Justice cannot be traded for Profits… shame the Unholy Trinity!
The crooked line of (in)justice-delivery
The Supreme Court verdict on 8 August 2008 allowing Sterlite Industries Ltd (with its offices at 2nd Floor, Core -6, Scope Complex, New Delhi) – Indian subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta Resources – to mine the Niyamgiri Mountains in Orissa exposes yet again an Unholy Trinity, in which (1)the government and (2)the judiciary serve (3)the corporate sector. The verdict reads like a hurriedly written ‘death sentence’ for the entire tribe of Dongria Kandhs. Their crime: their existence in their natural home that stands in way of ‘profits’ of a mining giant that has been ‘shamed’ for environmental and human-rights crimes.
The CEC, in a report submitted to the SC in 2005, had clearly stated that ‘mining Niyamgiri will amount to sacrilege’. The Wildlife Institute of India had reported that mining will cause ‘irreversible damage’ to the rich and rare biodiversity, perennial water sources, and the very existence of the tribe in Niyamgiri. The SC, dismissed all expert opinions and democratic voices of the Dongrias and finally allowed mining the mountains. Only after the Norwegian Ethics Committee slammed Vedanta, in November 2007, of being a ‘gross violator of environmental ethics and human rights wherever they operate’, the hon’ble judges ‘discredited’ Vedanta and denied it permission to mine Niyamgiri, but advised it to mine through its Indian subsidiary Sterlite. While discrediting Vedanta, how can one invite its subsidiary – in which Vedanta has a whopping 80% stake – to mine the mountain? How can the hon’ble court not stop the Vedanta’s refinery at Lanjigarh, below Niyamgiri? That too despite the CEC’s advice, and the Orissa State Pollution Control Board‘s clear statement which indicted the refinery for seriously polluting the Bansadhara river by illegally releasing toxic effluents into it!
It is important to note here that, during the hearing on 23 November 2007, one of the Judges of the Forest Bench – headed by none other than the Chief Justice of India – that pronounced the ‘judgement’ had openly declared that he owned ‘shares’ in the Sterlite Industries Ltd. Another Judge, during the hearing on 26 October 2007, had nonchalantly announced that the ‘tribals were no entity in the case’. Even the CJ stated in court that the case did not involve the tribals!
Who is benefiting anyway?
If Niyamgiri is mined, the environmental cost, at the present value, of forest loss alone would be 448-crore rupees; that is without counting the loss of valuable plant species, wildlife, and the abundant water resources. The cost of carbon-dioxide emissions from this project will set India back 653-crore rupees. The incalculable religious and cultural values preserved by the Dongrias for millennia have not been, and cannot be, accounted for in this cost–benefit analysis. Mining Niyamgiri is akin to sacrilege for the tribe.
Consider this: Vedanta/Sterlite will pay only 160 rupees per tonne of bauxite extracted, whereas the market price is nearly 2000 rupees per tonne. After investing some 3200-crore rupees, Vedanta/Sterlite will be availed a subsidy of over 6132-crore rupees at the cost of people’s money on the market price of bauxite itself. Again, as per the agreement with Orissa government, the company will pay only the ‘royalty’ and not the market price of alumina, which would have fetched 7300-crore rupees to the government. Now, the state will get only 467.2-crore rupees. Moreover, the value of aluminium extracted from Niyamgiri, at present value, is going to be 156,000-crore rupees. That is the titanic profit Vedanta/Sterlite is set to gain from this project.
But, what does the State get? How do these profits fit with proudly vaunted plans for ‘economic growth’? How does the State succeed in camouflaging its barefaced ‘betrayal of justice’ to the people and justify this corporate plunder of natural resources that have been traditionally owned and protected for centuries by the adivasis???
Let’s pledge to go on fighting along with the Dongrias
Ever since Vedanta has set eyes on Niyamgiri’s bauxite, the Dongrias are fighting a back-breaking battle against an impending disaster—mass displacement and destruction of their natural home, which would only mean extinction of the tribe. With a population of about 15,000 spreading over more than 100 villages on Niyamgiri, the Dongrias lead a secluded but truly ‘sustainable’ life. The urban middle class living in apartment flats may find it difficult to understand, but the Dongrias are a rich community with all life-supporting resources at hand that they have preserved for millennia.
We, the concerned citizens of India, will on no account allow the fundamental rights to life and livelihoods of the Dongria Kandhs to be traded; and we challenge the government’s portrayal of bauxite mining on Niyamgiri as a ladder to ‘development’. It has been proved time and again that ‘mining breeds poverty rather than diminishing it’; and this is glaringly on display at Damanjodi, next door to Niyamgiri, where NALCO is digging the earth for the past 25 years—a staggering 73% of the local population is below the poverty line there.
We express anguish over the manner in which the case was dealt with and the judgement arrived at. It must be noted here that, in 1987, the then Secretary of the MoEF had announced that India’s aluminium needs for the next 100 years could be provided by NALCO alone, and India should avoid further bauxite mines. Then, what is the urgency now to give global mining mafias a free run to desecrate mountain peaks in the country’s tribal heartland? The answer is: the insatiable greed of the global arms and armament industry and the resource-intensive automobile industry. Must we allow India’s resource-rich forests and mountains to be reduced to dust? Must adivasis be sacrificed now, as though there is no next generation to share the planet? Must the Indian middle class, looked upon as mere consumers, allow itself to be party to this crime? It’s time we stand up, and take a pledge.
National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, Kashipur Solidarity Group, SADED, Delhi Solidarity Group, PWESCR, and others—New Delhi (Contacts: 9868259836 / 9968161012 / 9868280198 / 26680883/914)