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Archive for the ‘Niyamgiri’ Category

Save Niyamgiri

Justice cannot be traded for Profits… shame the Unholy Trinity!

Do not corporatize Constitutional values!

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.

Mining Niyamgiri amounts to Contempt of the Constitution!

The State has no right to sell off the Dongria Kandhs’ home!

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)

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Niyamgiri Mountains

Vedanta is Out but Bauxite Mining is Not

In a significant judgment today, the Forest Bench of the Supreme Court presided by the Chief Justice of India, denied approval to the Vedanta Alumina Ltd. for mining Bauxite in Niyamgiri forest land in Orissa.

Justice Kapadia who read out the Order stated clearly that due to some recent reports doubting the credibility of Vedanta Resources PLC, the court cannot hand over ‘national assets to a company’ where Vedanta Resources has a 94% stake.

Curiously enough and much to our dismay, the Bench perhaps went beyond their mandate and brought in Sterlite Industries India Ltd. (where Vedanta Resources PLC hold an 80% stake) to the picture and suggested that the application for mining approval can be considered by the Bench if a Special Purpose Vehicle is constituted by the Government of Orissa, Orissa Mining Corporation with Sterlite. There are other conditions attached to that including payment for NPV (Net Present Value), wildlife management plan, tribal development, local employment opportunities etc. Many of these conditions have to be approved and monitored by the Central Empowered Committee.

While we appreciate the concern of the Court in taking the mining rights away from Vedanta Resources PLC, which is not even listed in India, we are at a loss to understand how the same can be considered for Sterlite even through an SPV. Also the Sterlite Industries are known for severe and several violations in the projects they have undertaken so far, including the Tuticorin Copper Smelter.

Though for the time being Vedanta is out, the verdict is still not against Bauxite mining in Niyamgiri. The long struggle for justice of the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri continues.

On Behalf of Delhi Solidarity Group and Kashipur Solidarity Group

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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.

We Demand:

  1. That the rights of the marginalized and the primitive Dongria Kondh tribes be heard and protected (in courts and elsewhere);
  2. 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);
  3. That the Central Government and all state governments stop taking over Adivasi lands and handing them over to companies, either public or private.

Let people’s collective triumph over all forms of injustice…


Kashipur Solidarity Group & Delhi Solidarity Group

Mamata Dash – 09868259836, Shree Prakash – 09871880686, Sridevi-09868099304

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