MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian activists slam defence of Vedanta in national magazine

Published by MAC on 2008-07-09


Letter dated 6 July 2008, published in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 27

12th July 2008

Note from editor: The response to our site has been overwhelming. While the sheer volume of letters makes it impossible to reply to each one individually, we welcome suggestions and criticism that will help us stay the course.


AS READERS OF TEHELKA, we have usually appreciated its ability to unearth the truth. But Bibhuti Pati's story, "New Era in Lanjigarh" (June 21), about the Vedanta Alumina project in Orissa raises serious doubts about the magazine's intentions. The story flies in the face of all that everybody knows, and even contradicts everything you have said in the previous issue ("A Blinkered View" by Ashish Kothari) and the countless articles you have published in the past highlighting the devastation surrounding Lanjigarh.

In an information-war on an issue on which billions of dollars rest, it is obviously of concern that TEHELKA is suddenly contradicting its own good reporting. And there are inevitably those in Lanjigarh and elsewhere who see this article as a handout of Vedanta's own propaganda.

For the record

1. It is not true that Vedanta has silenced critics of its bauxite mining project in Kalahandi by transforming Orissa's most backward tribal area with a decent rehabilitation package, and that protests from locals have faded into the background. There have been numerous strikes by locals, protesting against the pollution caused by illegal dumping of waste toxins into the Bansadhara River which has killed all the fish and made the river unusable for bathing. (The Orissa State Pollution Control Board wrote to Vedanta in December 2007 to tell them to clean up their act and then again in March this year to ask why they ignored their first letter).

2. There have been several protests in the past few months by locals who were promised jobs as a lure for giving up their land, but who are still waiting. Only two days ago, a protest by local people turned violent when police lathicharged the crowd. A number of people have been seriously injured and Vedanta officials as well as the police are implicated. The TEHELKA article says 2,500 people have found employment indirectly or directly. This is Vedanta's own figure which may or may not be true. The few good jobs have gone to outsiders and most locals are at low-paid rock-breaking type jobs for contractors who pay around 60 rupees per day, an amount much below what the NREGA mandates. Vedanta's own figures show that in 2006 only 49 locals were employed by the factory.

3. There have been protests about numerous accidents and deaths at the factory due to shoddy management of the workforce and the use of unskilled workers for skilled jobs.

4. Other strikes and blockades have concerned the deaths of locals by Vedanta trucks on the roads, of which there have been many, and the dust and pollution caused not only by the factory chimney, but by the vehicles (about 300 per day) which ply through the middle of small villages, leaving a trail of bauxite and alumina powder on the roads. Your previous report correctly mentions the puja attended by thousands of Dongria Kandh tribals to save their mountain.

5. Furthermore, much of the wonderful development work which your writer says is taking place in Lanjigarh is a sham. As your previous article rightly says, the promises and dreams lie shattered. Many of the medical facilities do not exist, likewise the projects for women and farmers.

In sum, Bibhuti Pati's article reads exactly like the PR material that Vedanta has been putting out in order to try and swing the Supreme Court, which will decide soon on whether mining on the Niyamgiri mountain can go ahead.

It would be only befitting for TEHELKA to run this rejoinder in your next issue to prevent further damage. It must be noted here that if TEHELKA fails to respond to this letter, it will not only reaffirm our doubt about your affiliation but also will force us to take the truth to the larger public domain.

Amar Kanwar, filmmaker, Delhi

Arundhati Roy, writer, Delhi

Felix Padel, anthropologist, Orissa/UK

Jitu Jakasika, Dongria Kandh, Orissa

Kundan Kumar, research scholar,Orissa/USA

Mamata Dash, researcher and campaign activist, Orissa/Delhi

R. Sreedhar, Delhi

Sanjay Kak, filmmaker, Delhi

Subrat Kumar Sahu, freelance writer and filmmaker, Delhi

Surya Shankar Dash, filmmaker, Orissa

When the Norway government withdrew its US$13 million in the UK-based Vedanta Resources, one reason was Vedanta's "forced relocation" of indigenous tribes in India. This was widely covered in the national and international media a year ago, but perhaps TEHELKA did not want to remind its readers of Vedanta's history. The Supreme Court has not yet sidelined the report of the Central Empowered Committee, set up by the SC itself, on bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills. The committee has urged that permission not be granted to Vedanta Alumina to mine the Niyamgiri hills as they are vital to the region's ecology.

Especially galling is reporter Bibhuti Pati's allegation that "NGOs and political activists have been campaigning against what they call the 'Vedanta Deal'". How can the arrests and harassment of so many locals for resisting the Vedanta project be ignored? I have witnessed several such incidents in Lanjigarh. In April 2003, nearly 300 people who went to lodge an FIR against highhandedness by company goons were chased from Lanjigarh police station by those goons over five kilometers. Most tragically, in 2005, three tribals including Sukru Majhi, leader of the anti-Vedanta Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, were killed by company goons but not a single case was registered.

In April 2006, 36 tribals sitting on a dharna against acquisition of their land were arrested and while they were in jail, the company constructed its boundary wall on their lands. Pati's article also mentions that "the example of Panchpat Mali mines of NALCO is there for all to see. No such thing has happened there even after 20 years of mining". Here I want to mention a few lines from the report of the Indian People's Tribunal headed by former Rajasthan High Court judge, Justice SN Bhargava.

It says, "The NALCO bauxite-mining project made a profit of US$120 million in 2002. Contrary to government and company claims, the local adivasi people whose lands were acquired for the project, or who live in proximity to the project, have not benefited in any way from this largesse. The relief and rehabilitation package offered to them by NALCO has only been partially implemented, mining wastes have been illegally dumped onto private lands, and wastes from the alumina refinery have been directly released into the river. In addition, there are a number of serious health problems in the area that have been linked to pollution caused by NALCO's alumina. Despite this track record, in 2000 and 2001 NALCO increased its capacity from 2,30, 000 tonnes to 3,45, 000 tonnes." Hope you would give this letter space in your magazine so that TEHELKA readers know the other side of the story.

Debaranjan Sarangi, by e-mail

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