MAC: Mines and Communities

Kashipur: Force-fed "development"

Published by MAC on 2005-10-04

Kashipur: Force-fed "development" Grassroots

4th October 2005

Mining contracts, a few jobs generated and some export earnings, but at a huge cost for the locals and their environment. The question, raised for the umpteenth time, is development of what and for whom?

Nagraj Adve Delhi

The struggle in Kashipur against bauxite mining in the area raises the question yet again: why is it that "development" needs to be rammed down people's throats if it's meant to be for their own good?

Since 1993, local adivasis and dalits have been resisting the entry of Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) — a joint venture of Hindalco and Alcan, one of the largest aluminium companies in the world — and, more recently, other large mining companies in Rayagada and contiguous districts of southwestern Orissa. Protestors have taken away the equipment of survey teams and chased them away by throwing water mixed with a herb that causes irritation; set up blockades against vehicular movement of company and government officials; and conducted rallies and dharnas in various towns. They have petitioned the chief minister, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the prime minister and the president of India.

Undermining a movement from below The essence of a democracy is people collectively asserting their rights and the manner in which the state responds to the demands of those who disagree with it. During a recent visit by a People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) team that interviewed people from nine villages, the local police, the District Magistrate (Rayagada), the chief secretary and other senior state officials, it became amply clear that the Orissa government is not interested in dialogue. To the contrary, we found extensive deployment of the police and heavily armed special forces of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) in this area with little history of serious crime.

The situation worsened in December 2004, ever since the government became adamant on pushing the projects through and some initial project work like levelling acquired land began. The local administration has, as usual, targeted not just the movement's leadership, but also its mass base so as to undermine it from below. Since December 2004, activists and sympathisers have been picked up from local markets and their homes, beaten and had false cases imposed on them. The police and IRB have held flag marches through villages and fired blanks at protest programmes. An atmosphere of deep insecurity and fear of the police prevails in most villages we visited.

In an area in urgent need of more schools and health care facilities, more and more police posts are being set up. On December 1, about 300 protestors opposing the setting up of a police post at village Dom Karal were attacked by teargas shells and lathi-charged. Through December till February a number of activists were arrested, and kept in custody for several weeks. Police attacks built up again in June 2005 when police surrounded a peaceful meeting in Guguput village on June 15 and arrested eleven people. On June 25, nine people returning from a marriage were arrested at Dom Karal. In early September 2005, an activist, Sivaram Naik, was picked up from Maikanch. At the moment, about 26 people — including a 12-year-old boy — are still in custody.

"Development": who gains, who loses People's resistance to mining projects elicits the usual response about growth, export earnings, Foreign Direct Investment and job creation. On closer scrutiny the balance sheet doesn't look so good.

Certainly, some jobs will be generated. Some locals have been hired as construction workers, to lay the roads and build the conveyer belt to transport bauxite. They are hired for about 10-12 days a month at Rs 40-60 per day in jobs that tend to be medium-term and mostly menial. A road gets made, a factory is built, it takes at most a year or two; then what happens to those who have already lost their lands? The chief secretary told us: "One job per displaced family may be provided, 'subject to availability and skill'." In all villages we visited, barely a few people had completed schooling. Locals simply do not possess the levels of education and skill to take optimum advantage of such companies entering their areas. Such projects are highly capital-intensive, which means that not many workers anywhere will benefit hugely. UAIL company documents state the project will employ a total of 1,400 people. Vedanta Alumina's Detailed Project Report (DPR) says its project in Lanjigarha will directly employ just 250 people, and another 500 through indirect employment.

On the other side, those getting displaced and affected through pollution and loss of lands and forests number in the tens of thousands. The Vedanta DPR says its open cast mining covers 1,073 hectares in which there lives a population of 12,623. Figures of those potentially affected by UAIL vary hugely, but they number in the thousands. The displacement will hit women in particular. However tough agricultural work is, women have a place in it. But barring menial construction work, they will not be employed in the refineries. And it's always been the case that any displacement compensation money gets cornered by men.

Even those not directly displaced will be hit. The potential environmental impact is adverse at each stage of the production process: the loss of forests — on which adivasis depend daily for various forest produce — due to open-cast mining. Also, those tilling dongar lands on these hillsides — most people here do so — will not be compensated since pattas are not in their name. The dust that flies around while transporting bauxite from the mine to the refinery, a distance of 25 km to the UAIL refinery, will affect water sources. There is the serious hazard of streams drying up as a consequence of bauxite mining. It is believed that 22 streams emerge out of Baphilmali alone, the hill to be mined by UAIL. Many people depend on the streams for their daily survival. Transforming bauxite to alumina generates highly toxic "red mud", which has been proven elsewhere to increase pH levels of local water bodies to unacceptably high levels. There is then the hazard of waste from aluminium smelters while transforming alumina into aluminium. Workers within and people in the vicinity of four Alcan's smelters in Canada were discovered to have unusually high rates of cancer. Though well-documented elsewhere, the rehabilitation and compensation packages do not take any of these into account.

Anti-mining struggles elicit other questions, different in nature, including from within sections of the left who traditionally have had a touching faith in large development projects: are you anti-mining? Don't we need development? Isn't aluminium needed elsewhere in the country?

We currently consume about 6,00,00 tonnes of aluminium annually, and the demand keeps rising. The president of the Aluminium Association of India recently identified three growth areas: "automobiles, electrical wiring and food packaging". That's you and me, the cars we drive, the food we order that comes wrapped in aluminium foil. These growth areas reflect urban, elite consumption lifestyles, which took off in India in the 1990s. Urban elite consumption is increasingly encroaching upon communities and resources in rural areas.

Much of the alumina from these projects will be exported. UAIL alone will potentially produce nearly double the alumina that India needs to make aluminium, a need already met by existing refineries. Over half the aluminium worldwide and in the developed world is consumed by the packaging industry and transportation; the latter because of its huge dependence on cars and aircraft. Aluminium is increasingly being used in defence weaponry and aircraft, and it needs to be asked why Kondh tribals in Kashipur should have their lives turned upside down because India wants to control the Siachen glacier or because the US wants to bomb Iraq.

Clearly, we don't need these projects. But the more fundamental question is what trajectory of development can benefit the people. When their economic life is dominated by agriculture, and with locals located at the margins of a market economy, can a development strategy focused upon mining really help them? They don't have the educational and social skills to get jobs in such industry. They don't earn the income to consume its output. That these areas are among the most "backward" not just in Orissa, but in India, is a truism. But when this lack of development is made to persist for over fifty years, it can hardly be accidental. Chronic underdevelopment ensures a steady supply of cheap labour for industry and for the cities. Capital after all is interested, above all, in just two things: profits from the mineral resources of the region and cheap labour.

The resistance in Kashipur is not just because people don't want to be evicted from their homes. It's also questioning this entire trajectory of development. Rather than large mining projects that will marginalise them yet again, the people there need sustainable irrigation, check dams, cheap credit, land reforms, and better education and health care. Not "development" enforced by men in khaki.

This piece is based on the PUDR report, Halting the Mining Juggernaut (July 2005).

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