MAC: Mines and Communities

India-UK demonstrators call for closure of Vedanta refinery

Published by MAC on 2012-12-11
Source: HotnHit News, Times of India

Delhi Supreme Court postpones verdict on Nyamgiri mine

Last Thursday, demonstrations were mounted in both Orissa and Britain, calling for the closure of Vedanta Resources' Lanjigarh alumina refinery.

Several thousand tribal people gathered at the site itself, while supporters threw mud onto the steps of India's London High Commission.

On the same day, India's Supreme Court met to make a "final decision" as to whether Vedanta's junior partner, OMC, should be allowed to extract bauxite from the adjacent Nyamgiri hills.

After hearing arguments against the project from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), and in its favour by the lawyer for OMC, the court postponed its verdict until  11 January 2013.

Dongria tribe of Niyamgiri demands complete shutdown of Vedanta unit
in Lanjigarh

HotnHit News

7 December 2012

Thousands of Dongria Kondh tribals and agrarian community members took out a rally at Lanjigarh on December 6, 2012, Thursday, demanding complete closure of Vedanta Aluminium unit on the foot of Niyamgiri hill range.

Tribals from both Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, who depend on Niyamgiri for their livelihood, participated in the rally, held under the banner of the Niyamgiri
Surakshya Samity (NSS).

Leaders of various democratic movements including Lingaraz Azad of National Forest Worker's Federation and Prafulla Samantara, Convenor of National Alliance for People's
Movements, also joined the rally to extend their solidarity."

‘We want the Vedanta plant to shutdown completely because it is operating illegally in this area without environmental clearance. The plant itself is a violation of laws meant to protect the rights of the tribal people,' said Lingaraj Azad.

One of the tribal leaders involved in the movement for protection of Niyamgiri, Lado Sikaka, said, ‘It's for the company that operates illegally in our place that the government and its forces have been torturing us since years. They are harassing us by terming us as
Maoists. They have arrested me as a Maoist leader. Anybody who is opposing the ill-designed operations of the company is being termed as a Maoist and put into harassment. Whatever the government does, we will continue our fight to save Niyamgiri, eve if the Supreme Court gives an order in favour of the company.'

Joining the rally to extend his solidarity, NAPM convenor Prafulla environmental clearance is completely illegal. So, the company must close its operations in Lanjigarh because it is threatening the livelihood of the Dongria Kandh tribals and, also, polluting the
whole area and endangering the forests and rivers in and around.

On the other hand, closure of Lanjigarh unit of Vedanta is believed to have become a nightmare to over 2000 persons who got a direct or indirect employment in the plant. ‘But, because of this employment, should the country keep on doing wrongs and violating the laws of  the land?' asked Prafulla Samantara and many of the tribal leaders, including Kumti Majhi, the man who leads the movement for the protection of Niyamgiri.

About employment being placed as a reason to continue some of the illegal operations like mining in Keonjhar and Sundergarh, veteran legal professional and President of Odisha High Court Bar Association Jayant Das once remarked, 'should the country legalise
loot and burglary because a good number of people are engaged in it?"

Mud throwing at UK mission upsets India

The Times of India

7 December 2012

LONDON: The Indian high commission in London is considering lodging a firm protest with the British foreign office about yet another failure on the part of the London metropolitan police to provide protection to its premises. This was conveyed to TOI on Thursday by a reliable diplomatic source.

Earlier in the day, a group of unruly protesters armed with horns, megaphones and pots and pans descended on the entrance of the diplomatic mission, depositing a substantial quantity of mud at the main entrance of the building so as to block access. They demanded the Indian government debar mining at Niyamgiri in Odisha, India.

Soon after the incident, Indian diplomats summoned the London metropolitan police's diplomatic protection force to express its "displeasure" and seek an explanation. The police said they are looking at video footage to identify the trouble makers. The high commission's security officers are assisting them in this task.

An organization calling itself Foil Vedanta, quoted an activist named Samarendra Das as saying, "Vedanta should be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange and taken to court here in Britain." Vedanta could not be reached for a comment.

Report on Supreme Court Hearing

Commentary by Devangana Kalita


6 December 2012

Today the Indian Supreme Court was supposed to have announced its final decision on Vedanta's planned mega-mine which threatens the Dongria Kondh tribe who live in the Niyamgiri hills.

After more than ten years of opposition by grassroots groups and movements nationally and internationally, the Indian Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Jairam Ramesh, ruled against the mine in August 2010 citing violations of environment and forestry acts.

But this ruling was challenged by the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC), a state owned company with 24% shares in the joint venture to mine Niyamgiri with Vedanta.

Today, the Green Bench of the Supreme Court convened to decide whether OMC can mine the mountains on behalf of Vedanta.

Rohinton F Nariman, solicitor-general pleading the case on behalf of MoEF in the Supreme Court put forward a strong case for how the Forests Rights Act guarantees and protects the rights of the Dongria Kond, and how in the Act, rights of access are as equally important as rights of habitat.

This was in response to the argument of OMC that since there are no people habiting the top of the mountain, Forests Rights Act's benefits cannot be claimed by the Dongria Kond at the proposed site. Nariman stressed how the entire Niyamgiri Mountain is sacred and essential to the Dongria Kond and their way of life and livelihood, their cultural right is their pastoral right.

Hence, The Forest Rights Act, Nariman argued, entails the 'absolute' protection of rights of habitat and access of the Dongria Kond to the Niyamgiri Mountain and as well of the forests in the hill. The Act he argued, is an inalienable right, it does not at all provide for resettlement, compensation or rehabilitation.

He elaborated on the cases for which, diversion of forest land might be allowed - e.g. for amenities of school, hospital, fair-price shop, aaganwadis, drinking water, minor irrigation canals etc - to quote him, "projects purely for tribals themselves".

Mr.Nariman also mentioned how the only provision for resettlement in the Act is for the critical case of wildlife sanctuary, when it has been comprehensively established that the activities of forest-dwellers were causing irreversible damage to the existence of a wildlife species and when other options of co-existence had been exhausted. 1

The case of mining of Niyamgiri hilltop by Vedanta, fulfilled none of these criteria, instead it was a form of destructive practice and an attack on the Dongria Kond and the biodiversity of the mountain.

Justice Aftab Alam quipped, that this thereby meant that the Forests Rights Act provides that "these people cannot be put out of their habitat in the name of development".

Advocate Nariman then went on to discuss about duties of holders to emphasise the point of how the Dongria Kond would "best preserve and conserve the forest" - which fulfils a dual objective of not just the protection of the rights of tribal people, but of conservation of the forests and wildlife in the mountain.

When Justice Aftab Alam asked, "But what about the wealth underneath the forests? How to get at that mineral wealth without destruction"....Advocate Nariman stressed that the reach of the Forests Rights Act is cognisant of the fact that there will be minerals, and hence, overrides other laws such as the Mines and Minerals Act or Land Acquisition Act. It implies that the mountain cannot be mined due to the rights vested to the forest-dwellers.

Advocate Sundaram presenting for OMC put forward a pitiful case of utterly ludicrous arguments and jargons in a desperate bid for the mining to go forward. Mr. Nariman from MoEF had argued that the Act delineates the Gram Sabha as the juridical authority for determining the nature and extent of individual and community forest rights, after which the resolutions taken by the Gram Sabha would pass through Sub-Divisional level and then a District level Committee.

To this, Mr. Sundaram pathetically argued that since 6000 claims have been made at the Gram Sabha, it means that Orissa Government has adhered to the Forests Rights Act. He then went on to read out some paragraphs about these claims from the NC Saxena Committee report.

At this point, Justice Aftab Alam angrily interrupted and said, "You are using the provisions of the Act and the on-going process of claims in a very misleading way, Mr. Sundaram. Without delineating the nature and extent of the rights of these people, you cannot put up your project there. Both the processes cannot happen together. Just for the sake of argumentation, imagine - one village makes a claim before gram-sabha to graze on a hill-top and meanwhile you have already started mining?"

Continuing in a similar line of disgusting argumentation, Advocate Sundaram tried to argue that the rights provided under the Forests Rights Act are defeasible or compensatory rights.

The extent of desperation of OMC and Vedanta can be glimpsed in the following statement by Mr.Sundaram: "How do I say its a defeasible right? Right to access or usage to forest does not mean a particular area of forest. For instance, a tribal gets fruits from a particular tree of many trees in that area. If that tree needed to be cut down for some hypothetical reason, the tribal cannot claim rights of access/ownership of that specific tree".

Mr. Sundaram then went on to read some Guidelines on the Forest Rights Act, which talked about compensation, trying to make the case for forests rights being a compensatory right.

To this, Justice Aftab Alam said, "These guidelines say what the Act says, but also a lot that the Act does not say." The heights of such twisted argumentation was reached when Mr. Sundaram tried to establish that the provision for compensation for "those who were displaced in the past" implies that one can interpret the Forest Right Act as allowing possibilities for compensation.

When Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Swatantra Kumar mentioned that this provision is with regard to contexts prior to the Act, Mr. Sundaram vehemently argued that he did not interpret it that way, but saw it more as a "continuity".

He also went on to state that the Forests Rights Act is not in derogation but in addition to other Acts. For Mr.Sundaram, it did not guarantee the Dongria Kond ownership rights, but only provided 'usage' rights; and the state has a due access to the minerals in the area and would be responsible for providing compensation.

Given all this ridiculous arguing by OMC and Vedanta, the final judgement did not come through today.

The next hearing date has been set for 11th January 2013. Justice Aftab Alam noted that the judgement of this case would be crucial to the socio-economic future and development of India, and would set a precedent for the on-going struggles across the country. The final verdict would thus, significantly rest on the interpretation of the Forest Rights Act - whether the rights of forest-dwellers under the Act constitute inalienable or compensatory rights.

The Green Bench has asked Union of India to submit an affidavit on their interpretation of the Act and has asked the Orissa government to produce original documentation of the status of the so-called claims in the Gram Sabha.

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