January 14, 2009 / 5:45 AM / 11 years ago

Orissa farmers protest use of dam water for industry

BHUBANESWAR (Reuters) - Thousands of farmers protested over the use of water from a major dam by factories in Orissa on Tuesday, in what is seen as the latest face-off between farmers and industry over land and natural resources.

Farmers marched near the Hirakud dam in mineral-rich Orissa, police and witnesses said. Many held placards saying “Hirakud water for farmers”.

The 25.8-km long dam was built in 1956, the first big project India undertook after independence.

Millions of farmers in Orissa depend on Hirakud dam water to irrigate farmland and they believe that diverting water for industry will hurt them.

The main purpose of the dam was to stop floods, generate electricity and provide employment, but not provide water to industries, the farmers have alleged.

“The government has given permission to some companies recently to build wells in the reservoir area to draw water, but we are here to stop any such plan,” said Lingaraj, a protest leader who goes by one name.

The demonstration reflects a larger standoff between industry and farmers unwilling to give up land and water in India, where two-thirds of the population depend on agriculture for a living.

For the last few years, violent protests have forced authorities to cancel key industrial projects planned on farmland.

Last year, a move to take over thousands of acres of land for an industrial complex and a chemical hub sparked protests in the Nandigram area of West Bengal.

Dozens of farmers have been killed in clashes with police and communist party cadres since 2007 in Nandigram, and the violence forced the national government to suspend plans briefly to set up special low-tax industrial zones across the country.

Later Tata Motors had to abandon a car factory project in West Bengal, following violent protests.

Britain’s Vedanta Resources PLC and South Korean steelmaker POSCO are also facing stiff opposition in their respective projects in Orissa.

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