MAC: Mines and Communities

India: Another Vedanta land acquisition plan foiled

Published by MAC on 2013-10-03
Source: The Hindu (2013-10-08)

Vedanta's operations in India suffer another blow after the Dongria Kondhs voted against the development of a bauxite mine in Niyamgiri. See: Final tribal meeting rejects Vedanta's mining proposal in Niyamgiri. Yet

Despite this show of feeling there is, however, some confusion as to whether the authorities have granted permission.

Meanwhile Vedanta is allegedly looking to expand into the Kolar gold mines in Karnataka.

From Chhattisgarh come  reports of intimidation at a public hearing into a Jindal coal mine (perhaps explaining while boycotting such a meeting makes sense).

Balco land acquisition plan foiled

The Hindu

30 September 2013

Gram sabha at Taraimarh adjourned due to lack of quorum as villagers stay away

On a wet and windy Saturday evening nearly 350 km north of the State capital, Raipur, a non-descript village registered a historic victory against Bharat Alumunium Company Ltd (Balco), an affiliate of India focused global miner, Vedanta. While the Dongria Kondhs turned up in large numbers at the gram sabha to emphatically reject Vedanta's project at Niyamgiri hills, at the base of Dharamjaigarh hill range in Raigarh, the villagers of Taraimarh dismissed another project of Vedanta by simply boycotting the sabha.

Even after repeated announcements to "choose or denounce" mining in nearly 50 acres of forest land in Taraimarh, villagers refused to respond, forcing the administration to "adjourn" the sabha before time.

Taraimarh opted for an exclusive strategy since Friday. The villagers neither spoke to the media, nor allowed outsiders to enter the village. So no one, including the company's agents, administration or the media, was aware of the boycott plan. And hence, the quorum required for a legitimate gram sabha could not be "organised" at Taraimarh.

Balco is in the process of acquiring 1,070 hectares of land granted as part of a mining lease in Dharamjaigarh block for its power plant at Korba. Three panchayats of Dharamjaigarh block - Sahpur (which includes Taraimarh), Baysi and Rupunga - will disappear to feed the 1,110 MW plant; 365 hectares of forestland, part of the total land leased for mining, will be accessed from the three panchayats, housing more than a dozen villages. Serial gram sabhas were hosted in three panchayats to obtain consent from the villagers.

The strategy of "civil disobedience" checkmated all, including SDM of Dharamjaigarh S.N. Ram. He snubbed the sarpanch of Taraimarh, Dharamsingh Rathia, in public, almost implicating him for lack of quorum. "If they [villagers] are not coming, then tell me the reason," Mr. Ram demanded. Mr. Rathia apologetically said that he "tried" his best. Tehsildar K.L. Sori, who was one of the arbitrators at the gram sabha, profusely praised Balco's activities in the presence of the SDM. "Schools were constructed, hand pumps were fixed [by Balco] and noone opposed those. Isn't it?" Mr. Sori said, while asking the sarpanch to drum up support for the company. The SDM refused to discuss with The Hindu whether the officials can canvass for a private mining company, especially as arbitrators.

A sizeable crowd gathered at the venue around 1-30 p.m. The locals, including the police, identified the members of the crowd as "outsiders." While their intention was not known, Collector Mukesh Agarwal was informed of the "company-funded outsiders" by the villagers. Sources in the Raigarh district administration told The Hindu that Mr. Bansal "immediately" called up the officials at the venue.

Within minutes, the SDM asked the police to clear the area and an announcement was made, for the first time, asking the "outsiders" to disperse. "Complaints have been received... I will request them [outsiders] to go away. Only media is allowed to stay," announced a man, with newly dyed red hair, from the local panchayat.

In another half-an-hour the Dharamjaigarh administration lost interest in the proceedings. "Since only six [out of 260] voters arrived, the gram sabha is adjourned, due to lack of quorum," announced the man with red hair, amid loud cheers.

Mr. Sori, however, consoled the company's middleman before leaving the venue. "If more than 100 villagers file application, it can be considered again. If the people who were supposed to appear in the quorum, [still] give their consent, we can definitely consider the case," he was found saying in a video-graphed footage, clearly violating his official position.

"I have been told, some men are stopping the villagers from attending the gram sabha, it is unfortunate," associate vice-president (Corporate Communications) of Balco, B.K. Sriwastwa told The Hindu .

On Thursday, another gram sabha was conducted at Baysi, a bigger panchayat about 5 km west of Taraimarh. Nearly 800 villagers, mostly women, staged a demonstration at the venue and brought down a portion of the pandal constructed for the sabha. The husband of the Baysi sarpanch, Ratiram Rathia, said that the "gram sabha was unanimously rejected."

A local journalist, Sajal Kumar Medhu, who played a key role in resisting mining, said the company "sent a truckload of food to influence the villagers," who were planning to attend the gram sabha." Mr. Sriwastwa denied the allegation.


Nod to Vedanta on paper but villagers unaware of consent

Suvojit Bagchi

The Hindu

8 October 2013

"We don't know how the villagers can consent to diversion of forest land five days after denouncing it"

It all started with great excitement - organising groups, motivating young women to lead from the front, guarding the village borders to prevent vote buying through gifts - for it seemed important to make their voices of dissent heard against the international mining giant Vedanta.

Much like their neighbours in south Odisha's Niyamgiri, Kanwar tribesmen, well-off Sahus (oil traders) and migrant Bengalis came together to obstruct diversion of 355 hectares (ha) of forest land to the Bharat Aluminum Company Limited (Balco), a Vedanta affiliate, in Baysi and Taraimarh in north Chhattisgarh. Like the Dongria Konds of Niyamgiri, they succeeded.

However, despite their unanimous decision to disallow diversion of forest land, the administration in Baysi ordered fresh gram sabhas in both places on October 2, and claimed to have registered the company's ‘victory'.

Resolution ‘passed'

"The sabha has passed the [land diversion] resolution," said C.L. Cider, a senior block-level officer of Baysi. According to him, the villagers of Baysi have "agreed" to divert 308ha of forest land for industrial purposes in the GS that was convened hastily on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

"We don't know how the villagers can consent to diversion of forest land five days after denouncing it," said the husband of the Baysi Sarpanch, Ratiram Rathia. Middle-aged Mr. Rathia, who runs the village council on behalf of his wife, was agitated when asked why he did not inform this correspondent about the new gram sabha.

"How could I? I was under severe pressure ... yeh ek tamasha hai [this gram sabha is a mockery]," he said.

While it is mandatory for the administration to disclose the status of land three days after the gram sabha, Baysi is completely in the dark about the status of the 308ha of land surrounding the panchayat.

"We don't know if the forest land is with us or them [the company]. We only know that 173 of us signed the register of the gram sabha to mark our presence," said Sadhram Rathia of Baysi. According to the list of voters, even 173 votes does not complete the quorum of a gram sabha in a panchayat comprising 1,347 voters.

All villagers agreed that "173 people" marked their attendance, without consenting to divert the land. The panchayat secretary admitted that he himself is "unsure" about the status of the land.

However, he refused to show the register.

Professor Dhirendra Singh Maliya's work on violations by three power companies - Balco, DB Power Ltd (owned by the Dainik Bhaskar Group) and Fatehpur East Coal Limited (FECL) - has, time and again, landed him in serious trouble.

He explains how the papers of the gram sabha are fudged "normally".

"The villagers are asked to give their thumb impressions on the extreme right-hand side of the gram sabha register while their names are picked up from the voter's list and placed on the extreme left. Two middle columns - ‘agenda' and ‘meeting's decision' - are kept partially blank, only to be filled up after signatures are collected," he said.

"The signatures could also have been taken on a blank gram sabha sheet using various extralegal means," Professor Maliya further said, adding "fudging papers is not new ... but I don't know if the same thing has been done again this time."

The villagers of Baysi told The Hindu that officers are routinely visiting their village at night to collect signatures of approval.

The only person with answers - Sub-Divisional Magistrate S. N Ram - refused to speak to The Hindu when asked about the villagers' ignorance regarding their consent to the company's proposal.

"You're a journalist, go out and investigate," is all he had to say when asked about the gram sabha.


Villagers denounce public hearing on setting up coal mines in Chhattisgarh

The Hindu

26 September 2013

Young men - some locals and some from far-flung areas - arrived in hundreds of SUVs to demand setting up of Jindal's coal mines in Tiklirampur on Wednesday. Some of them told The Hindu that they were asked by employees and contractors of Jindal Group to participate in the public hearing for environment clearance. Some of these men were in an inebriated state and had occasional tiff with their rivals - tribals and civil society members - who were opposing the project. "I have not been paid any money but I know people have been paid a few hundred rupees for supporting the coal mine [in public hearing]," said a supporter of the Jindal's project, Subran Sai Rathia of Saraitola, an affected village.

Another group of young men, in a while SUV, told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that they were "organised" by a contractor of Jindal in Raigarh to support the mining project.

Tushar Patel, a big farmer of Tapranga, claimed that "hundreds of contract workers of Jharkhand and Bihar" were lured by contractors. "They were kept close to our village and were assured a job if they support the mining project in public," said Mr. Patel.

A spokesperson of Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) denied the allegation. "We have not arranged transport to bring project supporters to the hearing venue, it does not help us," he told The Hindu.

The tribal women of half a dozen villages of Tamnar block in eastern Raigarh said, in no uncertain terms, that they did not want another coal block of Jindal Group in the area. The power producing company already has three coal mines - Gare IV/01, IV/02, IV/03 - in Tamnar block and villagers said that they would "sacrifice lives to stop mutilation of Gare again."

Livelihood taken away

"Our land, our livelihood has been taken away, now you are here to take away lives. Jindal is devouring Raigarh," said Shantibai of Gare, standing in a cage-like structure that was closed from three sides.

Dr. Harihar Patel, one of the main organisers, said that the entire area, including the main river Kelo, has "turned black" and the villagers cannot afford one more plant. Hiramoti, a tribal woman from Gare village, had a different problem.

"I was told that as per rules, we are supposed to have the hearing in our villages. But we had to travel 5 km for the hearing, which is a problem as we do not have many vehicles in the village," Ms. Hiramoti told The Hindu .

The collector of Raigarh, Mukesh Bansal, said the selection of the venue was done in consultation with the environment officer of the State. "We need to find out a suitable place [for hearing], where 5,000 people can be accommodated and cars could be parked. I myself visited Tiklirampur and it is not too far off from the villages," he said. However, in 2008, the venue was Khamaria, a village adjacent to Gare.

"Hearing is illegal"

Environmental activists feel the hearing is "illegal". They quoted Niyamgiri judgment of the Supreme Court to say unless community and individual right of forest land is distributed before the hearing, under Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, tribal land can not be acquired.

"FRA has not been undertaken in the villages affected by the proposed mine and washery which is in Schedule V area ... public hearing without forest right settlement is violation of the law," said activist Guman Singh.

Rajesh Tripathi of Jan Chetna Manch - another environment support group - raised a separate issue. "According to a 2006 MoEF notification, hearing has to be done within 45 days of company's application [for the hearing]. Jindal Group applied in April and the hearing was today, which makes it illegal," said Mr. Tripathi. He also objected to the fact that Gare IV/06 is one of the "disputed" blocks and under consideration of Supreme Court. "Public hearing would be infructuous if the block is cancelled," he said.

Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and rulings of various courts ensured that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report has to be accessed by the public before a public hearing. This norm has also been violated in Tiklirampur hearing.

"The EIA report is in English, a language that one percent of the tribals do not understand...hence the hearing is illegal," said Jayant Bhaidar, a social activist.

The senior officers of JSPL explained the welfare project that the company has sponsored in the area over the years. However, unlike the activists, the officers refused to give a copy of the statement to The Hindu .

The resistance to the project mainly came from tribal women of the affected villages.


Vedanta looking to expand into gold mining, eyeing Kolar mines

Times of India

1 October 2013

Vedanta Resources, the natural resources conglomerate, is now eyeing expanding its footprints into gold mining and looking at bidding for now closed BGML.

NEW DELHI: Vedanta Resources, the natural resources conglomerate, is now eyeing expanding its footprints into gold mining and looking at bidding for now closed Bharat Gold Mines Ltd (BGML), which owns famous Kolar gold mines in Karnataka.

Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal told PTI that the government should begin the process of selling the assets of BGML "as quickly as possible" as the Supreme Court has already approved the asset sale plan.

"Supreme Court has given order to the Mines Ministry, they should do it as quickly as possible. Foreign investors should come to India. Instead of importing gold, we should be producing. If anything comes, we should look at this opportunity," he said.

When asked whether he will bid for BGML assets, he said, "I am in that business ... We will definitely do the due diligence, it will depend on the right price, right due diligence. If some body outbids us, then it will go to them but certainly we will look at it."

Kolar gold fields were once considered one of the largest gold fields in India and mining here used to happen for centuries. It was nationalised in 1956 and in 1972, its operations were handed over to BGML.

However, it was closed in 2001 due to mounting losses and depleting reserves, rendering over 3,000 employees jobless. The BGML employees, opposed to closure, had challenged it in various courts.

In June, the Supreme Court had approved government's plan of floating a global tender for selling the assets of BGML, so that the Kolar gold mines can be restarted.

During the Monsoon session of Parliament, the government had told Lok Sabha that it is planning to float a global tender for selling assets of the BGML but did not give any timeline and other details related to the proposed tender.

Few days back, the Mines Ministry -- the parent ministry of BGML-- had invited bids for appointing consultants for selling the BGML assets. The bids have to be submitted by October 9.

The consultant's tasks include preparing documents like request for proposal and memorandum of understanding, determining reserve price for the sell, and selection of successful bidders, among other things.

Currently, India has only three producing gold mines -- Hutti, Uti and Hirabuddini mines and the domestic production has almost stagnated at about 2.8 tonnes annually.

Industry players have been saying for long that India needs to increase its gold production to reduce ever rising gold imports bill. The rise in production will also help the government in containing the current account deficit to some extent. For that, they say, government needs to give mining license to about 40 mines where prospecting has been done.

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