South Asia UpdatePublished by MAC on 2007-03-09
South Asia update
9th March 2007
Despite massive protests against Tata's proposed car plant in West Bengal, the state government has now signed over prime agricultural land. This follows a demonstration against the same company's putative iron steel plant in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh which last month was met with violent counter-action by police and pro-Tata "goondahs".
The country's leading steel-maker has been granted a licence to prospect for iron ore in the same region, while a Chinese company has secured permission from the Chinese government to negotiate an alumina joint venture with India's Ashapura Minechem.
The death of a mine owner in Burma has prompted the Thai government to demand how his company was able to operate for three years in the neighbouring country without the knowledge of the Thai authorities.
Tata signs Singur land lease deal with Bengal government
9th March 2007
Setting in motion the process of setting up its much-touted small car factory at Singur, Tata Motors Friday signed a 90 years' land lease agreement with the West Bengal government.
Tata Motors Vice-President (Finance) R.S. Thakur signed the agreement with West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) Managing Director Debasish Som and West Bengal Commerce and Industry Secretary Sabyasachi Sen. WBIDC had acquired the agricultural land at Singur, in Hooghly district, for Tata Motors triggering a violent protest movement by opposition parties.
'The agreement between Tata Motors, West Bengal Government and West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) for the small car project in Singur has been signed today,' a statement issued by Tata Motors corporate communications head Debasis Ray said here.
'This agreement was signed to lease out about 650 acres (of the total 997 acres of land) for 90 years to Tata Motors for their mother plant. Of this area 14.5 acres would be for a power station and 47 acres for required infrastructure by the WBIDC,' Sabyasachi Sen told reporters after signing the agreement Friday evening.
According to Sen, Rs.5 billion would be spent by the vendors for the project and the land would be divided into two parts - one for the mother plant (about 650 acres) and the other for the ancillary units.
'The total project cost is Rs.15 billion and the cars are likely to be rolled out by March 2008,' said Sen. The small cars aimed at the middle class is to cost Rs.100,000.
The deal with Tata Motors triggered a violent face-off between the government and farmers over land acquisition led by civil society groups and parties like Trinamool Congress.
Tata Terror in Bastar
A commentary by Orissa Sakhi
9th March 2007
The situation in Bastar is at a critical stage, with clashes on 27-28 Feb trying to force land acquisition for Tata's steel plant. The "manufactured civil war" pursued by Salwa Judum continues with at least 80,000 tribal refugees in what are virtually concentration camps.
The steel plant is planned on 2,000+ hectares of tribal land belonging to 10 villages in Lohandiguda block, near the amazing Chitrakot waterfall on Indravati river. The agreement for the plant was signed between the Chhattisgarh Govt & Tata in June 2005 - precisely the month when Salwa Judum was formed labelled a "people's movement against the Naxalites" but actually a police sponsored terror militia forcing the evacuation of one tribal village after another, with refugees pressurized to join SJ.
On 27 Feb police in the 10 villages to try & force thro land acquisition arrested a number of tribal leaders and were pelted with stones. The next day (28th) a leading non-tribal activist who had come to support the people was hounded out of Bastar. He was slapped in front of the hotel manager where he had stayed in Jagdalpur, who was warned the hotel would be burnt if he put him up again, and all Jagdalpur's hotelowners have been told not to accept any guests who may be opposing Tata. This activist was then hounded by violent mobs threatening to burn him alive, and also police accusing him of running someone over.
There is an ONLINE PETITION TO CANCEL THE PROJECT.. This is at: www.Gopetition.com.
The petition is called "Protect the property rights of poor tribals".
The next day (1st March) the Collector of Dantewara Dustrict called a meeting of all the political parties (except CPI who are siding with the tribals), journalists, business leaders etc, and reiterated the message that opposition to the Tata project will not be tolerated.
The area is outstanding for the tribal culture as well as outstanding for nature - this part of Bastar is one of the few places in India where wild buffaloes & cattle survive. The tribal culture of the Maria Gond & other tribes is one of the world's most beautiful & wise of all surviving tribal cultures, written about beautifully by Grigson & Elwin in the 1930s-40s. Their culture survived intact at least till 2005 when the Salwa Judum war started, which has split virtually all the tribal villages into SJ versus Maoists. There have been 1000s of deaths & rapes, as reported by the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (www.pucl.org) and Asia Forum for human rights.
On 17th Feb an organisation called Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini organised a day seminar in Delhi as propaganda for SJ, at which the Chief Minister of Chh. Raman Singh talked about Naxalism as India's greatest threat, and the Director General of Chh. police called SJ "a process of purification". Other pro-SJ academics and journalists spoke of it as a "people's struggle - the most important since Independence" etc. This is the greatest inversion of the truth I personally have ever come across, similar to holocaust denial. The Naxalites are undoiubtedly misguided to use violence, but they are opposing an extreme level of exploitation and corruption, and stand up for the rights of tribal people, and appear a lot more principled than the SJ & State forces opposing them. Since Bastar tribals have been opposing Tata steel plant plans for many years, it does actually seem that SJ was largely set up to implement Tata & other mining/metal plans. (The Chhattisgarh Govt is also recommending Tata prospect at Bailadila iron ore Mt range)
Please circulate news about what's happening in the tribal heart of India, and the terror tactics & utter thuggery being used to promote Tata, whose steel plant plans in Orissa at Kalinganagar caused 13 deaths in Jan 2006, and are still being opposed there, and similar terror tactics at Singur in W.Bengal.
Essar wins licence for Bailadila iron ore deposits
4th March 2007
India's leading steel-maker Essar Steel has won the prospecting licence for Chhattisgarh's Bailadila deposits, which has one of the world's finest quality iron ore stocks. This happened after a state-run firm's lease expired unutilised.
The central government has approved the Chhattisgarh government's proposal to award the prospecting license to Essar Steel for a 2,285-hectare stretch in Dantewada district, officials said.
For three decades, the prospecting license for the iron ore reserves was kept reserved for the state-run National Mineral Development Corp (NMDC), which lost the lease in February because it had not begun excavations.
India's largest iron ore producer and exporter in public sector NMDC had got the mining lease right of an area of 3,308.04 hectares in Bailadila deposit no 3 on Feb 3, 1977 for a period of three decades. Its lease expired on Feb 8, 2007. Surprisingly, the NMDC did not excavate a single kilogram of iron ore,' a senior industry department official told IANS.
'NMDC was stunned when it was formally informed that its mining lease has automatically lapsed under the Mining and Mineral Act. It was not renewed because NMDC failed to undertake any mining activity,' the official added.
The hilly region of Bailadila, located in Dantewada district, has large reserves of high quality iron ore stocks, divided into 14 deposits. NMDC has been excavating mines in three bigger deposits for domestic supplies as well as for exports to China and Japan. 'NMDC's loss is Essar Steel's gain,' the official said.
Essar Steel will use the Bailadila iron ore to feed its Rs.70 billion greenfield integrated steel plant to be set up in two phases in Dantewada district with a capacity of 3.2 million tonne per annum.
Thai Army wants answers over death of mine owner
Chiang Mai: Bangkok Post
7th March 2007
The Third Army yesterday ordered its intelligence service to find out the story behind a landmine explosion in Burma which left the Thai owner of an antimony mine dead and seriously injured an employee. The regional army chief wanted to know how the slain businessman was able to run his mining operation for more than three years in Burma's Kayah state without the knowledge of Thai authorities, a Third Army source said.
The source said illegal businesses were rampant in the area. ''These illicit activities are backed by high-ranking officials in Mae Hong Son who allegedly take bribes from businesses, including mining and logging companies,'' the source said.
On Saturday, a pick-up truck carrying Pradit Hongto, 50, and his employee Somboon Hongnimit, ran over a landmine on a border road opposite Ban Nam Phiang Din in Mae Hong Son province. Pradit died on the spot and Mr Somboon was critically injured.
The explosion occurred near Hauy Ponglao, site of the Karenni National People's Liberation Front (KNPLF) base, a 10km drive from the village. The source said Thai authorities initially put forward three theories about the incident.
Firstly, it could have been the result of a conflict of interest between Pradit's company, TCL Mining, and another Thai firm which runs mining and teak logging operations in Burma.
Secondly, it might have something to do with a conflict within the KNPLF leadership over logging and mining in the area.
Thirdly, it was possible that Burmese forces were exploiting a conflict between the KNPLF and Thai businessmen.
It was speculated that they wanted to pressure Thai authorities to expel ethnic migrants from border refugee camps, which the Burmese junta believes are also sheltering KNPLF fighters.
Eric Snider comments: Judging by all the speculation this is a story that has legs on it. While the antimony mine owned by Pradit's company is located in the southwest corner of Karenni state near the KNPLF base at Hwe Pong Laung, the explosion that killed him seems to have occurred farther north closer to Mae Surin and the large refugee camp at Mae Kong Kha. However, this is an area where the anti-regime KNPP and not the cease-fire KNPLF is active. The 'other' Thai company with logging and mining interests in the area is probably the Polpana company which has been trying to get an import permit for logs felled years ago inside SW Karenni state into Thailand.
Qingtongxia Aluminum gets gov nod to build 1 mln-ton alumina project in India
Qingtongxia Aluminum Group, China's second largest aluminum smelter, recently gained government approval to launch a 1 million-ton alumina plant joint venture in India, a company official said on March 9.
"The project was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), but construction will not begin until we have agreed on the project details with our Indian partner Ashapura Minechem Co. Ltd.," an official in Qingtongxia Aluminum's general affairs office who asked to remain anonymous, said.
The total investment amounts to RMB 5.04 billion ($651.16 million) and each party holds a 50 percent stake in the joint venture. The registered capital for the joint venture stands at RMB 1.51 billion ($195.09 million), he said.
The project's mine is located in the Kutch District of Western India's Gujarat State and contains more than 80 million tons of bauxite, or a service period of 30 years.
Qingtongxia Aluminum is China's second largest aluminum smelter and can produce 430,000 tons of electrolytic aluminum per year.
The company currently consumes 900,000 tons of alumina per year, mainly provided by Chalco and other overseas suppliers.
"The project will take two years to construct and our company may not be the sole consumer of alumina mined from the Indian project," he added.
[source: Interfax China, 9 March 2007]