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British company accused of "tyrrany" and land grab in India

Published by MAC on 2005-06-24

British company accused of "tyrrany" and land grab in India

Just as it issues its Annual Report and Accounts for 2005, British-based Vedanta Resources plc has been accused of new outrages. Vedanta Resources plc has come under renewed attack for its activities in two Indian states. In mid-June the vast majority of those attending a public hearing before the Supreme Court's Central Empowered Committee (CEC) condemned the company's continued construction of its Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Kalahandi district, Orissa - and possible bauxite mine on the sacred Nyamgiri Hills just a few kilometeres away. At the same time, accusations were made against the district's leading public official that he is effectively an agent for Vedanta. Last week a government minister in the adjacent state of Chhattisgarh alleged that Vedanta's BALCO subsidiary had seized no less than a thousand acres of government land for the huge expansion of its Korba alumininum plant, felling 20,000 trees and angering local villagers in the process.

Land grab mud on Balco

R. Krishna Das, The Telegraph (Kolkota)

June 24 2005

Raipur - The Chhattisgarh-based Bharat Aluminium Company Limited (Balco) has come under the scanner for allegedly encroaching on 1,000 acres of prime land and cutting down thousands of trees for its expansion project.

“The company grabbed about 1,000 acres of government land besides cutting down 20,000 trees without taking permission from the agencies concerned,” Nankiram Kanwar, then Chhattisgarh revenue minister, said on Thursday.

In a shuffle today, Kanwar was shifted to the agriculture ministry with additional charge of forests.

The Korba-based company has denied the charges. The land had been allotted to Balco between 1968 and 1975, the company’s chief of corporate communications, Deepak Pachpore, said in a statement released on Thursday evening.

The statement added that the subdivisional officer has investigated the felling of trees and the company is awaiting the report’s findings.

The government has ordered a high-level inquiry and the commissioner of land records has been asked to supervise the investigation.

“After getting the report, the state government will take the appropriate step. The state government will not falter even in razing the constructions done under the expansion plan,” Kanwar said, before he was shifted from the ministry.

The minister also hinted at action against state administration officials for not acting on the complaint of the villagers.

The government’s action came after Kanwar last month verified a complaint lodged about six months ago by villagers that the Vedanta group company, located about 200 km from here, had encroached on government land and cut down trees worth crores of rupees.

“This is the first incident of its kind when such a huge area of land has been encroached (on) by a company,” Kanwar said on Thursday. The minister said he had briefed chief minister Raman Singh on the developments.

The development is likely to come as a big jolt to the expansion plan of Balco, which was divested in 2001.

The Vedanta group, managed by London-based Anil Agrawal, acquired 51 per cent equity and management control of the company.

A Rs 5,000-crore expansion plan was charted out after a memorandum of understanding with the state government was inked. The company set itself a target of producing 3.45 metric tonnes per annum (mtpa) of aluminium.

Balco, which now produces 1 lakh mtpa, would become the largest producer of aluminium in the country after the completion of the expansion project, according to company officials.

"Kalahandi district collector Saswat Mishra, instead of coming to people's aid, is acting as an agent of Vedanta Alumina"

By Insight, Orissa Bureau

June 15 2005

"This company is a tyrant and conspires to devastate our lives as well as our livelihood. And, the district collector Saswat Mishra, instead of coming to our aid, is acting as an agent of the company tormenting us more through the administrative mechanism."

This was the desperate plea of several tribal forums before the high power committee delegated by the Supreme Court to investigate into the controversy generated by the mindless and illegal denudation of forest by Vedanta alumina in the Niyamgiri hills of Kalahandi district. District collector Mishra was present in the hearing when the simpleton hill men indicted him.

The two-member committee headed by its chairman T.V. Jayakrishnan conducted a public hearing in Bhawanipatna on June 14th where ninety per cent of the deponents spewed venom against Vedanta and urged the committee to kick the company out of Kalahandi. Kalahandi Lok Sabha MP B.K Singh Deo, however, wished the alumina plant to come but no rules be compromised in the process.

The committee, during the course of the hearing, disdainfully observed hat the empowered committee had categorically pointed out mass destruction of forests with consequent effect of ecological disaster, which includes muffling of the source from which flows river Bansidhara. The State Government, too, admitted in its affidavit that illegal deforestation had taken place. Yet, nothing has been done so far to stop such activities.

Meanwhile, mandarins of the State administration are searching for a rational reply to be given to the apex court committee, which would discuss the vexed issues with the Government on 16th June. Skipping the special holiday on 14th June declared by the Government due to the heat wave, a confidential meeting was held in the State Secretariat where a plausible and acceptable reply was discussed by Chief Secretary Subas Pani, Steel and Mines Secretary Bhaskar Chatterjee and Forest and Environment Secretary Satya Prakash Nanda.

The committee visited the Vedanta project site in Lanjigarh on 15th June after its public hearing in Bhawanipatna.

Biswajit Mohanty

A news report from India's IANS news service confirms that indigenous families forced off their land for Vedanta's new bauxite mining operations in the south-west of Chhattisgarh have been "totally devastated". Meanwhile, in an attempt to whitewash its tarnished image over the alleged Korba land theft, a spokesperson for Vedanta/Balco claims his company is "one of the most respected industrial groups of the world."

State's mining-affected tribals to be rehabilitated

Saturday June 25 2005


RAIPUR: Chhattisgarh on Friday ordered proper rehabilitation of 20 tribal families displaced by a bauxite-mining project.

Chief Minister Raman Singh passed the orders after members of the Baiga tribe of Kawardha district met him and complained that the bauxite mines had "totally devastated" their houses and agricultural land.

The tribals informed Singh that most of their families were engaged in the bauxite mining work that began four months back. However, since this had totally ruined their land, they had no option but to migrate from the area.

Singh, who belongs to Kawardha district, promptly ordered the district administration to ensure early and proper rehabilitation of all the 20 Baiga families, officials said.

"Raman Singh has taken the issue seriously and asked the administration to immediately provide sufficient and safe agriculture and housing land to compensate the loss due to mining," an official release said.

Surguja and Kawardha are the only two of Chhattisgarh's 16 districts that have bauxite reserves. The state government handed over a large stretch of Kawardha district to aluminium major Balco last year to provide raw material for its Korba-based plant, 200 km from here.

Sterlite-controlled Balco, which is expanding its smelter units with Rs. 50 billion investment to raise annual production from 100,000 tonnes to 3.5 million tonnes, gets 100 percent of its raw material from Surguja and Kawardha districts.

BALCO rejects land grab allegations

Friday June 24 2005


RAIPUR: Aluminium major BALCO said on Thursday that a Chhattisgarh government order taking back over 1,000 acres of allegedly encroached land was "unwarranted" and would hit the state's industrial future.

Reacting to Agriculture and Forest Minister Nankiram Kanwar's order on Wednesday, BALCO's (Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd) Deepak Pachpore said: "It is all baseless and the minister has been unnecessarily targeting us."

Kanwar had ordered that the land be taken back saying the company had felled trees and grabbed it for its current Rs.50 billion expansion and modernisation plans.

"We believe in work and technology culture not in any foul methods. Sterlite, which controls 51 percent stake in BALCO, is one of the most reputed industrial groups of the world," Pachpore told IANS.

Kanwar, who set up a high-powered committee last week to probe the alleged land encroachment by BALCO's plant at Korba, 165 km north of here, lost his portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle within 24 hours.

In the reshuffle, Kanwar got the forest department along with agriculture.

Soon after taking charge, he recommended stern action against BALCO for land grab following a government inquiry report on the matter.

"BALCO has to free the land. I want to take the battle with BALCO to a logical end without consuming too much time," Kanwar said.

As part of its expansion, the company is setting up 288 smelter pots with Chinese technology with an investment of over Rs.50 billion to raise its annual production from 100,000 tonnes to 350,000 tonnes per annum.

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