Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dongaria Kondhs come to Bhubaneswar, Public Hearing for Vedanta Aluminium Smelter,High Court bowls for mining corporates etc.

Marriage in the family, so I was too busy to blog till today. Many interesting developments have taken place during the last few days. Dongaria Kondhs came down from Niyamgiri hills to Bhubaneswar to hold a rally against Vedanta. A public Hearing for the Vedanta Aluminium Smelter proposed at Brundamal near Jharsuguda is being organised on 9th December by the Orissa Pollution Control Board, inspite of the Vedanta Alumina refinery being sub-judice.

The Orissa High Court struck down the attempt of the Orissa Government to impose a mineral cess, saying that it violated the constitution. This will mean that the mining corporate mafia will make Rs. 1300 crores more every year (I am sure that is an underestimate). I wonder if the High Court has ever thought about the constitutional rights of the Scheduled Tribes whose lands are being acquired in violation of the Schedule V and the Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immoval property Regulation, 1956, for the profits of the same mining company. Many people point out that the act seems to have been deliberately worded in order to make the High Court strike it down, allowing the mining company friendly state government to blame the judiciary (saanp bhi mar jaye, lathi bhi na tute). Maybe someone could enlighten us on that.

There was a massive rally in Kalinganagar against displacement by more than 5000 tribals recently. Another large meeting was held against POSCO yesterday near Paradeep against the proposed steel plant. In Kashipur, more than 20 tribal anti-mining activists continue to languish in the jail. Rabindra Jarika, one of the leaders of Kalinganagar movement against industries still continues to be in jail.

Meanwhile, today there were some questions in the Assembly about the industrialistion process, most MLAs asking about the progress of the industry MOUs. One MLA did ask how Bhushan Steel has managed to start its project without obtaining Forest Clearance from MOEF, but the mining Minister cleverly avoided answering this question. The show goes on.

An article on Vedanta in Telegraph is a must read - I have provided it in the end of today's post.

Dongaria Kondhs come to Bhubaneswar

Here is the coverage in Statesman of the Dongaria Kondh Rally in Bhubaneswar on Dec. 5th

Tribals’ protest against Vedanta
Statesman News Service BHUBANESWAR, Dec. 5. — Hundreds of tribals from Rayagada and Kalahandi districts today staged a demonstration in front of the Assembly urging the state government to shelve the proposed alumina plant and bauxite mining project in Lanjigarh area in compliance with the recommendation of the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court. They threatened to continue their movement in exchange of their lives till this “anti-people’’ and “anti-environment” project was withdrawn. The Vedanta Alumina Limited, a joint venture company of Sterlite and the state government, is setting up an alumina plant and a mining project in Lanjigarh area, amidst protest from local tribals, environmentalists and Opposition parties. Dressed in their traditional attire and armed with traditional weapons tribals from the affected areas took out a rally and staged a demonstration in front of the Assembly. The demonstrators were shouting slogans and singing songs in Kui language accompanied by traditional musical instruments. Leaders of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Abhiyan, which is spearheading the anti-alumina plant agitation, said that the proposed project would not only displace thousands of local tribals, depriving them of their livelihood, it would also destroy the fragile eco system of the Niyamgiri hills. The Vanshadhara and the Nagabali rivers emerging from the hills would dry up, leading to drying up of the command area. Rich flora and fauna on the hills would vanish. The primitive Dongria Kondh living in the Niyamgairi hills would be greatly affected, they alleged. The state government has shown undue favours by allowing the Vedanta company to set up an alumina plant and leasing out the bauxite mines in violation of forest laws despite protest from local Dongria Kondhs, they alleged adding that the company and the state government had initiated repressive measures on the agitating tribals. Despite the Central Empowered Committee’s recommendation to stop the project, the state government was forcibly carrying on land acquisition and conniving with the company in its illegal activities, charged the tribals."

Here are some photographs of the rally (courtesy self):

Public Hearing for Vedanta's Aluminium Smelter

Despite the CEC stricture and the fact that their alumina refinery case is sub-judice with the Supreme Court, Vedanta and State Pollution Control Board are going ahead with the hearing on 9th December. Apparently a legal notice has also been served by Mr. Ritwick Dutta on behalf of the petitioner in the case. I just hope that there is strong enough opposition against this smelter and its power plant (5X135 MW), coming up near Hirakud reservoir. This plant would be a tragedy, not only for the displaced (mostly tribals who are cultivating government land, and hence would receive no compensation) but also for the ecology and environment of the Sambalpur region, coming on top of the steel and sponge iron companies which already exist or are under construction. It will also block the connection between Badarama/Ushakothi sanctuary and the vast forests on the North West of Hirakud reservoir. And aluminium plants are notorious for fluoride pollution - one only needs to ask the residents near NALCO's Angul Plant or Hindalco's plant near Hirakud.

The situation in Sambalpur-Jharsuguda belt is rapidly spinning out of control, and I will devote a future posting for the same. However, Sambalpur people really need to wake up - or they will find their land and water poisoned irretreivably. Some people tell me that the apathy in the area is because most of the land is owned by large farmers, who stand to become millionaires with the land compensation. These people provide the local leadership and are on the side of the companies - and the poor and landless who really suffer from displacement have little voice. Its hightime someone got down to organising the people who are really losing out.

High Court Bowls for Mining Companies

Another news item from Statesman

Orised Act struck down
Statesman News Service CUTTACK, Dec. 5. —" In a significant judgment running into more than 100 pages, the Orissa High Court today struck down the Orissa Rural Infrastructure and Socio Economic Development Act-2004.The Act envisaged tax on mineral bearing land by reference to the annual value of the minerals produced and sold in the state. The subject matter of the legislation under Orised Act-2004 is no longer available to the state legislature for legislation as a Central legislation had taken over the regulation of development of mines and mineral development in public interest, the Court observed. “Having been taken over by the Union government since the Central legislation, this subject matter relating to regulation of mines and mineral development is no longer available to the state Legislature for levying fee. This field is fully occupied by the Parliament,” the Division Bench constituting of chief justice Mr SB Roy and Mr Justice MM Das observed while disposing 87 writ petitions. “The incidence of the impugned levy falls squarely on the value of the minerals extracted and it does not bear any direct relationship with land as a unit and hence it is not a tax on land within the meaning of the State List. We are therefore, constrained to reject the case of the state that the impugned levy is a tax on land,” chief justice Mr Roy and Mr justice Das added. The court further observed that the incidence of the envisaged levy under the Orised Act 2004 falls directly on minerals extracted and is also not a tax on mineral rights irrespective of whether the subject of the State List is occupied by Parliament or not. Hence, the impugned levy is beyond the competence of state Legislature. While striking down the Act, the Rules framed, the notification and demand notices issued on the basis of it, the Court directed the state government to refund the taxes or any cess that had been collected from mine lease owners, consumers and buyers. The judgement assumes significance as the state government expected to mop up Rs 1300 crore more revenue for the state every year by enforcing the Act. This was the fourth attempt of the state government in enacting laws more or less on identical lines with the same purpose that has been struck down by the courts. Earlier, the Orissa Mining Areas Development Fund Act, 1952, the Orissa Cess Act, 1962 (amended in 1976) and the Orissa Rural Employment, Education and Production Act, 1992 were struck down by the Supreme Court. The petitions challenging the legislative competence of the Orissa government to pass the Orised Act, 2004 were filed among others by Nalco, Mahanadi Coalfields, Tisco, Tata Refractories, Jindal Steel and Power and Eastern Zone Mining Association."

Well, what can one say? One can only pity this godforsaken State. My suggestion is that Orissa government should increase the lease rent for mining land to Rs. one crore per acre per year in the short term. If that is not feasible stop giving mining leases at all, and cancel the ones existing. If that is not possible, take all the hoodlums that BJD/BJP has nurtured and block all roads and rails used for transporting minerals till the companies cry mother.

In some ways this exposes the largescale loot that is occuring in Orissa. One suspects that the Orissa Government will sit on this judgement and use it as an excuse to pin the blame on the High Court, while enjoying the unofficial "cess" from the mining companies? Are we looking at Mir Jaffars here?

Article in Telegraph, Calcutta
Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Vedanta affair- The nub of the CEC’s report is the issue of forest land NRI tycoon Anil Agarwal expanding his metals empire. But in a remote corner of Orissa, he faces a firestorm that could derail — at least temporarily — his ambitious global gameplan, report Debabrata Mohanty and Anirban Das Mahapatra

The concrete pillars of the conveyor belt for carrying the bauxite ore at Lanjigarh Businessman Anil Agarwal’s is a rags to riches story come to life. He started out in his late teens as a scrap metal trader from Bihar. Today, he’s a billionaire who has almost achieved his ambition of being a key player in the global metals market. His firm, the $1.8 billion Vedanta Resources, is listed on the London Stock Exchange and Agarwal operates from a swanky office in London’s exclusive Mayfair district.

But in a remote corner of Orissa, in one of India’s most backward regions, Agarwal is facing a firestorm that could derail — at least temporarily — his ambitious global gameplan. Several months ago, Agarwal, who’s better known in India as the hardscrabble businessman who built Sterlite Industries, began working round the clock on an $800 million (Rs 3,657 crore) project that includes a giant aluminium refinery and a bauxite mining unit. Bauxite is the raw material used to make alumina, which in turn is converted into aluminium. Incidentally, bauxite prices are currently at a record high internationally. Some $247 million (Rs 1,129 crore) of the $800-million project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2006, has already been spent, according to Vedanta’s website.

But in September a five-member committee appointed by the Supreme Court, called the centrally empowered committee (CEC), submitted a report to the court recommending that the court revoke the environmental clearance granted for setting up the refinery and that Vedanta be directed to stop further work on the project. A ruling is expected in December.

At stake are thousands of crores and the possibility that the project might become unviable if the Supreme Court rules against Vedanta. Against that is the committee’s position that Vedanta has not quite met environmental regulations.

The CEC is a quasi-judicial body the Supreme Court set up in 2002 to look into forest and environment issues. Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa filed an application before the CEC in November 2004 against Vedanta. Environmentalist Prafulla Samantara and a Delhi-based geologist, R. Sridhar, subsequently filed two other applications. The CEC clubbed them together in December and then sent a fact-finding team —which was one of the prayers of the litigants — to the region. The hearings started in February.

In May, Vedanta went to the Supreme Court, asking it to quash the proceedings. But the court ruled that a decision would be taken after the CEC gave its report. The CEC itself visited the area in June this year. It completed and submitted its report in September.

Anil Agarwal is in a piquant position. The refinery’s construction has already begun, but he confronts the prospect of the Supreme Court nixing the project. Vedanta, meanwhile, has not exactly been sitting idle either. Last week, it was set to file a petition in the Supreme Court supporting its position, according to a source at Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite Industries (India).

Among other things, the environmentalists had accused Vedanta of having started work on the projects before environmental clearance had been obtained, something Vedanta has strongly denied. “Some areas of our state which are extremely rich in bio-diversity are sacrosanct and should not be touched. You cannot dig up and mine anywhere you please,” says Biswajit Mohanty, previously known for his campaign to save the endangered Olive Ridley turtles.

Indeed, Anil Agarwal is in a piquant position. The refinery’s construction has already begun. While Sterlite Industries declines to disclose precisely how much money has been spent separately on the bauxite and refinery projects, Agarwal has spent at least 45 per cent of the project’s cost, according to the environmentalists — and confronts the prospect of the Supreme Court nixing the project. Secondly, the project’s alumina, an intermediate product used to make aluminium, will feed Balco’s expansion (half the alumina will go to the group’s captive aluminium plants and about half would be sold to third parties, Agarwal recently told Vedanta shareholders).

What happens if the Supreme Court rules against Vedanta? The London-based company could look at other bauxite ore deposits elsewhere in the state (Karlapat, Kutrumaili, Sasbahumali and Sijimali, for example) or source bauxite from elsewhere. The company told the CEC that if the mineral from the Lanjigarh mine were not available it would obtain bauxite from other sources. But rivals in the aluminium industry argue that this will push up costs. “In projects such as Vedanta’s, the money is mostly paid in advance to sub-contractors,” says a highly placed source at the government-owned National Aluminium Corporation. “So if the Supreme Court bars the company from digging up the Niyamgiri bauxite reserves and asks it to identify an alternative mine, the cost of production and transportation will shoot up and make the project unviable.” Sterlite Industries officials deny this.

Vedanta’s Orissa projects are being implemented by Indian subsidiary Vedanta Alumina Company and comprise a mine near the Niyamgiri hills — which boast of a rich deposit of bauxite — and a refinery at nearby Lanjigarh. The mine area is said to have 150 million tonnes of bauxite, according to the Vedanta web site (75 million tonnes, according to the CEC report) and the project, says the CEC report (a copy of which The Telegraph has), proposes to source three million tonnes of bauxite every year from the mine. As part of the Orissa government’s efforts to develop the region, the state-run Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) inked a joint venture with Vedanta Alumina for setting up the refinery at Lanjigarh and for the mine. The Vedanta group planned on setting up a 90 MW captive power plant at the site to supply power. The 1.4 million tonnes per annum refinery will initially produce one million tonnes of alumina.

The area is part of Kalahandi, one of India’s poorest districts and infamous across the world for its starvation deaths. Endowed with a green canopy and with fresh-water streams, the unspoilt project area is home to several vulnerable animal species, as many as six of which find a mention in the red data book of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Species (IUCN). Besides, a handful of the critically endangered, 6,000-strong Dongaria Kondh tribe live a rudimentary life in the folds of the mountains.

If and when the project gets going, the environmentalists argued before the CEC, it would have many consequences: liquid and gaseous effluent emissions, bright illumination, drilling and the resultant vibration and dust and pollution could affect the flora, fauna, ecology and human population of the area.
The issues involved are complicated, but the nub of the CEC’s report is the issue of forest land — that the MoEF granted environmental clearance for the project on September 22, 2004, on the assumption that no forest land was involved. But at that time a proposal to use nearly 59 hectares of forest land for the refinery had been pending with the ministry. Another proposal to use over 672 hectares of forest land for the mine project is now pending with the ministry.

Much of the argument is centred on the fact that construction of the Vedanta project required the diversion of the 59 hectares of forest land, comprising about 29 hectares of village forest land and about 30 hectares of reserve forest. Company officials say that the land was part of their earlier calculations, but it was out of “abundant caution” that the refinery was finally proposed to be built entirely on non-forest land. The 30 hectares of reserve forest land were apparently diverted to the mining project, for building conveyors and approach roads, for which forestry clearance is still pending.

But the CEC claimed that Vedanta did not disclose the involvement of forest land in the project. Apparently, in June 2002, the collector of Kalahandi district issued a notice for acquiring land for the alumina refinery project, which showed that 118 acre of village forest land was involved in the project. “That effectively indicates that forest area was very much included in the project even before it kicked off,” says a CEC source.
When Sterlite applied for environmental clearance to the MoEF, it said that no forest land was involved in the project and that there was no reserve forest within a radius of 10 km, the CEC report said. Then, in August 2004, the company — in seeking forest clearance — put forward an application for the use of about 59 hectares of forest land. However, the application for the environmental clearance was not modified and was processed on the premises that no forest land was involved.

The MoEF’s actions have been questioned by the CEC as well. “The environmental clearance for the alumina refinery could not have been accorded without taking a decision on the mining component which is an integral part of the project,” notes the report, adding that at the time of granting environmental clearance, “even the proposal under the Forest Clearance Act for the use of forest land for the Niyamgiri bauxite mines had not been filed with the MoEF”. Prodipto Ghosh, secretary, MoEF, refused to comment on the issue, citing its sub-judice status.

Vedanta, in turn, pointed out to the CEC, among other things, that the environmentalists who objected to the project did not attend the public hearings on the projects in February and March 2003 but raised issues after the projects reached a critical state. It also said that it had fully disclosed in documents that forest land lay within a 10 km-radius of the project site, and that it had disclosed that the alumina refinery is located at the foothills of the Niyamgiri hills. “The fact that Niyamgiri hills are reserved forests has been abundantly disclosed in the EIA report,” it said.

The Supreme Court will, undoubtedly, decide on the truth of all these matters. Till then, the man from Bihar who made his millions in Mumbai and now operates out of London’s tony Mayfair will live on the edge.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Coming back after a break

Missed blogging for last few days because of committments. I was shocked to know that 20 tribals and dalits of Kashipur movement have been behind bars because of false cases for the last six months. Incredible that policemen who shot dead three adivasis in cold blood in December 2006 are roaming around free whereas people fighting for basic democratic and human rights are being put behind bars. Bravo, Navin. Meanwhile, our friend Prafulla Das has a good article on mining (Privatisation of Orissa's minerals) in current issue of frontline.

Another interesting link is of a petition by Sankarshan Acharya which requests the Supreme Court to intervene in the destructive mining policy of the GOI and GOO. The detailed petition in pdf format is at this address.

Following the protests against the mining of Malangtoli by Orissa Sponge Iron Ltd., the local mining mafia has swung into action, and in an article in Sambad ( an Oriya newspaper) have issued veiled threats against the activists fighting against the mining. The article itself is highly biased and reflects the situation in Orissa journalism.The english translation is as below:

"Action will be taken against so called environmentalists protesting mining operations in Malangtuli

15 November, 2005

Some people are protesting the Malangtuli mining operation for their selfish interests. These people are even creating obstruction in the path of employment of hundreds of unemployed youth. Ex-MLA Khethamohan Nayak has said that such type of protests will not be tolerated and necessary actions will be taken against the so-called environmentalists.
It's worth noting that Orissa Sponge Iron Ltd had taken lease of 459ha land in Luhakhola-Kadakola area for mining purposes. The company had asked permission from the Pollution Control Board (OPCB) for this. The PCB had asked the local people for their opinion. A public hearing was organized in Kadakaola where the chairman of PCB was present. He heard the complaints from the people. Nearly all categories of people present gave consent for the mining prospect. The Joda Environment Protection Committee gave some constructive suggestion in regard to the mining operation. But it was seen on Doordarshan Oriya News that on 8th of Nov. some people raised their voices against the project and said that if the mining operation is carried out here, then the Khandadhara waterfall will be affected.
Ex MLA Khetramohan Nayak.said that the fact is that Khandadhara Waterfall is situated 12 to 13 K.M from the mining site. Besides that, there are mountains around the mining area so the waterfall could not be affected. This is written in the demand note give to the District collector. He also mentioned that that some people for their self interest are protesting against the industrialization in Keonjhar District and are making a conspiracy.
Kadakala Sarapanch Narayan Dehuri, BJP Leader Chandrasekhar Pradhan, Joda Environmental Protection Committee's President Kalakara Nayak and Secretary Udaya Sankar Acharya, Karunakar Patra, Bhubaneswar Das etc. warned the protesters against trying to stop mining."

This is interesting - and a part of the larger mining game i.e. purchase the local goons and petty politicians, create "environmental protection committees" and get them to support mining and threaten anyone who comes in the way of the "loot".

"Public Hearing" for Vedanta's Aluminium Smelter near Jharsuguda schdeuled for 9th december, 2005.

Inspite of the Vedanta's problems in Lanjigarh, it is going ahead with the public hearing for environmental clearance for its aluminium smelter near Jharsuguda on 9th December, 2005. This is a huge plant with a capacity of 4,50,000 tonnes per annum. This was scheduled to be held in last month but was postponed. The original EIA for the smelter mentions that the alumina will be sourced from Lanjigarh Alumina refinery, but that one is sub-judice at present with the Supreme Court.

The area where the smelter is being set up is next to a series of plants and factories being set up along the Sambalpur-Jharsuguda highway. The site offers great advantages to the Vedanta, nearby source of water from Hirakud reservoir, ample coal from IB valley for running captive power plant, and direct railway line from Lanjigarh. Of course, the water from Hirakud currently used for irrigation will be diverted for the smelter, and one can imagine the amount of pollution caused by the smelter as well as the power plant being set up.

Also, as the Google satellite picture below shows - the area where the plant is coming up is smack in gap between two major forest patches in Orissa - the one comprising Badarama-Ushakothi sanctuary and the forest areas to the north west of Hirakud reservoir. Local people say that the area is being used as an elephant corridor. Most of the route is already blocked by the present upcoming industries and the IB valley coal field, and rest will be blocked by the Vedanta smelter.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

More news about Vedanta from Independent Media

Just in from Independent Media, Orissa. The anti-Vedanta Rally at Lanjigarh seems to have been a great success inspite of the police Bandobast.


Independent Media, Bhubaneswar

Despspite preventive arrests of leaders and activists and armed police blocking the ways of tribal protesters marching towards the gate of Vedanta Alumina's Lanjigarh plant, more than 2000 agitators started a procession at 1.30 PM who than covered a distance of 2 kms shouting
slogans such as, " Vedanta go back", " Niyamgiri or No Niyamgiri, Vedanta must leave Kalahandi", " We want development not disaster" before they reached the main gate of the company's illegal construction site. The most highlighting part of the procession was the participation of Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri armed with traditional weapons, who joined any public protest against Vedanta for the first time. The Dongria's are among the most primitive tribes of the country who are present in the Niyamgiri Hill range only. The meeting, which took place right in front of the company gate, was addressed by a host of speakers. They included leaders of the movement Daising Majhi (presided over the meeting), Bhim Majhi, tribal women
leader Maladi Majhi, Com. Gananath Patra, Com Sivaram, Rajendra Sarangi, Prof. Bhagbat Prasad Rath, Santosh Malik, Rajendra Bharati, Dhabaleswar Nayak, Satyabadi Naik, BB Thakur, Srikanta, Snehansu and Sidharth Naik. Though some of the speakers highlighted the
observations and recommendations of the CEC, they demanded the ouster of the company from the soil of Kalahandi at any cost. " We have taken an oath to oust the company from our soil even if the Supreme Court does not listen to the wisdom of its own committee ( CEC ) and ignore their report", said some of the leaders. The veteran revolutionary leader Gananath Patra told us that, he was shocked to see the " Anil Agrawal Company aggressively going ahead with its construction activities even though the CEC report has gone against them". It seems the local tribal MLA, who is also a minister in charge of tribal development has been mobilizing tribals for a dharana in front of the supreme court in favor of the company at the time of hearing of the case. Though the CEC report has encouraged them a lot, they have decided to take the movement towards its logical conclusion even if the highest judiciary decides
to go against the people and their wisdom, as it has been the case anywhere else.

The arrested leaders were released in the night. They included Nayan Dash and Lingaraj (National Secretary of Samajvadi Jan Parishad). Our sources in Kalahandi confirm us that police did not arrest Sidharth Naik, though such news had reached us earlier.

The meeting and demonstration at the gate of Vedanta's illegal plant site, which successfully took place despite police repression, has once again helped in reviving and strengthening not only the movement but also its support base in Bhawanipatna. The 11th November protest
programme of the locals despite police repression assumes significance as the ABN AMRO people are reportedly visiting Vedanta's field area on the 14th and 15th of November 2005.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Vedanta Strikes Back through the Orissa Government

Just in from Independent Media. The groups protesting Vedanta had organised a rally for today (11th Nov.), to protest the Alumina refinery and the proposed mining on Niyamgiri, specially in light of the scathing report submitted by the CEC to the Supreme Court. The Government of Orissa and Vedanta, it seems, are really smarting at having their noses rubbed in the ground by a motley group of environmentalists and social activists, and has reverted to their heavy handed tactics. Latest news is that at least three-four prominent activists have been arrested, that raids are being carried out all over Kalahandi by the police, and heavily armed police has been posted everywhere to thwart the rally. We will keep you all posted on the fast developing situation as we get reports from the Independent Media and other media outlets.

Repression in Vedanta Alumina Area
Nachiketa, Independent Media, 10 the Nov, 2005

The Orissa government has become restless to suppress any democratic resistance and protest coming in its way of opening mining reserves for plunder by Indian and multinational companies. The leadership is busy in signing MOUs everyday and the state police have been empowered to deal with firmly if anywhere people are preparing themselves to oppose this madness of the regime. Even now in Kasipur, where Alcan and Aditya Birla's UAIL have not got any fresh approval from appropriate authorities under the forest and environment acts, people have been forced to leave with repression. Local police is still terrorizing innocent tribals either by arresting them or by arresting people who have volunteered to bail out their arrested kith and kin. On 25 th October 2005, the Jajpur district deputy police chief came in plain clothes to Bhubaneswar in a vehicle donated to them by the Jindals and kidnapped Rabindra Jarka the tribal leader of the movement of displaced persons of Kalingnagar industrial city from a crowded public road close to the venue of the All India Tribal Convention organized by the AIKMS and Loka Sangram Manch.

Right now when I am writing this mail to you all, the police are aggressively continuing their mission of arresting the visiting leaders and activists including their local hosts in Lanjigarh and Bhawanipatna who have started arriving in Bhawanipatnam and Lanjigarh in response to the appeal of the local movement against Vedanta Aluminum to launch a " Vedanta Go Back" campaign. The report of the CEC of Supreme Court accusing the Company of gross violation of forest and conservation laws and acts and indicting the state and union governments for their complicity in the crimes have inspired the locals to renew their demands of throwing Vedanta out of Kalahandi. Tomorrow, that is on 11 th of November, 2005, they have a plan to launch an agitation at the gate of Vedanta's plant site in Lanjigarh, which the company is constructing at an aggressive pace ignoring the CEC report. Most of the leaders from the on going people's movements in Orissa have assembled in various places in Kalahandi to reach Lanjigarh tomorrow and express their solidarity with the locals. But the leaders and activists had never anticipated that armed police would surround Lanjigarh from all sides and prevent them from reaching Lanjigarh. So far they have detained the key local leaders and activists who included Nayan Dash and Sidharth Naik. The police in Bhawanipatnam are searching for state level leaders camping in the town to arrest them. People approaching Lanjgarh by road have been threatened with dire consequences. A war like situation has been created in the district because of massive deployment of armed police. The Chief Minister Nabin Pattnak, who happens to be the home minister is least aware of the deeds of his force and is least interested to know about it. Outside pressures in the form of protest e.mail and appeals may work.

Since you are all aware of the projects in question and the past developments we are not burdening you with any further details.

Thanks and regards


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Karlapat in Line of BHP Billiton Fire

After Niyamgiri, another biodiversity rich, hydrologically critical "mali" is targeted for bauxite mining. Read on:

Greens see red over proposed mining near Karlapat sanctuary

Pioneer News Service Bhubaneswar

The move by BHP-Billiton, world's largest mining conglomerate, to obtain a mining lease close to the Karalapat Wildlife Sanctuary in Kalahandi district has triggered a fresh environmental row.

The controversy started on Tuesday when the company moved the District Collector of Kalahandi with a mining lease application. The Collector referred the application to the DFO Kalahandi for his opinion.

The company in its application asked for allotment of mining lease area in the Khandualmali hill to extract rich bauxite deposits of the region. However, the biggest hindrance for the company in acquiring the mining lease as per its demarcated sketch is Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary. A portion of the sanctuary comes under the proposed mining area.

The Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO) on Tuesday alleged that the Orissa Government has been under pressure from BHP-Billiton to denotify a portion of the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary and redraw its boundaries keeping in mind the rich bauxite deposits of the adjacent Khandualmalli hill. Secretary of the WSO Biswajeet Mohanty, speaking to The Pioneer said, the company wants the State Government to push back the boundary by a few kilometres to overcome the legal hurdles in getting environmental clearances for operating these mines.

If the company succeeds, it would be the first such case in Orissa where a notified wildlife sanctuary's boundary has been redrawn to help a mining company, Mr Mohanty said.

The proximity of the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary to the mines is posing a legal impediment to the plans of BHP-Billiton as the borders of the sanctuary are within three km from the bauxite reserves.

The Environment Protection Act, 1986, treats an area of up to 10 km from the border of any sanctuary or National Park as "eco-sensitive" where no developmental or industrial activities are permitted. This rule was reiterated in the National Wildlife Strategy, 2002, which was approved by the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Supreme Court has also endorsed in several cases concerning mining near sanctuaries and National Parks that no mining or industries should be permitted within 10 km.

The Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court, during its visit in December, 2004, in case of Vedanta Alumina, had also held that the Karlapat mines are too close to the sanctuary and are part of the proposed south Orissa elephant reserve. The State Government in its affidavit had stated that no mining activities would be allowed in this region of Khandualmalli hill.

The Kalrapat Sanctuary with an area of 175 sq km was notified in 1992 and at present is the only wildlife sanctuary in Kalahandi. It is a water rich area and is home to several species including leopards, tigers, elephants, black panthers, deer, sambhar and several varieties of birds. It is also rich in floral wealth and is a habitat for more than 25 types of orchids.

The WSO said BHP-Billiton has a notorious environmental track record since it caused a gigantic environmental disaster at Papua New Guinea at Ok Tedi copper mining project. The Australian company dumped 80,000 tonnes of tailings containing copper, zinc, cadmium and lead into the fly and Ok Tedi Rivers everyday for two decades, which devastated the local wildlife and fish.

The watershed of Khandualmali hills drains towards the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary and more than 35 streams originate from the hilltop. Water from this hill feeds Tel river. The WSO apprehends that mining of bauxite would destroy the rich water source and lead to a total collapse of the ecosystem of the adjacent Karlapat Sanctuary.

Row recipe

* Mining conglomerate BHP-Billiton applies for lease area in the Khandualmali hill to extract rich bauxite deposits of the region.

* The proximity of the Karlapat wildlife sanctuary to the mines becomes a legal impediment to the company's plans

* Environmentalists allege the company is exerting pressure on the Orissa Government to push back the boundary by a few kilometres

* Wildlife Society of Orissa opposes the move fearing a total collapse of the ecosystem of the sanctuary

* According to WSO secretary, if the company succeeds, it would be the first such case in Orissa where a wildlife sanctuary's boundary has been redrawn to help a mining company.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Looting our Future: Iron Ore Exports from Orissa

Prafulla Das of Hindu brought out an article in Hindu which says that in the last year (2004-2005) over 15.68 million tonnes of high quality iron ore was exported from Orissa to other countries. This is incredibly stupid, given that India's iron ore deposits are limited, and the national demand is growing by leaps and bounds. Even for those who believe in "India Shining", this should be anathema. As Aditi Ghatak wrote in another article in Hindu, India has just 18 billion tonnes of iron ore deposits, as compared to 46 billion tonnes for China. Yet China imports iron ore and doesn't allow export of iron ore, whereas, India, like a third world country, exports this strategic raw material to all and sundry. Even if we reach the present per capita consumption level of steel by China (200 kgs/capita) in another ten years, we would be needing almost 300 million tonnes of steel per annum. At that rate, our iron ore reserves would be exhausted in just 30 years. What shall we do then?

So what explains the current exports of Iron ore from Orissa? Pure and simple - it is the "loot" economy. The mining leases have been given to cronies and relatives by politicians, or to the company which is able to provide the highest amount of "contribution" to the decision makers. The royalty remains at a paltry RS. 26/tonne - around 5% of the actual value of the iron ore. Everyone involved in the unholy nexus gains - the top level politicians and bureaucrats gain "contributions", the mining companies gain windfall profits, the local goons and elites buy trucks to transport the iron ore, and the petty officials responsible for regulation sing their way to prosperity. Does this sound familiar - well imagine Nigeria or Bolivia or Sierra Leone or the Banana Republics.

Who loses in this game - the citizens of India, whose future is being exported , both in form of the iron ore and in form of the environmental and social costs of mining. And the local people, specially the tribals and dalits and other marginalised groups, who see their livelihood support system stripped away in front of their eyes, their forests cutdown, their land and water poisone, their air polluted and their homes bulldozed. They are turned into environmental refugees in their own ancestral lands, their future bartered away by the powerful for a few pieces of silver.

So we felt that we should have a hall of infamy of the exporters of iron ore from Orissa on basis of the amounts exported. Here is the list for 2004-2005:

Rungta Mines - 2,354,568 tonnes
Jindal Steel - 1,147,876 tonnes
Essel Mines - 833,839 tonnes
MMTC - 1191807 tonnes
S K Sarawagi - 970632 tonnes
OMC - 500469 tonnes
Sesa Goa - 810742 tonnes
TISCO - 225606 tonnes

There are many other smaller players. Interestingly TISCO also figures in the list.

Demonstration in Front of Orissa Pollution Control Board by People affected by the proposed mining of Malangtoli , Keonjhar, by Orissa Sponge Iron Limited

Over 95 people, including tribals and women, from the Banspal area of Keonjhar District arrived at the Orissa Pollution Control Board Office at Bhubaneswar to protest against the proposed mining in Malangtoli by Orissa Sponge Iron Limited. They sat on Dharna for the whole day, shouting slogans peacefully. One of the major complaints was the manner in which the Public Hearing for environmental clearance was held on 31st October, 2005, where a staff of OSIL helped the OSCB representative choose the petitioners.

Citing the massive destruction that the mining would bring to the area, including destruction of water sourcs, air and water pollution, the impact on livelihoods of the local tribals, the impact on Khandhadhar waterfall, the protestors demanded that no environmental clearance be given to the project and that the mining lease be scrapped.

Some photographs of the Malangtoli hills showing the forests and streams

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More on Orissa Sponge Iron Hearing

Statesman's Orissa Plus had an article on the Public Hearing of the Orissa Sponge Iron Ltd. proposed mine in the Malangtoli area of Keonjhar district. Here it is

"Villagers suspect foulplay in Sponge Iron hearing
Statesman News Service

KEONJHAR, Nov. 2. — The people of villages of Luhakala and Kadakala, and many social organisations have remonstrated against the public hearing conducted by the Orissa Sponge Iron on the Malangtoli Iron Ore Mining Lease in their villages in the Bansapal block. Organisations like Kendujhara Suraksha Parishad, Anchalika Mahasangha, Shreekhand Bhaumya Samaj, Khandadhar Suraksha Samiti and Anchalika Swayam Sahayaka Sadhana Kendra have drawn the attention of the director, State Pollution Control Board, the secretary, Forest and Environment Department and the Collector to the irregularities noticed at the public hearing.

They alleged that the hearing was a farce and hundreds of people had not got a chance to put forth their views on the proposed expansion project of the plant as the hearing lasted barely three hours. Some of them have alleged that organisations working on environment and forest were forced to wait outside the hall while handpicked people who were supportive of the expansion plan were allowed to take part in the public hearing.

The local people have alleged in their letter to the concerned pollution control authorities that the expansion plan will adversely affect the Khandadhara waterfall that attracts a lot of tourists.
Quoting from reports which were said to have been prepared by consultants, the villagers have alleged that the employment potential is minimal and it will all be unskilled labour-based employment.

They wanted to know whether no-objection certificate had been obtained prior to the public hearing as the company had already commenced its work. When contacted, the managing director of OSIL Mr NK Patnaik insisted that the company had obtained a no-objection certificate since the day it had placed orders for its machinery. He, however, declined to be drawn into any controversial question on the need for environment clearance.

Bauxite deposits in South Orissa

India has 8% of the bauxite deposits in the world, out of which 75% deposits are in Orissa.The major bauxite deposits are located in the Schedule V areas in Kalahandi, Rayagada and Koraput districts with the only largescale mining being done by NALCO on Panchapatamali of Koraput district. The bauxite deposits which are of very good quality have attracted multinationals like Vedanta, BHP Billiton as well as Indian Corporates such as Hindalco for mining, fefing of alumina and for smelting aluminium. At least three alumina refineries based on bauxite mining are planned in South Orissa at present including Vedanta's alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, the controversial UAIL mining and alumina refinery in Kashipur and the Aditya Aluminium plant somewhere near Kodinga Mali.

These mining and refinery projects have been a major source of controversy, with the local tribals opposing proposed mining projects tooth and nail, and the State Government using all possible strategies, including coercion and repression to make these deposits available to mining multinationals. The resistance of Kashipur tribals against UAIL’s mining project and alumina refinery has been going on for over 10 years now. Similarily, flashpoints are building up near proposed bauxite mining on Niyamgiri by Vedanta, Sunger by L&T, Kodingamali by Aditya Aluminium and Maliparbat by Hindalco. The bauxite deposits are all located on top of the highest mountains in South Orissa which are called Malis, and are sacred to tribals as they are source of large number of perennial streams. These streams are vital to local tribals as they are often the only source of water for drinking and irrigation of fields in summer season, and sustain the local agricultural economy. This realization has created massive resistance against bauxite mining amongst tribals. The major bauxite deposits of Orissa are given as below:

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Iron Ore and Manganese Mines in Keonjhar and Sundargarh

These are some satellite pictures of mines in Keonjhar and Sundargarh. They are from Google Earth. Quite scary!! But this is the tip of iceberg - the iron ore production from this area is slated to go up ten fold in next few years. These areas are also the home of Paudi Bhuiyans and Juangs, Primitive Tribal Groups of Orissa and come under Schedule V area.
The area covered by the picture is approximately 400 sq. km. This is a true color picture. The blood red patches are the mines. The green patches are mostly forests. The dark patch visible near the bottom seems to be area polluted by sponge iron plants - though we need to confirm that.

This in another satellite picture of a site that is proposed to be leased out to Orissa Sponge Iron Limited for mining. The total area in the map is around 50 sq. km. The dark green patches are forests. The boundary of the mining lease is shown in yellow.There are number of perennial springs on the plateau which form the source of four-five perennial streams, vital sources of water for the local inhabitants. The local people are up in arms against the mining project.

The Public Hearing for the Project took place Yesterday (31st Oct, 2005) and there was vehemant opposition from the local villagers and activists. As per our information, inspite of heavy police presence, more than a thousand people from nearby areas came all the way to Public hearing site at Kadakala village to protest. Apparently only 23 of these villagers were allowed to speak and submit memorandum. The local activists are planning to protest against this discrimination.

Starting the EPG Orissa Blog

One can consider this blog a composite of the various people who constitute EPGOrissa - Environmental Protection Group Orissa. This group emerged into being in the crucible of the Vedanta fight - over Niyamgiri hill and the Vendanta Alumina Refinery in Lanjigarh. It is response to the incredibly dangerous trend of industrialisation in Orissa based on mineral and natural resource extraction - an industrialisation powered by Foreign Direct Investment, which aims to convert Orissa's resources and environment into profits, and leave us holding the monstrous baby of environmental degradation and destroyed lives and livelihoods.

The EPG Group hopes to become a forum and collaboration of people who would like to come together and contribute towards protecting Orissa's incredible environment, and its tremendous social, cultural and natural diversity. One of our first effort at collaborative work was the production of "A Brief Report on Ecological and Biodiversity Importance of Niyamgiri Hills and the Implications of Bauxite mining". This report has been circulated both on the web as well as through hard copies.

We hope to post recent developments and initiatives on this Blog and keep people who are interested in Orissa informed about Orissa situation.

The Picture shows the Sakata Nala as it flows down the Niyamgiri Hill. The Niyamgiri Hill top is proposed to be mined for bauxite.