India: Ongoing tribal struggles against mining in OrissaPublished by MAC on 2015-09-13
Source: The Hindu
An anodine title for the first article which exposes egregious attempts by India's Modi government, to cheat Adivasi communities from Orissa's iron-rich districts of their legal entitlements.
Senior Indian land right activist, Stan Swami, applauds the Modi government's withdrawl of a prospective ordinance which had almost universally been opposed by Adivasi organisations and many civil society organisations.
However, he warns that the government will now "be under increasing pressure from the corporate houses to make land acquisition easier and faster".
Nonetheless, local efforts continue against attempts to start bauxite mining from Karlapat to save Vedanta's alumina refinery Lanjigarh (see: London Calling on Vedanta's Lanjigarh subterfuge).
Old problems mar a new solution
District Mineral Foundations were set up to protect the interests of Adivasi communities who have borne the costs of mining. But they are flawed in their current form
Through 2011-13, dogged investigators from the Justice M. B. Shah Commission on illegal mining toured the rust-red villages, forests and rivers of northern Odisha, and trawled through reams of official records including from the environment, minerals, railways, and revenue departments. They met with underpaid mineworkers and affected communities. They questioned mining companies, who were mostly represented by well-heeled lawyers, including Pinaki Mishra, the State’s richest Member of Parliament, and representative of the Biju Janata Dal, the party ruling Odisha since 2000.
The stark conclusion of the commission’s 1,619-page report confirmed what Odisha, in particular its Adivasi citizens, has long known: “...there is no rule of law, but the law is what the mighty mining companies decide, with the connivance of the concerned department.”
Faced with the scrutiny of Justice Shah’s team, the State government’s belated admission that there were many illegal miners in Odisha took the form of 146 recovery notices. Issued in March 2013 to miners for illegally extracted ore, the notices added up to a whopping Rs. 59,203 crore, equalling a quarter of the State’s annual GDP. This is a sum large enough to pay Rs. 16 lakh to every single Adivasi family in Keonjhar and Sundergarh, the two districts hit by the scam.
Lessons to be learnt
Two years on, not a single rupee of this money has been recovered. The notices, and the larger issues of lawless mining, ecological damage and abuses borne by local communities remain buried under litigation and neglect.
The commission’s findings demonstrated that, left to themselves, the State-miners combine cannot be trusted to uphold public interest, and that decision-making in mining projects must yield to greater public scrutiny, in particular of local communities. But ongoing policy changes suggest that few lessons have been learnt.
Through an August 18 notification, Odisha has become the first State in the country to issue rules for the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) — an institution created by a March 2015 amendment through which the Narendra Modi government brought far-reaching changes to India’s mining regulations. The amendments primarily aimed at giving the State the power to auction vast tracts of mineral-rich forests and farmlands to mining corporations, and were not preceded by any inter-ministerial consultation with other relevant departments, such as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA).
DMFs are defined in the amendment as bodies that will work ‘for the interest and benefit of persons and areas affected by mining-related operations’. They are the State’s belated response to clinching evidence that citizens of India’s ore-rich areas, primarily Adivasi communities, endure degraded livelihoods and bear the social, environmental and health costs of mining, but get few benefits. In their current form, the DMFs are also flawed.
Five months after the amendment, there is no clarity on what percentage of revenues miners must contribute to the DMF. A 2011 bill drafted by the United Progressive Alliance government had mandated that mining companies pay to the DMF an amount equivalent to the royalty (currently fixed at 15 per cent of the value for a mineral like iron ore). The National Democratic Alliance government diluted this provision. The amended law now states that new lease-holders will contribute an amount “not exceeding a third of the royalty” to the DMF; existing lease holders will contribute an amount “not exceeding the royalty”. Effectively, the law specifies ceilings, but no floors.
Ore-rich States such as Karnataka and Odisha have since argued that new lease holders, to be decided through auctions, should contribute an amount equalling one-third of the royalty; existing leaseholders’ contributions should equal the royalty, given the “super profits” they earned through a decade-long mining boom. (To give an indication of their earnings, the Shah Commission had calculated that if the value of ore mined in just a single year, e.g. 2009, had accrued to locals, it would amount to a cash benefit of Rs. 4.5 lakh for every single family in Keonjhar and Sundergarh districts.) However officials at the Union Ministry of Mines have told the States these terms are unlikely.
Where the Centre draws the lines will determine whether a DMF in Keonjhar annually gets, say, Rs. 600 crore (going by a Centre for Science and Environment estimate, built on 2012-13 iron ore production figures). Or, simply, Rs. 200 crore. While mining associations lobby the Centre on keeping their contributions to the DMF to a minimum, there is no similar platform for other stakeholders outside government to voice their concerns. In fact, there is absolutely no transparency or disclosure from the Centre on how it is carrying out the decision-making process on this crucial issue.
Similarly, the Odisha government’s August 18 DMF notification was neither preceded by any public consultation exercise, especially in ore-rich districts, nor was a draft version of the rules issued to incorporate public feedback and review. Unsurprisingly, this opaque process has resulted in a DMF that centralises powers in the bureaucracy, and is cast as an executor of official-driven programmes. For example, the District Collector features on the DMF’s Board of Trustees, as well as its Executive Committee. This creates conflict of interest between the overseeing and implementing functions.
Worse, government officials dominate the DMF’s Board of Trustees, and constitute the entirety of its Executive Committee. Officials have the powers to prepare plans and budgets, sanction funds, award contracts, and if they deem appropriate, even use DMF funds for projects at the block and district level, thus bypassing remote Adivasi villages in the forests and mountains witnessing mining.
It is alarming how, despite local communities being the hardest hit by mining projects, the institutional framework created by these rules entirely sidelines public participation and local knowledge as elements crucial to building an effective DMF. The only allowance the rules make is the provision of gram sabha approval for decisions of the DMF in scheduled areas. However, officials have prepared the ground for reducing this to a token by not detailing what the approval process will entail.
In this overly centralised structure, communities can neither plan nor authorise tasks, which they believe the DMF should undertake. They cannot even conduct social audits of projects carried out in their name — in fact, the only audit the notification specifies is an internal one.
Ironically, the Union Ministry of Mines’ own 2011 document on ‘Sustainable Mining’ conceptualised the DMFs as bodies with project-affected, community and civil society representation, and a more expansive public role. This included building the capacities of Adivasi co-operatives in line with the Samata judgement on mining in scheduled areas, providing affected communities with monitoring powers on existing mines, enabling informed participation in consent processes, and holding periodic district-level consultations on the impacts of mining, with the involvement of key policymakers like the MTA and the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
As the Shah Commission’s reports outlined, mineral-rich areas are afflicted by a severe asymmetry of power between local communities and the State-miner combine. Ongoing policies are widening this inequity, and reinforcing the harmful approach that Adivasi lands are, first and foremost, a site for resource extraction.
(Chitrangada Choudhury is an Odisha-based multimedia journalist and researcher, and a Fellow with the Open Society Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tribals oppose bauxite mining
14 September 2015
Tribal organisations like Niyamgiri Suraksha Samity (NSS) and Lok Sangram Manch (LSM) are opposed to efforts of the Odisha government to start bauxite mining from Karlapat mines to save alumina refinery of Vedanta at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district.
The one million tonne capacity Lanjigarh refinery of Vedanta is facing severe bauxite ore shortage and it had started to shut down the unit.
Earlier plan of Vedanta to mine bauxite from ecologically fragile Niyamgiri hills had been thwarted in 2013 due to protest of local tribals. Following it, the Lanjigarh refinery was depending on ore procured from outside Odisha, which was leading to its losses. To rescue the Vedanta refinery at Lanjigarh, the Odisha government has recently directed its PSU Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) to start mining in Karlapat area. As per reports the OMC is hoping to start mining activity in the area from December 2016.
But the NSS and LSM, that had played a key role in thwarting attempts of mining in Niyamgiri hills, feel mining in Karlapat region would also be detrimental for environment, life and livelihood of tribals of the area.
NSS president Lada Sikaka and LSM leader Subash Kulusika said Karlapat region of Thuamul Rampur block in Kalahandi district bears a unique natural ecosystem. Karlapat forest is accepted as a sanctuary, they added.
According to them vegetation in Karlapat region is more dense than Niyamgiri hills. Presence of large trees in Karlapat is much more than Niyamgiri region. So, they felt it would not be right to allow large scale mining in the Karlapat area, which would completely destroy the environment and ecosystem of the region.
The NSS and LSM activists also feared that mining in Karlapat area would drastically affect life and livelihood of tribals living inside forest of the region. They also criticised the government for promoting mining in the region at the cost of life and livelihood of poor tribals without ensuring their rights under Forest Rights Act.
Both organisations were also of the opinion that proper assessment of environmental as well as socio-economic losses of tribals living in Karlapat area has not been done till now although the State government is promoting mining in the area.
Rights are never given, they are always taken - Govt finally bows to the will of people, withdraws Land Ordinance
2 Setpember 2015
Country-wide protests by Farmers, Adivasis, Dalits, People’s Movements, Workers’ Unions, Peasants Organisations, Political Parties took place during the past eight months against the unilateral imposition of Land Acquisition Ordinance, 2014. Such popular protests were not witnessed in recent years. But the NDA govt was adamant in trying again and again to get it passed in the Parliament. It went on to re-issue its Ordinance three times and it looked like it would do so even for the fourth time.
Happily the opposition parties were united in making sure the bill would not be passed in the upper house. It meant loss of precious time in stalling the parliamentary procedure but there was no other alternative.
So the people of India stood together, both inside and outside the parliament, and were consistent in expressing their disagreement with the
Ordinance. People’s resistance took several forms such as rallies, public meetings, sit-in protests, conventions, street plays etc. Several prominent human rights oriented activists and intellectuals came out in the open to express their solidarity with the struggling people. At last, much too belatedly the central govt had to bend low before the will of the people and withdraw the Ordinance on 31st August. Verily a victory for the people.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which the govt very reluctantly constituted and is composed of 30 parliamentarians from the different major political parties, itself took exception to some of the important provisions of the Ordinance. Although it has still to submit its final report and recommendations, it became obvious that it is not going to endorse the Ordinance. Thus the govt was left with no option except to withdraw the Bill.
Why did people protest so strongly against the Ordinance? Because it was violating the basic principles of human justice and the letter and spirit of our Constitution.
(1) doing away with the Consent clause in the Land Acquisition Act 2013 is most unacceptable. It goes against the spirit of democracy and participation. It becomes more acute when especially the Adivasi small farmers who have nothing else but their small pieces of land to survive on are told that their land will be taken and their consent is not required. In other words, forcible acquisition of their land. This action of the State is inhuman and unjust. Hence it had to be rejected.
(2) cancelling the need for Social Impact Assessment is another serious breach of human trust and equity. It is common knowledge how unrestrained industries and mining have wreaked havoc on nature and environment. Forests have been denuded, rivers have been polluted, safe drinking water made scarce, air-pollution beyond bearable limits. Consequently animal and human life are increasingly becoming endangered. All this havoc is being caused by unscrupulous, greedy industrialists for whom profit is the only motive.
It is against this inhuman climate that the 2013 Act made ‘Social Impact Assessment’ mandatory for every big project.
First a govt team composed of local administration officers are to study the possible impact of the proposed project. Later an independent team composed of scientists and environment specialists is to scrutinize the govt report and give its approval or disapproval to the project. This was a sane step. Of course it would take some time to complete this process.
But the 2014 Ordinance did away with this assessment. Obviously because the corporates who are guilty for this environmental offense would not want this to be done because it would expose their past transgressions, and the present govt was bent upon obliging the industrialists on whom it is dependent to remain in power.
(3) forcible acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes was prohibited in the 2013 Act. Given the fact that 70% of India’s population lives in villages and is dependent on agriculture for its sustenance and at present its productive capacity is decreasing and the prices of consumer food items is rising, it is important that further alienation of agricultural land should by all means be stopped. As such it was a commendable step.
But even this aspect was negated by the 2014 Ordinance insofar as it removed all restrictions in forcibly acquiring any land for industrial purpose. Thus the withdrawal of the Ordinance is a great relief to the farming community.
(4) restore the acquired but unused land to the original land-owner was a provision in the 2013 Act. The background is the fact that lakhs of acres of land acquired for specific purposes is lying idle even after several years. The Act prescribes that if an acquired land is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired for five years and more should be returned to the original land-owner.
Even this provision was struck down by the 2014 Ordinance according to which acquired land can lie vacant for any number of years and there is no
obligation to return the land to the original owner. This again shows how much lenient the government is towards the industrial class and is ready to
sacrifice the interests of farmers.
To conclude, may we say the struggle is far from over. The govt will be under increasing pressure from the corporate houses to make land acquisition easier and faster. The struggling people, especially the Adivasis, will have to be vigilant and be ready act decisively if any infringement of their rights is attempted at.