Niyamgiri in Orissa – A Civilization up for Sale?
After 3 ½ years of deliberations, the Supreme Court appears to be all set to grant mining rights to Vedanta Alumina Ltd. (VAL), a UK-based mining company, to mine Bauxite from Niyamgiri Mountains in South-Western Orissa. On 26 October 2007, the Forest Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Justice Arjit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia took the decisive step of ‘reserving for judgment’ the case of Vedanta/Orissa Mining Corporation. The Adivasis were not even given a chance to present the 200-pages objection to Vedanta’s mining report in court while all the other parties were heard. One of the judges went on to say that the tribal people have no place in this case!
If the Court grants mining clearance to the Company, it will be going completely against the strong recommendations of its own advisory body, the CEC (Central Empowered Committee), and also the report by the Wildlife Institute of India.
Vedanta Alumina Limited, a subsidiary of M/S Sterlite Industries (India) Limited (SIIL) is going to mine bauxite deposit from the Niyamgiri hills jointly with Orissa Mining Corporation Limited (OMC) as per the lease agreement signed in between VAL (Vedanta Alumina Ltd.) and Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) in October 2004. According to the MoU signed by SIIL and Govt. of Orissa on 7th June 2003, SIIL would set up an Alumina Complex, which includes 1.0 MTPA Alumina Refinery Plant, 3.0 MTPA of bauxite mining and 75 MW Captive Power Plant at Lanjigarh in the district of Kalahandi at an aggregate investment of approximately Rs.4000/- crore. The proposed mining site is located on the top of Niyamgiri hills. The proposed mining area is situated on Niyamgiri Reserve Forest of Kalahandi (South) Forest Division and Khambesi and Nimagiri PRF (Proposed Reserve Forest) and Jungle Block (Protected Forest) of Rayagada Forest Division.
The environmental clearance for the Niyamgiri project was granted on the false premise that no forest land would be used for the project, whereas in actuality forest land is involved both in the mining of bauxite and in the alumina refinery. The CEC’s report, filed before the Supreme Court on 21 September 2005, confirmed that forest land was cleared in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It also raised the question as to why environmental clearance was granted before the grant of forest clearance to the project. The CEC specifically recommended the revocation of the environmental clearance to the Vedanta refinery. In a supplementary report, the CEC reiterated that mining should not be permitted and that it would amount to “sacrilege if the same was permitted”.
The rich habitat of Niyamgiri Mountain and its adjoining area in Orissa, with around 3 lakh population and hundreds of villages, has been protected by the primitive Dongria Kondh tribes, for whom it is the sacred mountain of “Niyam Raja”, central to their life and culture. It is also the sole habitat of the Dongria Kondhs, a primitive indigenous community with a total population of only about 12000. The clearance for mining if granted, will amount to a complete destruction of the rich biodiversity of the area and of an entire culture and a way of life. It will also violate Schedule V of the Indian Constitution, which disallows Adivasi lands to be taken over by non-Adivasis, individual or corporate.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Finance Ministry’s Council of Ethics, underling and taking into account the strong recommendations in the in the CEC Report, has decided to divest its 70 million Kroners (about 7 million UK pounds) stake in Vedanta on the grounds of grave environmental damage and human rights violation, the same charges that Vedanta is facing in the Supreme Court. While Norway accepts the reports of the CEC as well-founded and takes a logical decision to withdraw from Vedanta’s nefarious dream, the Government of India and Orissa and even the Supreme Court of India seem to be hell-bent on ignoring the reports of its own experts’ panel.
Allowing Vedanta Alumina Ltd to mine Niyamgiri Mountains will open the floodgates for several mining projects to be allowed on Adivasi lands in the region and elsewhere. It will also reinforce the view that entire communities can be sacrificed for projects whose gains for the people at large will be slight or even non-existent.
The aluminium and mining industry is being imposed in Orissa with ruthlessness and insensitivity towards its tribal people and the environment. This is not just the story of the Dongria Kondhs in Orissa, but of many other Dalit and Adivasi communities both in Orissa and many other parts of the country like Jharkhand or Chattisgarh. Dozens of MoUs have been signed to hand over the country’s forests, rivers and wildlife resources and to sacrifice the lives of its local people to big corporate companies. People’s resistance to these projects is being repeatedly suppressed—be it the firing in Maikanch, Kalinganagar and Nandigram; the killing of Sukru Majhi; or the massively repressive Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh. And the truth which is sending fears our Government is that people are still resisting, protesting and refusing to give up the struggle even at the cost of their lives!
The voice from Niyamgiri’s is however crystal clear: “These mountains are our wealth, they are our right! Who gave the Government the right to sell our forests and mountains? We will not our wealth to be robbed. We will do everything to protect them.”
The Adivasis of Niyamgiri will use all possible platforms and routes, including the judiciary, to save the sacred Niyamgiri Mountains. A civilization, rich in its socio-cultural symbiosis with ‘nature’ and sustainable economic systems and intrinsically rooted in the natural environment will not allow itself to be sacrificed for the financial gains of few elites in this country.
- That the rights of the marginalized and the primitive Dongria Kondh tribes be heard and protected (in courts and elsewhere);
- That the permission for mining in the Niyamgiri Mountains and in the region be denied and Vedanta’s refining activities at its refinery in Lanjigarh be halted immediately (the Bansadhara river has already been declared seriously polluted within a month of the refinery starting up);
- That the Central Government and all state governments stop taking over Adivasi lands and handing them over to companies, either public or private.
Kashipur Solidarity Group & Delhi Solidarity Group
Mamata Dash – 09868259836, Shree Prakash – 09871880686, Sridevi-09868099304