Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Coverage of Niyamgiri Issue in International Press

Please find some of the coverage of Niyamgiri Issue in Guardian and the BBC.



Activists call on Vedanta investors to oppose mine on holy site in India

Local councils and the Church of England will come under fire for holding shares in the mining group which is opening a new mine in forests on the mountain of Niyam Raja in eastern India

Dongria Kondh children

Vedanta's new mine threatens the cultural and economic rights of the Dongria Kondh people who live in the Niyamgiri hills in easten India Photograph: guardian.co.uk

Local councils and the Church of England will come under fire tomorrow for holding shares in a top London-based company alleged to be pursuing an industrial scheme that would damage a sacred site and increase the threat of climate change.

Bianca Jagger, the human rights campaigner, will use the annual general meeting of Vedanta Resources to urge investors to use their influence and prevent the business from opening a massive open-cast bauxite mine in virgin forests on the mountain of Niyam Raja in eastern India – considered a holy site by the local Dongria Kondh people.

"I will be appealing to investors, which include the [UK] government's own staff pension fund, the Church of England and borough councils such as Middlesbrough to stop Vedanta going ahead with a mine that will damage the cultural and economic rights of the Kondh people as well as the fight against climate change," Jagger said last night.

There is plenty of proof that the best protectors of the forests and other vital eco-systems are local people themselves, said Jagger, who is chair of the World Future Council and is working in cooperation with the British charity ActionAid. "All the studies in Latin America show that land suffers when indigenous people are chased out of their ancestral land by gas, oil and logging concessions," she said.

Vedanta was not available for comment but the group, a member of the FTSE 100 group of leading London stock market players, has previously argued that the project in the Orissa region will bring vital jobs and economic development to an impoverished area.

Headed by the billionaire Anil Agarwal, Vedanta has won the support of the Indian government for a project that would exploit more than 670 hectares of land and for which a bauxite refinery has already been built.

Jagger and others from ActionAid plan to be outside the Vedanta meeting at Lincoln's Inn with a yellow mining digger to illustrate the kind of mining assault waiting to be unleashed on the Niyamgiri Hills and the sacred mountain.

They are not the only ones that have been highly critical of Vedanta with Norway's sovereign wealth fund ejecting the mining group from its list of approved investments on the basis of a poor reputation on the environment and human rights.

Critics claim Vedanta promised not to go ahead with the scheme if the local people objected but even though there have been protests, Vedanta is proceeding. Sitaram Kulisika, a Kondh tribal member who will be at the meeting, will tell shareholders – if given the chance to speak – that his people's way of life and even their future is threatened.

Jagger says it is "absolutely scandalous" that local inhabitants have to implore investors and companies to respect their human rights. She believes there needs to be an environmental court of justice set up to protect these interests.


Anglican Church in India mine row

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

Bianca Jagger
Bianca Jagger is supported by UK-based campaign groups

Environmental campaigner Bianca Jagger has called on the Church of England to rethink its investment in a company involved in an Indian mining project.

Ms Jagger says the operation is taking place on a mountain considered sacred by the tribe that lives there.

She has announced plans to hold a protest at the annual meeting of the UK-based company behind the mining project on Monday.

The Church said that it was "concerned" about the allegations.

A spokesman told the BBC it was reviewing its involvement with the company, Vedanta.

Vedanta insists the mining project in the remote and inaccessible Niyamgiri hills in the eastern Indian state of Orissa is ethically and environmentally sound.

'Totally unethical'

Ms Jagger is supported by UK-based campaign groups, including ActionAid and Survival International.

Vedanta factory

"I appeal to the Church of England to realise that this mining project not only endangers the culture and beliefs of the tribal community but is also extremely damaging to the environment," she said.

"It will have a severe impact on wildlife in the area - including leopards and tigers - in addition to destroying rivers, streams and plant life."

The Church has shares in Vedanta worth £2.5m ($4.1m).

Vedanta is about to start mining bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills, to be processed at a refinery that has already been built in the area.

Bauxite is used to make aluminium.

The company and its Indian partner have been accused of forcing people to move from the land.

Orissa map

Many tribal peoples in the area are animists and regard the Niyamgiri hills as sacred.

Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group spokesman Edward Mason said that he would meet tribal representatives and officials from Vedanta to discuss the project, which was a cause of concern.

"We are keen to use our influence as a shareholder to improve corporate behaviour," he said. "We work to a robust ethical investment policy... in areas where there are concerns we talk with the companies and hear what they have to say and what we expect from them."

A statement by Vedanta issued to the BBC said that the company was committed to developing the project "in line with the best international standards for environmental management" and in such a way that it benefited people living in the region.

"We are proceeding with the project on the basis agreed with the Indian Supreme Court, and we urge campaigning groups to respect the decision of the legitimate authority in India, the world's largest democracy," the statement said.


LONDON: The Church of England and other shareholders of the mining company Vedanta braced for major protests at their annual meeting with a young Kondh tribal joining celebrities to demand an end to mining plans on the bauxite-rich mountains of Nyamgiri in Orissa.

As major shareholders, who also include local councils in Britain, gathered for the Annual General Meeting, the movement against Vedanta operations in Nyamgiri gathered the celebrity support of human rights campaigners Bianca Jagger and Arundhati Roy.

Owned by Indian-origin billionaire Anil Aggarwal, Vedanta's plans to build an open-pit mine for bauxite threaten the ecologically sensitive mountain, which is a sacred site for the Kondhs, said Sitaram, a representative of the tribe, who travelled all the way from Nyamgiri.

"We cannot live without our god mountain and the forest and we will continue our peaceful struggle. It is a life and death battle and Kondh people are united on this," said Sitaram, whose travel was sponsored by ActionAid, a campaigning nongovernment body.

Jagger and Roy also lent their voices to the mounting protests against Vedanta Resources plc, which is a member of the FTSE 100 group of leading companies in the London
Stock Exchange.

"I will be appealing to investors, which include the [British] government's own staff pension fund, the Church of England and borough councils such as Middlesbrough to stop Vedanta going ahead with a mine that will damage the cultural and economic rights of the Kondh people as well as the fight against climate change," Jagger said.

Vedanta, the core of whose assets lies in India, was not immediately available for comment but the group has previously argued that the
project will bring vital jobs and economic development to the region.

Writer and activist Arundhati Roy, in a recent letter to protesters, said bauxite mountains are part of a very delicate ecosystem.

"...Today, in the era of climate change, surely it's time to realise that forests, river systems, mountain ranges and people who know to live in ecologically sustainable ways, are worth more than all the bauxite in the world," Roy said.

Vedanta chairman Aggarwal said in the Annual Report published last week: "I am ...pleased to report that the Indian Supreme Court has cleared the bauxite mining project at Niyamgiri. We expect to commence mining our own bauxite from Niyamgiri in the current year."

Protesters, who include large NGOs such as Survival International, Amnesty International, Action Aid, War on Want and many Indian activists, hope to replicate their campaigning success with the Norwegian government.

In 2007, the Norwegian Ministry of Finance excluded Vedanta from further
investmentsof the Norwegian government's pension fund after its Council on Ethics warned of "an unacceptable risk of contributing to severe environmental damages and serious or systematic violations of human rights by continuing to invest in the company".

Survival Director Stephen Corry said, "While world leaders talk about stopping climate change, tribal people around the world are literally sitting in front of bulldozers - not just for them, but for all our sakes."


Mining company targeted by protesters


27th July, 2009

Vedanta Resources plc, the company behind a devastating new mine in India, is facing disruption to its London AGM over its actions

The campaign against a British mining company which plans to destroy the mountain homeland of a remote Indian tribe is being brought to the streets of London today.

Activists are marching on the AGM of Vendanta Resources plc, calling on shareholders to vote against proposals to open a massive bauxite mine in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. Mining will destory a large part of the Niyamgiri Mountain, spiritual home of the Kondh tribal people.

The 8,000-strong Kondh tribe is dependent on the mountain for their crops, water and livelihoods.

British investors

Although the majority shareholder in Vedanta is its billionaire owner Anil Agarwal, documents seen by the Ecologist revealed that a host of UK banks, companies and other bodies also held shareholders in the company.

Halifax Pension Fund, Lloyds TSB Group Pension Fund, Norwich Union Life and Pensions Ltd and Unilever Pension Fund, amongst others, are all named as beneficial shareholders in the controversial mining conglomerate.

A number of local and regional authorities - including Suffolk County Council, Havering Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council - appear in the register by virtue of their pension funds.

The Church of England and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have also indirectly bought shares in Vedanta.

Protests block progress

Repeated protests by the tribal people have blocked the mining plans of one of Britain’s biggest companies, leading to a costly delay.

Vendanta announced in January that the mine would start ‘in a month or two’ but so far protests have prevented any progress.

ActionAid, which is asking shareholders to oppose the mining, pointed out that the destruction of an equivalent iconic cultural site such as Stonehenge would not be tolerated in the UK.

'Last year Vedanta directors promised not to mine without our consent,' said tribal activist Sitaram Kulisika.

'I am here to request all shareholders to honour that promise and save our livelihood and our god. We have been living in harmony with this mountain, these forests, these animals for generations. Vedanta has been here for less than 10 years. They cannot tell us what is best for our future.'

Vedanta runs into a London storm over Orissa mining plans

27 Jul 2009, 1620 hrs IST, IANS

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Protests against Vedanta's mining of Niyamgiri

Successful Protest against Vedanta in Lanjigarh, Orissa
Despite company goons tried to stop activists on the way

25 July 2009

See photographs at http://www.epgorissa.org/apps/photos/album?albumid=6620562

Hundreds of tribals from the Niyamgiri mountain and Lanjigarh staged a protest against Vedanta's mining and refinery project that will ruin the sacred Niyamgiri mountain alongwith its water sources, rich cultural values and religious beliefs of thousands of Dongrias and the Dalits living there for millenia. The protestors drew a line on the way where Vedanta is forcefully building the mining road, giving a strong message that the company will not be allowed beyond that line. This protest was part of the Global Campaign against Vedanta carried out all across the country and other parts of the world. The activists demanded immediate closure of the refinery and scrapping up of mining permission given to Vedanta's subsidiary Sterlite Industries India Ltd. This protest comes at a time when the Vedanta Resources plc. is gearing towards its annual shareholders meeting in London next week.

The activists had to face opposition in various forms while going to join the protest today. For instance, the road in Lanjigarh side was blocked by the goons with boulders and stones. This did not mar the spirit of the people as they crossed them. The henious act of intimidating people by a group of motorcycle riders reached a high point when the vehicle carrying senior activists of the camapaign viz., Bhagwat Prasad Rath, Prafulla Samantara and Bhalachandra, was stopped by the goons. They first threatened the driver and charged him to have killed someone in an accident a few days back. As usual, all this was a way to stop the vehicle from going ahead. The goons forced the activists to retreat and as they were going back, a large group of tribals coming for the protest joined the senior activists and chased the goons away. Realising the plans laid out by the goons in the entire area, the protestors took Bhagwat Prasad Rath and Prafulla Samantara to a safe place as the others proceeded for the protest site.

It has come to the knowledge of the protestors that the plot was spread by the supporters of one of Orissa's biggest mafia don Mahima Mishra who has been given the contract to build the mining road to the Niyamgiri hills. It is noteworthy here that the tribals of Niaymgiri and Lanjigarh have been continuously intimidated by the goons with weapons for many months now working with Mahima Mishra to protect that company officials.

When the activists went to the police station to lodge a complaint against those who stopped them on the way in Dahikhal, they were told that the area does not fall in their jurisdiction and that they have to go to Ambadola, another 10-12 kms from there. It was thought unwise to proceed to Ambadola to lodge a complaint in the light of the whole day's proceedings, the activists did not go and instead have written to the SP of the area as well as to the Collector to take immediate action against such intimidation.

It must be noted here that the latest tactics of Vedanta is to refrain people from attending meetings and interacting with people joining the struggle from outside. This was clearly seen during the public hearing in Belamba in April 2009 and again during one of the meetings in the Niaymgiri hills in end of June. The tribals have revolted very strongly and as always, have shown great collective wisdon and energy in dealing with such situation. Today's protest is an example of this determination as thousands of them shouted slogans and resolved to protect the mountain against all odds.

Here are some photos of today's protest.

In solidarity,


with inputs from Prafulla Samantara & Satyabadi Naik from Niyamgiri

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vedanta steps in it again

Vedanta, the company who wants 6000 acres for a piddly university (my own institution University of Toronto's main campus is around 200 acres only with a student population of nearly 70,000) shows its real, irresponsible face again. This time- surprise, surprise - it is our Pollution Control Board- which has issued a show cause notice to Vedanta's massive aluminium smelter and power plant in Jharsuguda. I wonder how a company which can't manage its ESP and ETP can claim to propose to run a world class University. Or maybe it is too costly to even meet the paltry standards demanded by the Pollution Control Board.

Its also nice to see one newspaper and a reporter who is willing to report the reality about Vedanta. I hope this will continue.

The link for the news article is

Pollution Control Board slaps notice on VAL

The New Indian Express

First Published : 22 Jul 2009 03:30:00 AM IST

Last Updated : 22 Jul 2009 11:13:30 AM IST

SAMBALPUR: Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL), Jharsuguda, has been issued with show-cause notice by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) for violating various sections of water and air pollution Acts. The notice has been issued to CEO and whole-time Director of VAL M Siddiqi after VAL failed to rectify anomalies regarding pollution as pointed out by the Regional Officer of SPCB Sitikanta Sahu during his visit to the plant in April. VAL had promised time-bound compliance against each issue by June 30. But during inspection on June 12, substantial emission was observed in Captive Power Plant (CPP) stack.

It was also found that rectification of ESP system toreduce emission levels had not been undertaken nor land for construction of permanent ash pond acquired. Moreover, conventional method of transportation of ash slurry was being followed and a breach in the dyke of ash pond had occurred posing serious threat to both the ash pond and the nearby Kharkhari nullah.

It was also found that Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) of the smelter plant was not commissioned and effluent was released into Kharkhari nullah without any treatment to contain fluoride which was in excess of the prescribed limit. Environmentally sound practice was not followed towards handling and management of fluoride contaminated hazardous waste materials posing threat to surface run-off contamination during monsoon.

Several lapses like bad house-keeping in Coal Handling Plant (CHP) area, absence of proper handling system for bottom ash, existence of bypass water pipeline near recirculation of cooling water of a cast house, non- existence of garland drains in carbon area, no plantation alongside the plant boundary in carbon area, tardy progress towards construction of secured land-fill site, continuance of ash dumping at the bank of Kharkhari Nullah and non-installation of sewage treatment plant for treatment of domestic waste were also observed contributing to the problems of pollution.

The same problems existed when the SPCB officer visited the plant again in the first week of July. Maintaining that VAL has grossly failed to implement the action plan submitted by it to contain pollution, the SPCB has sought a reply in the stipulated period and if not found satisfactory action under appropriate provisions of Water (PCP) Act and Air (PCP) Act will be initiated. VAL has also been offered personal hearing on July 23.

An Open Letter to Chief Minister,Orissa by Chairman, OSSA

It is good to see prominent persons in the civil society voicing their concern over the increasing repression by the state government of Orissa, using the excuse of Maoists. This is an powerful appeal, made by a person very familiar with the tribal areas of Orissa.

I hope that arrest of Dr. Biswajit Roy will focus the attention of the civil society of Orissa on the deliberate and planned strategy of the state to use false cases, arrests and imprisonments to stiffle the voice of dissension, specially when it comes to people opposing the loot of this state's riches. Almost all the activists who have dared to come to forefront are either being arrested or have multitude of false cases filed against them. This includes persons like Abhay Sahu, Prafulla Samantra, Achyut Das, Lingaraj Azad, Lingaraj and so many others. When legitimate and non-violent voices of dissensions are sought to be shut down through threats, violence will come in. It is for the Oriya state and Oriya people to decide what they want.

Please find the video of Abhay Sahoo, the leader of PPSS, chained to his bed in the hospital - is this the dignity our government afford the leadership of a movement, which inspite of many provocations, tried to remain non-violent.



An Open Letter to Chief Minister,Orissa

Dear Chief Minister

Today the entire tribal heartland of the country is in turmoil and rather than addressing the basic socio-economic factors behind this turmoil with utmost dispatch, we are dispatching more para-military personnel with the belief that violence can be quelled with more men equipped with superior fire-power. We should understand that for far too long the tribal people have been robbed of their rights to resources around them both in the name of development and environment. Wily traders, moneylenders, contactors, liquor vendors and leaders often rolled into one, have pushed the tribal people to the brink of a precipice. Govt. servants, with some honorable exceptions, often sent to ameliorate their situation have become additional adjuncts to the exploitative machinery. Now that the tribal people have been dispossessed of everything and there is very little that can be taken away from them, Govt. money meant for their welfare is being siphoned off to fatten the same few who have retained their vice like grip over the tribal people. All Govt. legislations protecting their interest like prevention of alienation of tribal land, banning usury and bonded labour or even ensuring minimum wages have been flouted with impunity. Even the Forest Rights Act that provided some ray of hope got bogged down in litigations. And we have made many promises to them only not to be kept, and whenever some action was initiated that remained half- hearted and never taken to the logical conclusion.

It is in such a situation they only silently suffered from the pangs of hunger, deprivations, and all kinds of humiliations. When the guttural groans became too loud, they silenced them with mango stones, carcasses, and such other inedibles. While the majority of the tribal people chose to stay in their place licking the wounds of poverty and hunger, the venturesome from among them landed in city slums as flotsams and jetsams. Once freedom loving and free roaming now they got cribbed and cabined in extremely unhygienic conditions.

Ahimsa got a chance after Independence to ameliorate this situation. Gandhiji’s and Vinobaji’s men and women tried to solve through Bhoodan. If I remember correctly Koraput became the first district in the country to declare Zilladan. Not much came out of it. Soon the excitement evaporated. The exploitative machinery asserted with vengeance.

Ahimsa got a second chance when a series of radical legislations abolishing bonded labour, usury and alienation of tribal land etc. were passed. Air was filled with a lot of radical rhetoric and that also vanished. Tribal people proved no match to the machinations and manipulations of the crafty exploiters and their venal accomplices in bureaurocracy in thwarting the impact of all the protective legislations.

And today situation has come to such a pass that anybody including avowed Gandhians/ Sarvodaya Workers, NGO Workers who speak for them, and who espouse their cause are picked up as Naxalites/ Maoists and put behind bars. The most recent case in point is the arrest of a sarvoday worker Dr. Biswajit Ray. Police of course is too blunt an instrument to be sensitive, sensible and discerning.

The combined burden of cumulative injustice, deprivations and despair has become too great to bear any longer and the material became highly inflammable/ combustible. And when Gandhiji’s men failed, Mao’s men entered just as when there is a fire, air from neighborhood rushes to fill up the gap. And just as it is foolish to prevent air to come from the neighborhood instead of dousing the fire, similarly it does not carry any sense to imprison/ kill Naxalities/ Maoists instead of addressing the basic issues of exploitation and in justice.

Dear Chief Minister, what has been our response to this? To induct more Cobras, Greyhounds (and may be in future some battalions will be christened as Wild Dogs) with a greater skill to kill. We have never seen even a lanky constable protecting a tribal from a rapacious trader who almost forcibly takes away the produce from the tribal at a price before he / she could reach the weekly market. And we are prepared to induct any number of paramilitary forces at any price to protect his exploiters!

May be we will succeed in quelling the tribal upsurge with superior fire power and the Prime Minister and Home Minister at the Center, and here, the D.G. Police, the Home Secretary and you will congratulate yourselves in silencing the tribal land. But just as our Independence Movement was punctuated by four to five years of silence after a series of repressive measures, but it used to erupt again and again until Independence was achieved, similarly ensuring silence for some time should not be a source of satisfactions for us. (The Viceroy and his men who succeeded in putting down the Independence Movement for sometimes must have congratulated themselves. Isn’t it?

Let us not underestimate the power of the meek and the subdued. Did not that almost totally toothless man, that frail figure disposed of with utter disdain as a half -naked fakir could not only shake hand with the Emperor of the mighty British Empire, also freed the country from their clutches? Did not Lech Waleshaw, a factory foreman free the country from the grip of a regime supported by the mighty Soviet forces? And we always come across lowly grass asserting its presence in the black – topped road. And the tiny seed of a banyan plant can raze a huge building to the ground.

Dear Chief Minister, I humbly and honestly appeal to you to take

a) Measures forthwith to implement the laws already in the statue book whether restoring the tribals land taken away through fraud/fraudulent means, removing the legal hurdles in giving right over the forest land, stopping usury, closing all liquor shops (they have become bottomless holes) or ensuring implementation of PESA in letter spirit and abandon the present strategy of relying on brute force which will further alienate our tribal people and which is antithetical to the basic tenets of democracy and will never succeed to douse the flames of the fire of discontent permanently. Further induction of large number of paramilitary personnel, frequent combing operations may mean violation of dignity of girls and women, other abuses and brutalization of the society and disruption of normal tribal life and encounter deaths, which will be a sure recipe for further alienation.

b) Stop arresting/killing innocent tribal people and people who are working for their welfare. Constitute a committee with members from various segments to review every two months the progress made in stopping exploitation and removing injustice and also to review all cases of imprisonment of people declared as Maoists / Naxalites and fix non-negotiable timelines.

c) Take all possible steps to improve the quality of human resources of the tribal people and ensure employability of the tribal youth-both men women.

d) Reorient the development strategy to make it more participatory making tribal people’s interest paramount.

e) Take care of women and children of the victims of violence committed both by the state extremists.

In nutshell, give “ Ahimsa” one more chance. Should Ahimsa fail again, it would be a tragedy indeed. May be a bloodier battle would follow and at last the deceived and disposed would wrest what is due to them. At least that is the lesson of Mahabharat.

Dear Chief Minister, please ponder over it and act.

Thanking you and with regards

Yours Sincerely

Chairman OSSA