be seen.

In 2017, Prafulla Samantara, activist in the area, was awarded the Goldman Environmental prize for his work against mining and dams. He is also a member of the Anti-POSCO Movement (PPSS) and of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM). This award recognizes the defence of life that these communities are carrying out not only to preserve the environment, but also lives and livelihoods (Temper and Martinez-Alier 2013).

The Retreat of Steel Giant POSCO 4

Near the coast, north of Puri, a ten-year struggle defending the territory against a steel plant project by South Korean Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) paid off in April 2016 when the company announced the end of the project. This was due to its long environmental litigation in the NGT (National Green Tribunal) and for the people's opposition over displacement, water and captive port issues composed of PPSS (POSCO Pratirodh Samgram Samiti) led by Abhay Sahu, with help from the Indian Supreme Court, one Communist Party of India and activists from all over India. Eleven years before (22 May 2005), POSCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Odisha. The state authorities had committed that they would facilitate approvals for setting up a steel plant, a captive power plant, a port at Jatadhari and many other activities for the company. The enormous plant envisaged 12 million tons of steel upon reaching full capacity. The budget was Rs 50,000 crore, equivalent to US$ 10 billion.

However, POSCO's projects met with stiff on-the-ground resistance, legal tussles related to environmental approvals and grant of leases. Issues around land acquisition, forest rights, impact assessment, violence, compensations, conditions of rehabilitation of areas were of great concern. Attempts by the government to seize or buy peasants’ land for the POSCO project provoked protests and led to increasingly bitter clashes with the police. Activists were arrested. Some people were killed in clashes with contractors. Finally, the government acquired 2,700 acres between 2012 and early 2015. A Black Day on 22 June 2015 was organized by the anti-POSCO people's movement (PPSS) asking for the withdrawal of the project and the annulment of the charges against more than 200 villagers. The cultivation of betel vines by the local population allowed them to survive and defend the land from POSCO and governmental appropriation.

The project construction was halted in 2006, but in 2012 it seemed it might start again. However, a UN Human Rights panel on 1 October 2013 asked it to immediately halt the project alleging possible displacement of 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District and disruption in their livelihoods. Protests against land acquisition for the POSCO plant coupled with regulatory hurdles kept the proposed plant still, billed as the largest FDI in India.

Essar Pellet Plant, Paradip 5

Paradip is a city also in Jagatsinghpur district. Near what was supposed to become the POSCO steel factory, the Essar factory was troubled by a combination of claims from p. 160environmental impacts and demands for employment. Hundreds of displaced villagers and workers asked for fulfilment of their demands, mainly on compensation, rehabilitation and employment.

Essar Steel is a steel manufacturer with a capacity at least of 10 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). Essar Steel's manufacturing facility comprises ore beneficiation, pellet making, iron making, steel making and downstream facilities including a cold rolling mill, galvanizing, pre-coated facility, steel processing facility, extra wide plate mill and a pipe mill. In April 2018, nearly 80 families who lost their homestead to Essar's steel project renewed their agitation for permanent employment. The protesting families squatted in dharna in front of the project gate, stopping raw materials from going in or finished products from coming out. In 2016, the company committed to provide employment to one member from each displaced family and gave a written undertaking to the district administration.

Dharanidhar Swain, who led the agitation, said: “As the company has ignored people's demand, we stopped production. The plant has been operational for seven years. But few of the affected families have jobs”. In late August 2018 the protest continued and neither the local administration nor the company had taken any step to resolve the issue. Ratnakar Jena, a protestor, said, “We handed over our lands to Essar Steel at cheap prices. Whatever money we got from the sale, we bought trucks and engaged the vehicles in the company work. However, the company is now trying to engage vehicles from outside”.

Apart from the 12 million tonne pellet plant in Paradip, the company had also planned to set up an Integrated Steel Plant (ISP) with 6 MTPA at Handia. The company is also setting up a 12 MTPA iron ore beneficiation plant at Dabuna and a 253 km slurry pipeline connecting Dabuna and Paradip.

Activists of Gramya Surakhya Samiti said the affected families of Handia are living in pathetic conditions. Claiming that Essar Steel was not providing employment opportunities, activists demanded rehabilitation of villagers and provision of permanent jobs. It was reported that if the government did not resolve the issue, the villagers would launch an agitation. The conflict therefore revolved around loss of land and housing by villagers, which was promised to be compensated for by secure employment in the factory. While the negative effects were certain, the compensation was uncertain.

Maps of conflicts in India, classified in ten categories (biodiversity conservation, biomass, nuclear, waste management etc.).
Figure 8.3

Conflicts in India from Chapters 8 and 9

Source:  A. Grimaldos

Tata Built the Steel Plant Over the Dead Bodies of Tribal People in Kalinganagar 6

Kalinganagar, north of Cuttack, is located under Sukinda and Danagadi blocks of Jajpur district of Odisha. It is rapidly becoming the new industrial hub of Odisha. The NH-200, connecting the iron ore/chromite belt of Jajpur and Keonjhar districts with the Paradip Port, runs through the area. Government planned to convert the area into a 13,000-acre industrial centre. Factories located in the area will produce about 25 million tonnes of steel a year. Along with the steel factories there will be an airport, a hospital, schools and new houses. Government of Odisha signed more than 40 MoUs with various private companies in the State. The Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Orissa (IDCO) was responsible for developing infrastructure facilities for the proposed industrial complex. IDCO started acquiring land between 1992 and 1994.

The IDCO purchased land from people at a minimal rate while it sold the same land to the corporate beneficiary at much higher prices. Also, the compensation for land was given to only those who had patta on the land (legal document of ownership), leaving a huge section p. 161 p. 162of people uncompensated. Another section of people, who cultivated land as sharecroppers, didn’t receive any compensation.

On 2 January 2006, the State police opened fire on a protest in Kalinganagar by local tribals against the takeover and seizure of their territory by a Tata Steel plant. Sixteen people died on the spot, four more died in the hospital and a police constable was also killed in the clash. The mining and building plans have made progress since then. Even 13 years later, in 2019, the deaths were still commemorated.

Hirakud Dam, a “Temple of Modern India” and a “Sacrifice Zone” 7

The conflicts on metal mining and heavy industry arose in Odisha after some other older state-sponsored projects had come to life such as NALCO, and among them the most famous one is the Hirakud Dam, a composite structure of earth, concrete and stone. The reservoir was built on the Mahanadi River and located about 15 km upstream of Sambalpur. The project was the first multi-purpose river valley project in post independent India, to control floods, irrigation and power generation. On 13 January 1957, the prime minister of the Indian republic Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the dam, calling it ‘a temple of modern India’. For this project, around 26,500 families from 369 villages were forcibly displaced. Among the total displaced 12,700 families were scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST). Many of them settled in parts of Sambalpur and the neighbouring districts and many migrated to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Around 11, 000 families were settled in the fringe of the Hirakud Reservoir.

About 12,000 families got some form of compensation and about 9,000 families did not get rehabilitation and compensation packages. Affected families kept protesting about the delay. Although in the original plans there is no provision for water for industrial purposes, many companies got permission from the authorities to dig wells. Millions of farmers in Odisha who depend on Hirakud dam water to irrigate their agricultural land believe that diverting water for industry severely affected their livelihood.

In different stages, the Odisha Krushak Sangathan, a state-based organization, agitated on the issue of water distribution and priority to industries. They sent collective letters to the president of India, blocked roads, called for an open dialogue with the local political leaders and embraced “non-cooperation” protests. However, they got very little attention and were targeted with violence by police forces. Since the time of early construction, different traditions and cultures of the people of western Odisha were severely affected, and put the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and fishermen at stake. After 50 years, one might ask what people gained from the dam. Many families have never seen any form of compensation, and the ecology of the river has been put in great distress. Electricity is produced, the installed power is over 347 MW. The dam provides protection against flooding on the coast as far away as Puri.


Ballarpur Industries in Jeypore, Koraput 8

There are some conflicts on eucalyptus plantations in Odisha still unrecorded in the EJAtlas. Monocrop plantations of eucalyptus are not true forests. There are also conflicts on paper p. 163mills supplied with bamboo as raw materials. One conflict in Odisha related to a paper maker company, Ballarpur Industries Limited (BILT), India's largest manufacturer of writing and printing paper, took place at one of its manufacturing units: the ‘Sewa Paper Mill’, located in the village Gaganapur in Koraput.

It was reported in 2003 that people living in villages around the Sewa Paper Mill alleged that agricultural lands had been damaged by the toxic water released. Villagers claimed that they had to sustain heavy losses and they approached factory officials many times to demand they release their wastewater through a pipe, but no measures were taken. Then, over 10,000 people of Jeypore block in Koraput district decided to start a massive campaign against Sewa Paper Mill to protest air and water pollution. The factory closed down several times because of financial reasons. In late 2021 the Sewa Paper Mills, initially owned by Ballarpur Industries Ltd which had started in 1984, began operations again, now taken over by Mother Earth Resources Private Ltd.

Brewery Project Destroying Jhinkargadi Forest in Balarampur, Dhenkanal District 9

This project was cancelled by the chief minister of the state, Naveen Patnaik, a day after the massive clash of villagers with the police and district administration, after more than 900 trees of the ancient Sal forest had been felled. This was due to massive media attention, involving political actors and social activists, and highlighting the role of the villagers in safeguarding the forest for decades. It was in practice an eco-feminist triumph by women using Chipko tactics. On 17 November 2018, hundreds of villagers of Balarampur village clashed with the police to prevent felling of trees in the old forest of Jhinkargadi, which has about 5,000 Sal trees. The trees were being cut down for a proposed liquor bottling plant by P & A Bottlers Pvt. Ltd. The ground-breaking ceremony of this brewery project worth Rs 102 crore was conducted by the chief minister Naveen Patnaik on 3 November 2018 through a video conference.

The trees of the Jhinkargadi forest have been nurtured for generations by the villagers of Balarampur (especially women). Everyone from the village is part of the traditional rotational routine, under which two men patrol 600 acres of forest each day to ensure smugglers and poachers aren’t destroying it. Not only is the forest a source of livelihood to the villagers, it is also an important elephant corridor. According to Sushanta Kumar Dhala, secretary of the Balarampur Gramya Parichalana Parishad (BGPP): “Not only commercial plants are there; as many as 116 types of plants and medicinal trees are there”. The forest has been a site of dispute since the state-run Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation, the nodal agency for facilitating land for industries, showed interest in acquiring the land.

On 17 November 2018 three platoon police forces entered the forest at about 4 a.m. and cordoned off the entire area. Once the villagers were made aware, they immediately rushed to stop the cutting of the old trees. Women used the method of hugging the trees to stop them from being felled. “However, police pulled us away and cut the trees using electric saws”, said Nibesini Biswal, one of the protesting women. Close to 1,000 trees were felled by the local administration, amidst protests, scuffles, arrests and live media coverage. Dhenkanal SP Santosh Kumar Nayak confirmed that the police arrested 13 people. The incident garnered a lot of media, activist and political attention. Environmental-social activists such as Prafulla Samantara, Debi Prusty and others addressed the villagers and expressed their solidarity. Many forest rights and tribal rights activists and advocacy groups such as Vasundhara also reported the incident on social media.p. 164

Prafulla Samantara, known for his role in the Vedanta conflict, said, “The villagers had moved the National Green Tribunal for a directive to the state government against felling of trees on forest land. While the tribunal was scheduled to hear the case on November 20, the district administration decided to fell the trees”. Due to all the protests and the visibility the brewery project was cancelled. Women from the village carried out the last rites by first performing a puja on the felled logs and then planting saplings of fruit bearing trees on the same patch of land vowing to protect the forests against industrial projects.


The Chilika Lake, which is the largest brackish water and the most beautiful lagoon in India, had been a steady source of livelihood for decades for the scheduled caste people residing in fisher hamlets surrounding the lake in the districts of Puri, Khorda and Ganjam. During the late 1980s the worldwide rise in demand for shrimp exports to the United States of America, Japan and European countries was seen as a golden opportunity for Indian industrialists and politicians to increase their foreign exchange earnings. In 1986, the government of Odisha entered into an agreement with Tata to open a large aquaculture unit named Tata Aquatic Farm Ltd to lease 1,400 ha in Chilika for prawn cultivation. The government had a 10 per cent share in the deal which was opposed by the Janata Dal party. However, when the Janata Dal came into power in 1989, it merely changed the name to Chilika Aquatic Farms Ltd and increased the share to 49 per cent.

The local people mobilized with the initial help of Meet the Students (MTS), a group of radical youth from Utkal University at Bhubaneswar who regularly visited the fishing villages to make them more aware of the issues that the shrimp industry would bring. They also took steps to involve the Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha, a mass organization of 122 villages in Chilika, which works towards the protection of interests of the fishermen. The Chilika Bachao Andolan (CBA) was formally launched in January 1992 to work as an extension of Chilika Matsyajibi Mahasangha. Over the years, the conflict gained a broader spectrum and from just protests turned violent. The local people broke the embankment of the project and in return were beaten and jailed by the police. The movement did help to bring a Supreme Court verdict in its favour in 1996, when it was stated that all the shrimp farms within a 1,000 m of Chilika Lake must be destroyed. However, despite the verdict, the shrimp farming continues to flourish in the area. In 1999, four protesters, including a woman, were killed during the protest.

Another area of environmental injustice is the proposed Chilika (Regulation of Fisheries) Bill, 2011, following opposition from local fishermen. It was first proposed in 2001 and has provisions to make the illegal shrimp farming get legal status and thus promote non-traditional fishing in the lake. The issues are unresolved as the fishermen are still losing their livelihoods, the environment is being polluted and the protests continue. “Clashes over fishing rights in Chiilka Lake have been escalating both in number and intensity”, says Biswapriya Kanungo, legal adviser to Chilika Traditional Fishers’ Federation, whose membership runs into thousands. “Skirmishes or serious encounters occur once a month on average”, he adds. Increasing population, overfishing, depleted fish stocks and environmental degradation have all taken their toll on the lake and its rich biodiversity. A related conflict is in Bhitarkanika, another coastal area in Odisha (Chapter 11).p. 165


From the conflict cases in Odisha collected in this chapter we find arguments to support the hypothesis of “internal colonialism” (also applicable to neighbouring states in India exporting to the rest of the country energy flows and a great tonnage of materials). This part of India is like northern Brazil, from the study of which Steve Bunker developed a theory of ecologically unequal exchange. When such extractive economies geared to raw material exports are established, with an essential role as providers of energy and materials together with a structure of local political power unable and unwilling to defend the local people and natural resources, then the social-environmental situation tends to deteriorate more and more. It is true that Odisha has a constellation of political parties of its own so that political submission to the central establishment of India is not so firm. Nevertheless, the metabolic structure of Odisha and neighbouring states is that of provisioners of raw materials and energy, and one consequence is the violence of some of the socio-environmental conflicts reported. Violent extractivism is not only motivated by profit-making and by social and political domination, it is also caused by the structure of social metabolism

A difference with northern Brazil is that in India we are dealing with heavily populated territories; in Odisha, with rich agricultural areas and coastal resources. The internal subordination to the Indian state implies that the plunder continues and grows in the absence of local power. The state and the local administration are more committed to so-called “development” than to the actual welfare of local peoples and the defence of the environment. Among the local people, there are many Adivasi. Odisha is a territory where strong Hindutva forces wish the cultural assimilation of Adivasis, to put it mildly. India has not ratified Convention 169 of ILO but has at least the Forest Rights Act. However, a village like Kucheipadar was simply eradicated by force. Norsk-Hydro and Alcan had to retreat but Birla came to the rescue.

The resistance to POSCO in Jagatsinghpur district, and to Vedanta in Kalahandi, has been so far successful, something truly remarkable, but the killings in Kalinganagar were done at zero cost to the Indian state and to the Tata company. Birla and Tata won (Indian companies) but Vedanta (from London) and POSCO (from South Korea) had to retreat. This supports the hypothesis of “internal colonialism”. Dispossession of land and water also takes place in biomass conflicts, whether on eucalyptus plantations for paper mills or other investments. Opposed vision and interests on the use of coastal resources also give rise to conflicts, such as the Chilika lake and on the Bhitarkanika National Park. These are not at all remote areas from an Indian point of view: Chilika is featured in religious-tourist tours including the Puri temples and Konark.

In all the conflicts ad-hoc organizations appear, with names including Bachao Andolan, Parishad, Manch or Samiti, meaning collective or committee or “movement to save”. The names are Indian, the inspiration often Gandhian, the dharnas and blockades are displayed in many other social movements in India and the mode of ad-hoc often ephemeral organizations is similar to that of other countries. In some more important conflicts, the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements also appears (which is supposed to cover a country of 1.3 billion people and thousands of local environmental and human rights movements). Exceptionally, the PSSP in Kashipur was a political party but also more than a political party. Many slogans, songs and documentaries testify to the strength of “subaltern environmentalism” in Odisha.p. 166

Although Odisha grassroots environmentalism is similar in strength to that of other regions in India, perhaps it is handicapped compared to South India by a lower degree of democracy in the state administration and stronger repression. For instance, I was once recommended to meet Achyut Das of Agranamee, who had been active in Kashipur but who dared not come with me to Kashipur. He was threatened, and we only met in Bhubaneswar, he helped me. This was in 2002. There are places in Odisha where the system of governance is clearly not based on panchayat and gram sabha raj but on the power of the District Collector and SP raj. This is the case in other parts of India but not certainly everywhere. A District Collector (a colonial name) or district magistrate is a state officer who is in charge of a district. India has about 741 districts. A superintendent of police (SP) or deputy commissioner of police (DCP) heads the police force of a district. They take part in socio-environmental conflicts, often on the side of business. Their social distance to Adivasi populations is large. But some SPs in India, as we shall see, have been killed trying to stop sand mining businesses. “District collectors, SPs, and environmental conflicts ‒ regional variations in India” ‒ this would be a good theme for a thesis in political science.



Kashipur Anti-Bauxite mining movement, India (Brototi Roy), EJ Atlas.

Indo-Swiss NRM Programme Orissa, Police Firing in Kashipur (Orissa, India).


Menon, M. (2005). The battle for bauxite in Orissa, The Hindu, 20 April.


Niyamgiri-Vedanta Bauxite Mining, India (Leah Temper), EJ Atlas.


Posco steel plant in Odisha, India (Lucie Greyl, Daniela Del Bene and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJ Atlas.


Essar Pellet Plant, Paradeep, Odisha, India (Tapan Kumar), EJ Atlas.


Tata Steel Plant Kalinganagar, Orissa India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJ Atlas.


Hirakud Dam, Orissa, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJ Atlas.


Sewa Paper Mill in Gangapur, Orissa, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJ Atlas.


Brewery project destroying Jhinkargadi forest in Balarampur village, Odisha, India (Brototi Roy), EJ Atlas.


Shrimp farming at Chilika Lake, Odisha, India (Brototi Roy), EJ Atlas.

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