The Nyamgiri struggle may be over
But a far greater battle is still to be won
Pravin Patel is a leading Indian tribal rights activist, who recently revealed the true extent of the disaster caused by Vedanta's faulty chimney construction in Chhattisgarh. See: Many workers die as chimney collapses at Indian plant
In a recent article he roundly condemns the UK company's attempt to blame foreign NGOs for the minor disaster that befell the company when the Indian government rejected its attempts to mine bauxite from Nyamgiri in Orissa. See: Vedanta blames "foreign-funded" NGOs for its problems
Mr Patel also highlights the alarming activities of several other major Indian extractive companies as they encroach on areas vital to tribal communities, backed by the government's anti-terrorist "Operation Green Hunt".
Many indigenous people are now being falsely accused of associating with the Maoist (Naxalite) movement, and have suffered arrest, imprisonment, torture and death as a result. See: Thousands targeted in India's "hidden" resource war
In the meantime, Vedanta is struggling to regain a foothold in Orissa following the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)'s rejection of its application to mine the Nyamgiri hills as being a violation of forest legislation.
In a welcome decision, the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) has just ruled that the MoEF wrongfully granted environmental clearance to the project, especially since no valid and mandatory public hearings were actually held.
This hasn't prevented Vedanta from challenging a ministry "show cause" notice which argues that the company has been illegally expanding its Lanjigarh alumina refinery, adjacent to the now-mothballed Nyamgiri mine site.
The company is also zealously seeking bauxite supplies from other Indian states, while urging the Orissa government to assist it in this purpose on its own doorstep.
There's little doubt that the much-belated examination of Vedanta's numerous irregularities (to say the least) over the past six years is starting to "make waves" over and beyond the company's gambles in Orissa.
In 2008 India’s Supreme Court (SC) had denied a permit to Vedanta Resources for the Nyamgiri bauxite mine, citing the company’s recent exclusion by Norway’s Pension Fund. The court seemed to agree with a Norwegian Council on Ethics conclusion that the UK company was simply not to be trusted.
Extraordinarily, the SC then handed the lease to Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite, for it to be “developed” in partnership with the Orissa state government and its mining corporation, OMC.
This was despite the fact that, in practice, Vedanta would play the lead role in exploiting the Nyamgiri hills, while the majority of any output would primarily serve the UK company's interests.
Last week, India’s central Ministry of Mines declared that, in future, it will intensively “scrutinise” future similar “back door” arrangements.
Of itself this move won’t prevent private (including foreign) outfits gaining access to India’s fast-dwindling mineral resources. Nonetheless it might add an additional restraint to the rampant privatisation process that has jeopardised so many rural peoples' livelihoods over the past fifteen years.
Another London-listed mining company, Rio Tinto, was recently granted a major diamond concession in Madhya Pradesh.
And Vedanta itself is proposing to take over Cairn India (a subsidiary of Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy which is in joint venture with state-owned ONGC) to pump oil from the country’s richest fields of their kind in Rajasthan.
Mukesh Kumar Should Look Within, Instead Of Throwing Stones At Others
By Pravin Patel
14 September 2010
Vedanta's chief operating officer Mukesh Kumar's outburst on NGOs for supporting Niymagiri tribals' movement is uncalled for.
The company itself is having its headquarters at London. It itself works like a foreign company. Then, how can the company COO blame the foreign funded NGOs ?
It is not only an attempt to hide the unlawful actions of Vedanta, but it is also an attempt to hide the ugly face of the company.
Why Mukesh Kumar is silent on the finding of Saxena Committee report which states:
"The company is in illegal occupation of 26.123 ha of village forest lands enclosed within the factory premises. The claim by the company that they have only followed the state government orders and enclosed the forest lands within their factory premises to protect these lands and that they provide access to the tribal and other villagers to their village forest lands is completely false. This is an act of total contempt of the law on the part of the company and shows an appalling degree of collusion on the part of the concerned officials".
It is evident that Vedanta was involved in a gross violation of the rules and regulations of the land.
After the Niyamgiri fiasco, now Vedanta's eagle eyes are on Gandhamardan*. The company is working in tandem with the state officials to grab the mines in Gandhamardan region. It is time for the tribals of this region to suffer.
As per the reports coming from Gandhamardan, the armed forces are moving and doing combing operations in the village after village in Gandhamardan to capture the area.
It is high time for Odisha [Orissa] state government to come clean in dealing with the tribals at par with the constitutional provisions that they enjoy. Otherwise, the unholy nexus of the state government and Vedanta officials will be exposed in Gandhamardan also.
The way senior ministers of Odisha government are openly supporting Vedanta against the interest of deprived sections specially the tribals in the public rallies shows that BJD is repaying the financial obligations which the party had taken during the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls last year.
Blaming tribal peoples: democracy is at stake
One can see a parallel in the Odisha government's action, to overnight brand the tribals as Maoists in Niymagiri areas and else-where in the state, like the other governments in the neighbouring states, including Chhattisgarh, are doing. It is a dangerous trend for democracy.
In fact, Dantewada is truly a killing field where in the name of Salwa Judam, the state- sponsored terrorism was unleashed on the innocent tribals on the pretext of combating Naxalism. Dandewada is not the only place, but there are few more killing fields that has come up in the last two or three years.
The root cause of all the trouble lies in the new national mining policy, which was introduced in 1993 by the Union government, that was heavily tilted towards the mining corporations. The government is not bothered to correct the mining policy to stop the looting.
As a result of which, several hundreds of companies have lined up to grab mining rights. The mineral rich state governments were more anxious and eager to ink the MoUs.
One can very well understand the reason for the huge money changing hands, by inking MoUs in the mineral rich states - Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Karnataka. One can take iron ore as an example. When the international rate of iron ores was 200 dollars plus, the Indian mining corporations paid a laughing low rate of royalty that is only Rs 17 per day per tonne.
The situation in the bauxite, cromite and other minerals is the same. Though it is not a secret that the mining rights are virtually a license to commit day light robbery.
Almost all the mineral rich tribal areas including Dantewada are in the 5th schedule of our constitution where it is compulsory to follow Panchayat extension of scheduled areas act (PESA), 1996.
As such, it is impossible for all the mining corporations to acquire lands of tribals. But, if we play the game like Salwa Judum, it can be possible to forcibly drive out the tribals to vacate the land as it happened in Dantewada.
After a PIL [Public INterest Legislation] in the Supreme Court, the realities of Salwa Judam were exposed. The government was asked by the court to re-settle those tribals back to their home. But, this has not happened till now.
On the contrary, the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram which was doing the job of re-settlement was bull-dozed within hours. And, Himanshu Kumar, head of VCA, was driven out of Chattisgarh.
Now, operation green hunt has taken the place of Salwa Judam. According to the reports of the Ministry of Home, 216 districts of our country are in the grip of Naxalites. The question comes that the operation green hunt is prarctised in five districts only and not in 211 districts.
What is the most common factor in the five districts? Dantewada has iron ore in which Tata Steel and Essar have interests. Niyamgiri and Malkangiri are areas where Vedanta and a few companies of the Birlas are interested. In Latehar in Jharkhand, Hindalco and Vedanta are after the bauxite; and at Kolhan in Jharkhand, Bushan, Jindal Steel and five more companies, including Arcelor Mittal, have interests. At Lalgarh in West Bengal, it is Jindal who has an interest to set up a steel plant.
Thus, we see that wherever the corporate interest is there, the operation green hunt is operational.
Operation green hunt is practicised by different state governments . All of them have one thing in common: to serve the corporate interest. In Odisha, the BJD; the BJP in Chhatisgarh; in Jharkhand earlier under a coalition government, and now under the President rule; and under the CPM in West Bengal - all are following the same policy of appeasing the corporates. Those who oppose are branded "Naxalites" and put behind bars under various laws.
After 63 years of Independence, two decades of liberalisation, the income of 20 corporate houses has risen to the equivalent of that of the 100 crore [a billion] of the poor people of our country. Mukesh Ambani's new residential building for the five members of his family costs Rs 10,000 crore rupees, while masses are struggling to survive.
We are sitting on a volcano. The worst situation is yet to come. It is time for all those activists who respect human rights and environment to come together and speed up the process of building trust in our democracy which is fast decreasing, particularly in the mineral rich tribal areas.
The question arises here of who runs the country or state governments like Odisha?
Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh - or Naveen Patnaik and 20 top corporate houses?
One can take a call on this important question.
This article has been slightly edited by MAC
*Editorial note: The Gandhamardan bauxite lease lies in western Orissa. It was previously under the control of Balco - now a Vedanta subsidiary - until a peoples' movement closed the project down.
NEAA Suspends Environment Clearance For Niyamgiri Mining Project Of Vedanta Plc
17 September 2010
The National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) on 16-9-2010 has suspended the environmental clearance granted to the Niyamgiri mining project of M/s Orissa Mining Corporation and Vedanta Ltd. This was granted by the MoEF on 28-4-2009. The order came as a result of appeal filed by the 25 Dongria Kondhs along with Dr R Sreedhar of the Academy of Mountain Environics and Prafulla Samantara.
The NEAA found fault with the approval granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests since the whole public hearing process was undermined. The contention of the Appellant was that the Public hearing was held in 2003 whereas the project was approved on the basis of an EIA prepared in 2005. The law requires that the EIA document should be prepared before the Public Hearing for public comments but no such opportunity was provided to the affected communities. The NEAA is its judgement held that:
"It is clear that the Vimta Labs EIA report of 2005 on the basis of which the EC was granted was never in public domain for people to express their views/ concerns during the two public hearings held during 2003, leading to non compliance of Ministry's notification. Further a perusal of the rapid EIA by Vimta Labs reveals that it lacks analysis in respect of human miseries which the project is likely to inflict.
"The authority therefore remits the matter to the Ministry with directions to revisit its environment clearance including the aspect of public hearing and take appropriate action. Till this process is over, the Environment Clearance stands suspended".
This is an important decision given that Ministry of Environment and Forest had overlooked the crucial issue of public participation. The Appeal is also significant given the fact the MoEF had been found at fault for approving the project without considering the crucial issue of participation of the Dongrai Kondhs who are a vulnerable tribal community.
Ritwick Dutta (09810044660) (LIFE)
R Sreedhar (09810706244) (Academy for Mountain Environics)
Ravi Rebbapragada (9848195937) (Chairperson, mm&P)
Mines ministry to scrutinise Vedanta-like joint ventures
By Priyadarshi Siddhanta
16 September 2010
Troubles could soon ignite for state-run behemoths having Vedanta-style joint ventures with private mining companies as the union mines ministry has decided to subject such JVs to intense scrutiny.
Asking the mineral-rich states to be "transparent" in selecting private partners for their mining companies, the ministry has issued a slew of guidelines that these states should follow for the same.
The move comes a day after Mines Minister B K Handique expressed concern on the "back-door entry" by the private mining companies by tying up with the PSUs.
Also galvanised by the union central government] environment and forests ministry's decision to cancel the Orissa Mining Corporation's bauxite mining rights in the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa's Lanjigarh district, the mines ministry has stepped in to ensure accountability from the states on such MoUs their PSUs have with private mining entities.
In the draft guidelines the ministry pointed out that in case of reserved areas, if a PSU sought to enter into a JV with a private sector company to exploit a concession in a reserved area, "the process of selection of such JV partner should be transparent and satisfy the norms set out in the Section 11(3) of the MMDR Act.
The reason is that reservation in favour of a PSU should not be used non-transparently to grant benefits to a private sector company which may not be otherwise eligible under the Act."
According to the guidelines, reservation of areas for exploitation by the PSUs for grant of concessions would be subject to the condition that if the PSU did not exploit the mineral on its own and sought to execute it through a JV, then "it will have to obtain prior approval of the Centre for the arrangement".
It asked the states to issue a comprehensive circular specifying the policy and content outlining the procedures and consequences.
"In case the MoU/JV is treated as special reasons, it is necessary to make its provisions enforceable, and as such the state must send all its details along with a proposal to make it enforceable through application of the Rule 27(3) of the Mineral Concession Rules," according to the new guidelines.
Govt trashes Vedanta reply
17 September 2010
Tightening it screws over Anil Agarwal promoted Vedanta Resources, the environment ministry has claimed that its view were never sought on the company plan to expand its aluminum refinery in Orissa. Vedanta in a reply to the ministry's show cause notice on August 31 for cancelling environment clearance to its plant in Kalahandi district had said the ministry's clearance for six fold expansion was not required. The reply was submitted on Wednesday.
The firm had reportedly contended that the clearance was granted under Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006, which didn't require a separate approval for expansion. Any expansion within the premises of the approved project was considered deemed approved.
The ministry does not seem to agree and is likely to ask the firm whether it sought ministry's views about its expansion plans or not. "Obviously, if you increase the size of the plant its environment impact will be more. It has to be examined," said a government functionary.
What has amazed the ministry is that the facts now being raised by Vedanta were never brought before the N.C. Saxena committee, which had inspected the plant in Lanjigarh and sought explanation about the expansion.
"No such explanation was given," said a panel member Pramod Kant, who had visited the firm and given details of the expansion-related work.
The firm had started six-fold expansion of its refinery in Lanjigrah without obtaining ministry's clearance. The refinery got permission for output of one million tonnes in 2003 and had applied for expansion in 2007, for which permission is yet to be given.
If the expansion is allowed, the entire bauxite reserves in Nyamgiri hills will be exhausted in four years, creating an ecological havoc, the report said.
What is apparent is that the issue of cancellation of clearance to Vedanta is heading for a long haul. The ministry is willing to hear Vedanta officials on the show cause notice after examining the reply.
But, if the firm is aggrieved with the ministry's final view it can approach the Supreme Court, which had approved the project in 2008.