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The Niyamgiri Movement as a Landmark of Democratic Process

THE NIYAMGIRI MOVEMENT AS A LANDMARK OF DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

By Felix Padel

Vikalp Sangam

The Gram Sabhas that took place in a dozen villages in Niyamgiri in July-August 2013, in compliance with a Supreme Court Judgement in April, show India’s democratic process at its best. Democracy, though undermined by top-down policies throughout the Scheduled Areas, is intrinsic to Adivasi society.

What is characteristic of an Adivasi meeting is the openness that allows everyone to have their say, without any threat of force in the background – Government or Maoist, corporate or party political.

It is true, as many say, that the democratic institutions of ‘Panchayati Raj’ guaranteed under India’s Constitution, and more fully spelt out in the PESA (Panchayat – Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, and the Forest Rights Act, should guarantee a working democracy in tribal areas, but in practice do not, for a variety of reasons – most state governments have done little to implement PESA, the FRA has been poorly implemented in many places, and tribal people themselves often question ‘Panchayati Raj’, preferring their traditional councils.1

Traditional tribal councils were called into question by the Birbhum Rape Case, in which a Santal panchayat was widely reported as ordering the rape of a woman who had an affair with an outsider in January 2014. On the basis of this case, The West Bengal Government made a move to ban tribal councils. Tens of thousandsof Santals came to Kolkata to demonstrate against this move. There is considerable gender equality in most tribal councils, which could not differ more e.g. from khap panchayats in Harayana, though the Birbhum case has led them to get confused in many minds. There is considerable evidence that this case was misreported by vested interests – possibly even to undermine the impact of the Niyamgiri meetings? 2

The Niyamgiri Gram Sabhas showed Adivasi democracy at its best, and in many ways are representative of how tribal meetings work. Though I did not witness them, I recently attended a Santal meeting in a village in Jharkhand, and the sense of democratic process there was very strong – allowing everyone to speak, with emphasis on reaching a consensus through allowing a full spectrum of strongly expressed views.

The Supreme Court Judgement calling for Niyamgiri villagers themselves to decide about Vedanta’s mining plans was remarkably enlightened.3  Though many protested the Odisha Government’s decision to carry out votes in just twelve villages, nearest to the contested bauxite deposit, with Maoists advocating a boycott,4  the final result of a unanimous vote against mining in all twelve, confirmed fair play.

This was certainly not a verdict that either Maoists or NGOs influenced. Though several NGOs, including Amnesty, Survival and Action Aid, have played a significant role disseminating the issue internationally, they do not have a presence on the ground, where their role is questioned by grassroots activists, especially Samajvadi Jan Parishad, which worked with Dongria and other locals to organise and speak out in these meetings.

Another new force at work is Foilvedanta, a new kind of organization that includes scholars, lawyers and journalists, and represents horizontal links between activists in different countries, that has reported on the twists and turns in the Niyamgiri case, and has been leading opposition to Vedanta Resources at its base in London in recent years, also exposing the company’s outrageous exploitation in Zambia.5  On Vedanta’s designs on Niyamgiri, Foilvedanta’s conclusion is clear: ‘No doubt Vedanta and the Odisha government have more tricks up their sleeve, but the evidence is now overwhelming that their battle is lost. It is time they gave up and admitted that, for once, Indian democracy has been exercised, and won, from the bottom up.’ 6

The Niyamgiri vote represents not only Dongria, but also many Dalits and members of Bhaujan Samaj, who voted alongside them. Another remarkable aspect of the vote was Dongrias’ repeated rejection of the individual patta on offer under the FRA– validating Marx’s emphasis on communal property, as opposed to individual property, which is characteristic of tribal societies, as well as the basis of communism. Forest Rights Activists have fought hard for tribal rights – but community property rights are much harder to apply for under this Act, and if it ends up privatizing the forest into individual plots, is there a danger it will it turn into a tool of capitalism, undermining forest cohesiveness as well as the fundamental sharing of land and labour that forms the essence of Adivasi society?

The whole Niyamgiri process presents a model of how Indian courts and democracy can work, even in remote tribal areas. The Dongria still practice a largely self-sufficient economy, based on ecological principles, and their assertion of rights over their forests and mountains as a whole should inspire others to assert their rights over common property / natural resources. ‘The mountain is not the Government’s to sell’, as many Dongria have asserted, or in a woman’s words, ‘We need the Mountain and the Mountain needs us’.

The Dongria taboo on cutting forest on the summits (as opposed to the sides, where they carry on shifting cultivation in rotation) presents an indisputable case of biodiversity protected by indigenous custom and an economy based on ecological principles, in line with the original meaning of taboo from another indigenous culture – the Maori in New Zealand, for whom the concept means fundamentally ‘sacred’, and lies at the heart of a comeback of Maori property rights.

By contrast, Public Hearings held by Government authorities in tribal villages on dozens of contentious issues, including Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery, steel factories in Chhattisgarh, coal mines in Mahan (MP) and Polavaram dam, represent a travesty of openness and democratic norms in the repression surrounding them, and frequent, systematic misrepresentation by the authorities of what people say as ‘consent’, even when nearly everyone has spoken against a project.

Maoists have supported tribal movements for a fair price for forest produce, for closure of illegal liquor stores and many other important issues. But Maoist support was a ‘kiss of death’ for the Santal platform against police atrocities in West Midnapur in 2008 and the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha in Narayanpatna, south Odisha (2009). Maoists have not created democracy by assassinating class enemies – this policy in Bastar helped create the monster that became Salwa Judum. ‘Security forces’ certainly don’t create democracy by trying to annihilate Maoists. What is needed is attention to the voices of Adivasis and support for their own democratic institutions.

Whether the model of Niyamgiri gram sabhas can be replicated elsewhere is open to question. Dongrias are a tribal society that still retains its traditional politics, an ecology-oriented economy and solidarity based on a strong sense of community. How far can communities in other areas match this kind of solidarity and sheer determination? On the Niyamgiri issue a diverse and influential cross-section of civil society supported the Dongrias – conservationists joining with social activists, since it is clear that this is a society which has maintained protecting its forests as a core value. Grassroots activists, political parties, NGOs and people from many walks of life played a role in this support, even when this was not at all mutually co-ordinated. Whatever these contradictions, the movement’s success is an inspiration, and ways of replicating the basic model of local communities deciding use of their resources democratically need to be found.

But are the Dongria and Niyamgiri out of danger? Or are corporate takeovers likely to increase under a new government whose election received large-scale corporate funding, from Vedanta among other companies, and whose budget plan does not exactly emphasize democratic local control over resources? 7  Notice for another Public Hearing on 30th July for expansion of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery apparently continues the plan for mining bauxite from Niyamgiri, suggestimng that despite the gram sabhaconsensus, Vedanta may be unlikely to yield to democratic outcomes. It has also implied that, if Niyamgiri is not available, another of the neighbouring bauxite mountains might do. Under particular threat is Khandual Mali near Karlapat in Kalahandi, which is also surrounded by Kond villagers who have expressed determination to resist the mining of their mountain. Moreover, the track between Karlapat and the Lanjigarh/Niyamgiri area contains one of the largest unspoilt forests in south Odisha, abode of elephants, leopards and other threatened species, and an industrial-grade mining road here would inevitably have highly damaging impacts.

Whatever the future holds, the movements of Adivasis and other smallscale farmers to hold onto their lands against the takeovers present many models of democratic resistance that civil society needs to recognise and learn from if India’s resource base in its living ecosystems is to survive intact for future generations.

NotePhotos 2 and 3 are not from Niyamgiri. They show an Adivasi village below Khandual Mali (near Karlapat), the mountain under future threat.

Read more here – http://vikalpsangam.org/article/the-niyamgiri-movement-as-a-landmark-of-democratic-process/#.U9jf1PmSwgh

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#India – Faking Happiness is forced to Present the ‘ VEDANTA ANTHEM” #HipHop #mustshare

Kamayani for FAKING HAPPINESS CAMPAIGN

 

 

An Indo-German collaboration with production by the talented DJ BC from Germany and the lyrics and vocals by A-List from India. A List is a raptivist and a member of Faking Happiness campaign. This track is a quick freestyle in response to Vedanta trying to salvage it’s reputation by sponsoring , NDTV‘S ”  Our Girls Our Pride ” , a  PR Exercise and a desperate attempt to salvage themselevs after they were kicked out  by the Gramsabhas and after attempting to exploit the Dongria Kondh  tribal community in Odhisa for the Niyamgiri Hills.

 

Pic- courtesy Down to Earth

It has been learnt that Mining Giant Vedanta, is shitting  in their pants after  their exposure by  Faking Happiness: Activists Strike Back at Vedanta Ad Campaign, which was such a huge set back. Recently , after they were Kicked out in a Match of 12-0, by the Dongria Kondh ,  tribal of Odisha, they have once again planned a Corporate social responsibility ( CSR)  campaign, called ‘Our Girls our pride and once again, we are back with a   BANG.

 

Our two petitions  to NDTV and Priyanka Chopra haS crossed the 2500 mark, do sign if you have not so far, if you have not  ?

NDTV WITHDRAW VEDANTA

and

PRIYANKA CHOPRA WITHDRAW AS AMABASSADOR

 

Faking Happiness also  sent birthday wishes wishes Happy Birthday Dr Prannoy Roy – Withdraw Vedanta #ourgirlsourpride

So, Now Vedanta, CSR initiative is in a soup , as many  Craetive Faces with Political Voices, join Faking Happiness Anti Vedanta Campaign , and the voices are increasing every day

Hence, what they did ?

 They kidnapped, our very own , Ashwini Mishra aka A-list while he was  recording at his studio, and  coerced him to  to sing the ‘ VEDANTA ANTHEM “, they wanted to tell world that…… they will not take their defeat down and here are the lyrics—-

We are Vedanta, everywhere that we go,
Faking Happiness, you know how we roll,
We are Vedanta, everywhere that we go,
Faking Happiness, you know how we roll,
That’s right, this is the Vedanta anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them,
That’s right, this the Vedanta anthem,
All the corporate greedy people anthem,
That’s right, let’s go ahead and do this,
We thought we’d put our corporate greed to some music,
And tell you exactly where we come from,
Come on man, this is not a protest, this not a dumb song,
You see we kidnapped A-List, he’s in the back,
So Vedanta rep could come here and rap,
And tell you the truth,
That is the youth,
That needs to understand this is so much more than booth,
SO,
Listen to this, let the world know,
Matter of fact, for the girls though,
Let’s really talk about ‘coz the world dies,
When we build a mine, but we do the girl child,
We do a program for them on NDTV,
And now look, all these emcees be free,
But they never really talk about what we do,
“Coz corporate sponsorship taken, BOOM!
Now what you gonna do, what you gonna say,
‘Coz we do this like every single day,
Exploiting poor people like it is fun,
Actually it is when that shit has done

This is Vedanta and this is our anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them,
This is Vedanta and this is our anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them

That’s right, ain’t this a crazy world,
We are evil but we got Desi Girl,
That’s right, we got Priyanka Chopra to endorse us,
Now we got all kinds of endorsements,
All sorts of people saying that it’s cool,
What they did in the past, but they sent kids to school,
But hear the truth, we didn’t send anyone though,
That’s right, and that’s how we get through the flow,
That’s right, yo, this is such a crappy fest,
We make an art form out of  faking happiness,
And that’s us, that’s the Vedanta anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them,
And yo, you know Niyamgiri’s ill,
And we will come back, we will take Niyamgiri Hill,
And all the tribal people who had opposed us,
Come on man, you had proposed us
To be gone, but we will be back,
And when we come, we will come, we will be wrath,
We will buy over the police and the army,
That’s right, I’m rich, tell me who’ll harm me,

Vedanta Signing Out.


SO WHATS THE BACKGROUND OF VEDANTA AND WHY YOU SHOULD BE BOTHERED ?

BACKGROUND

Niyamgiri hills, home to 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs, tribal group, a few hundred Kutia Kondhs and other forest-dwellers who eke out a living cultivating pulses, paddy and collecting naturally-grown horticultural crops, is considered sacred by the indigenous tribes and others as it is the abode of Niyamraja – their presiding deity.

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had rejected (Stage-II /final approval) Forest Clearance on 24.8.2010 for the Bauxite mining on the basis of issues outlined by the Forest Advisory Committee which stated that ‘the Primitive Tribal Groups were not consulted in the process of seeking project clearance and also noticed the violation of the provisions of Forest Rights Act, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Environmental Protection Act, 1986 and also the impact on ecological and biodiversity values of the Niyamgiri hills upon which the Dongaria Kondh and Kutia Kondh depend’ and the detailed report of Naresh Sexana Committee specially appointed to look into the issue. This MoEF Order was challenged in a petition at the Supreme Court of India by Orissa Mining Corporation.

The Supreme Court of India had decided on 18 April 2013 that if Bauxite Mining Project of Vedanta affects the religious right of Schedule Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others over the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha ‘right has to be preserved and protected’. The Court has left it to the Gram Sabhas to decide if such right is affected by the proposed mine.cts.

In India  first time an environmental referendum was conducted on a directive by the Supreme Court to find out whether mining in Niyamgiri will tantamount to an infringement of the religious, cultural, community and individual rights of local forest-dwellers. During July-August this year, 12 gram sabhas, selected by the Odisha government for the referendum on mining in Niyamgiri hills, had rejected the proposal. The tribal villages, located on the hill slopes, are part of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.

image

1.   The first  village council  was held at Serakpadi village of Raygada district.  In the sabha 36 out of 38 voters in the first Palli Sabha in Niyamgiri have voted against mining in Niyamgiri.

2.T he second, three hour long ,  village council meeting at Kesarpadi in Rayagada district-, in which -Thirty-three of 36 eligible voters , including all 23 women, voted against bauxite mining……At the three-hour-long sabha, 33 of 36 adult voters from Kesarpadi  unanimously adopted a resolution as per the Forest Rights Act, conveying their opposition to mining in the Niyamgiri hills.

3  The third village council meeting was held in a non -tribal forest hamlet of Tadijhola, which is imporant note also  unanimously rejected proposed bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills t.Nineteen of the 22 voters in the village were present  including eighty-seven year old Sugri Gouda. Hard of hearing and barely able to stand on her own, she insisted on signing the resolution before leaving the meeting venue. Three bare words she uttered drew a cheer from those present: “Niyamgiri dibu nai” (won’t give up Niyamgiri). Gauda was the also most sought after by media, with a slew of video cameras following her fragile steps as a family member walked her home.

4.  The villagers of Kunakeda, a Dongaria Kondh village in Kalahandi district, today unanimously rejected the proposal for mining in Niyamgir..All 21 out of 22 voters, who attended the meeting, voiced their opposition to Vedanta .

5  The 5th village coucil meeting w s held at Palberi, where .Fifteen of the 16 adult voters from the forest village were in attendance. and voted out vedanta.

 

6 The sixth Pali sabha , Batudi rejected settlement of community forest claims in Niyamgiri ,  31 among 40 voters from the hamlet in attendance, also rejected a joint verification report to settle community and religious rights to the forests granted under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

7  The seventh village council , Phuldumer – again voted unanimously to reject Vedanta’s mine.—49 of the 65 listed voters were present to voice their opinion, in the meeting.

8  Ijurupa  village council meeting was a CLASSIC ,  where there is just a famiily, and the  four  members of te family nailed down a 72 MT mining proposalvillage in Kalahandi district, Odisha

9   At Lamba ninth pallisabha ,Braving intermittent rain, the 38 voters in the remote village, ousted Vedanta

10.The largest village council fo 12 villages , Lakhpadar village under Kalyansinghpur of Rayagada district located on the slopes of Niyamgiri, the 97 Dongaria Kondhs present in the pallisabha unanimously rejected the proposal to mine the hills for bauxite.

11. Khambasi village in Rayagada district , was the  the eleventh palli sabha , which  also unanimously opposed Vedanta

12-   On August 19th In Jerapa, 16 out of 26 voters, including 10 women, gathered at the final Palli Sabha on Niyamgiri. Under heavy police presence, and in heavy rain, they repeated the statements given in previous meetings – that they opposed the mine and would not leave the mountain no matter what. The twelve voters said they were ready to face bullets to prevent the digging of their sacred mountain.

On August 19th, NDTV and VEDANTA LAUNCHED the ‘ our girls our pride’ campaign. Coincidence ?

 

While our friends at  FOIL VEDANTA protested on the streets of london , On August 1st at the AGM  of Vedanta , When asked about Lanjigarh refinery and the scandal that is the attempted Niyamgiri mine, Anil Aggarwal ,  responded with a dreamy speech about believing that Niyamgiri was meant for Vedanta. he talked about hearing about Kalahandi as a child – a ‘black spot’ on India, and its ‘poorest poorest place’, and how he’d always wanted to do something about it. He said:

“We took courage to go there, no road even or bridge, it was all isolated, we created infrastructure, 7000 got work, not a blade of grass was moved in Niyamgiri .”

DOWNLOAD FULL PROCEEDINGS HERE

 

JOIN US – FAKING HAPPINESS

 

 

 

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1000 plus signatures to #NDTV and #PriyankaChopra against #Vedanta #socialmedia #CSR #must share

 

Mumbai Mirror, Oct 2, 2013 sign_petiton_vedanta

    We were the first to tell you about Aishwarya turning down an offer to be the face of a girl child campaign launched by a controversial mininggiant. The honour, if one may call it that, was eventually bestowed on Priyanka Chopra.

A counter signature campaign has since then been gaining momentum, urging Priyanka to step down from the position. Supported by individuals and NGOs, the petition also requests the media house backing the initiative, to step away and highlight the irrevocable damages caused to the environment by the mining company.

 

It will be interesting to see if either Ms Chopra or the media company take note.

TAKE A LOOK AT THE PETITIONS BELOW SIGN AND SHARE WIDELY

NDTV stop sleeping with the enemy Vedanta

and

Priyanka Chopra withdraw as Ambassador of the Our Girl Our Child Campaign

 

 

 

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Vedanta Talks Of “Pride” Post Shame, Faking Happiness #CSR #Vedanta #NDTV #Priyankachopra #mustread

By Prerna Bakshi

 

On the 19 of August, NDTV and their partner group Vedanta announced the launch of their ‘Our girls Our pride’ campaign with Priyanka Chopra as the campaign ambassador. This happened on a day when Vedanta suffered a huge blow to its mining operations in Odisha. The launch of this initiative comes at a time when the whole world is witnessing the great triumph of the Indigenous and Tribal communities of Odisha, who by rejecting Vedanta’s bauxite mining operations have set an unprecedented example for the rights and sovereignty of all Indigenous peoples around the world. This victory is not just of the Dongaria Kond and of other surrounding communities of Niyamgiri, but a victory of all Indigenous peoples around the world and their right to self-determination.

The operations of Vedanta, have been consistently called into question by many communities, environmentalists and human rights activists. By launching this campaign along with NDTV, Vedanta is attempting to do what could only be described as damage control in the guise of ‘corporate social responsibility’. Vedanta recently suffered a unanimous defeat by all the 12 gram sabhas (village council meetings) which took part in this ground breaking decision. Now the mining company appears to be using this campaign for PR purposes, for ‘brand recognition and awareness’. By using this opportunity as a means to improve its damaged reputation, Vedanta intends to create a positive image of its company to further its vested interests.

This campaign claims to bring issues of girls’ education, health, nutrition, foeticide and infanticide into light. It is ironic to say the least that the same Vedanta which is claiming to spread awareness about issues related to girl child would have otherwise displaced or pushed into poverty many of these girls and their families or exploited their labour in exchange for cheap wages in its mining operations.

Vedanta’s co-partner, NDTV, a major broadcasting television network, by partnering with such a company, globally held in question for its violation of environmental and human rights, is further strengthening the corporate-media nexus where each profits from the other.

Also noteworthy in this campaign is the choice of Priyanka Chopra as the campaign ambassador. Chopra was earlier seen featuring in the advertisement of the ‘Ponds White Beauty’ product. This product which promotes the idea of whiteness as beauty, fairness as norm. The message of the ad was quite clear, that being dark is not beautiful, it is to be done away with.

The Bollywood actress associated herself with a product that went further in trying to create a ‘niche’ among its many competitors that rule the not-so-fair Indian fairness market. The product claimed to achieve something, which hadn’t been done before. It did not just promise ‘glow’ (read whiteness), but, ‘pinking glow’.

This in a nation so obsessed with the idea of ‘fair’ skin where the sales of whitening products far outstrip those of Coca-Cola and tea, according to one market research firm’s report. This in a nation where the market of fairness products was worth over US$400 million in 2010, according to a report by AC Nielsen, a market which is growing at 18% per year.

Questions then need to be asked about what ‘pride’ this campaign claims to bring. How just is it ethically, morally and politically to have a campaign on an issue of crucial significance being run and promoted by social actors whose very actions damage the standing of the girls in our society.

(The writer is a Research Scholar at the University of Sydney and could be contacted at [email protected] or could be followed on Twitter @bprerna)

Please sign two petitions below, one to NDTV and one to priyanka chopra agaisnt VEDANTA’S desperate attempt as PR exercise to save themselves  after being kicked out by dongria kondh tribals, with resounding no to mining by 12 villages as asked by Supreme court

PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE

Ask Priyanka Chopra to withdraw as ambassador of Our Girls Our pride Now !!

 

Ask NDTV to stop sleeping with Enemy Vedanta Now !!

 

 

 

 

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#India- Dongria Tribals give ‘ FINAL VERDICT’ on Vedanta Mining in Niyamgiri #Video #Mustshare

‘NIYAMGIRI VERDICT”(Duration 30min)

For more than a decade now, these adivasis are waging a historic battle against the Indian State. The battle is to save Niyamgiri — their sole provider, their god — from becoming a tamed object of appetite for hungry corporations. As Kishan Patnaik rightly said, this is a fight to save the people, and also the Earth, from being pushed into slavery. This is a fight for lives and livelihoods, a fight to safeguard human dignity and possibilities.

But the adivasis are not alone. They too have joined the movement to protect the Niyamgiri Mountains from the Indian State. Despite coming from today’s consumerist society, they do epitomize hope for humanism and humanitarian values. They are committed to a cause.

In utter violation of the Supreme Court directive, the Odisha government decided to hold gram sabhas only in 12 villages in Niyamgiri. However, the unanimous verdict pronounced by these 12 villages is enough to shake ‘democracy’ out of its slumber. The people’s verdict in Niyamgiri also gives a new direction to the struggles of the oppressed and deprived country-wide in safeguarding their mother lands. The fact that not a single person in all the 12 gram sabhas agreed to the State’s proposal for mining on Niyamgiri should be enough to shove the State into self-assessment. But, even after six decades of Independence, that the adivasis still do not expect anything from the State does speak volumes of the terrible state-of-the-affairs. Even after pronouncing such a resolute verdict, adivasis still do not trust the Indian State. Because they know that so long as there is corporate hunger for bauxite, they have to keep the fight on.

 

 

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#India – Do we really need the bauxite from Niyamgiri ? #Vedanta

 

Posted on: 28 Aug, 2013

Existing mines can comfortably meet India’s demand for the next thirty years, at levels three times our current consumption

Forest dwellers from Niyamgiri rejected proposed mining at India’s first ever environment referendum. Will this spell doom for the industry? (photos: Sayantan Bera)Forest dwellers from Niyamgiri rejected proposed mining at India’s first ever environment referendum. Will this spell doom for the industry? (Photos: Sayantan Bera)

The loud and clear no to mining in Niyamgiri hills in Odisha seems to have upset many pundits. That unlettered forest dwellers could jam the wheels of the global mining giant Vedanta, at least for some time, has been received with much shock and surprise.

Instead of asking how much bauxite is required to meet India’s domestic consumption, arguments have been put forth how this will chain India’s growth and development. Some even suggested that an open mining policy that allows for generous exports would stop the rout of the rupee.

In a scathing piece, trying to explain a plunging rupee against the dollar, editor of the Indian Express Shekhar Gupta argued, “At 3.5 billion tonnes, India has the third largest bauxite reserves in the world. India is now likely to become a bauxite importer to feed its refineries that produce a bare 1.5 million tonnes of aluminium while China, with no bauxite, produces 20 million tonnes… If you think mining is so immoral, do ban it by all means. But then accept the dollar at a hundred rupees. Or get Greenpeace to fund your current account deficit.

In no unclear terms a long piece in the Economic Times was titled “Vedanta rejection at Niyamgiri won’t be the last; jinx of bauxite mining may continue”. Noting that bauxite production in India is on a decline despite its vast reserves, the author asserted “the story of each reveals the details and nuances of the jinx that bauxite mining has come to be. It’s not just a Vedanta that is opposed; every aluminium company wanting to secure raw material, be it from the private sector (Hindalco, JSW, included) or the public sector (NALCO), has felt the backlash.”

Let’s get the facts straight. India’s production of bauxite, at about 15 million tonnes a year has consistently outstripped its consumption at 12 million tonnes (see table below). To say that India needs to import bauxite to feed its aluminium refineries is far from the truth. It’s another question if we want to export bauxite cheap and earn dollars to fund the current account deficit.

Production and Consumption of Bauxite in India (in million tonnes)

Year Production Consumption Total Bauxite Resource
3480 million tonnes

Bauxite resource in leasehold areas
1068 million tonnes

2007-08 22.6 10.6
2008-09 15.4 12.3
2009-10 14.1 12.2
2010-11 12.7 11.8
2011-12 12.9 NA
Average 15.5 11.7
Source: Indian Bureau of Mines

As per 2010 figures from Indian Bureau of Mines, of the 3,480 million tonnes of bauxite resources in India, nearly a third, 1,068 million tonnes, fall under lease-hold areas. The takeaway: at current levels of consumption (12 million tonnes per year) these mines will last for 89 years. If India increases its consumption by three times (36 million tonnes per year), existing bauxite mines will be enough for 30 years. So why do we need to give out more mining leases, say in Niyamgiri hills, at the cost of tribals and their sustainable way of life?

A goods train carrying Alumina from NALCO’s Damanjodi refinery in Odisha. On the backdrop are the Niyamgiri hill rangesA goods train carrying Alumina from NALCO’s Damanjodi refinery in Odisha. On the backdrop are the Niyamgiri hill ranges

Indian industry has been lamenting that domestic consumption of aluminium is a dismal 1.2 kg per capita compared to the global average of 11.2 kg. It wants to spruce domestic demand and consumption of aluminium that is used in power and transmission, automobile and aircraft manufacturing, building and constructions, consumer durables and packaging. The industry’s hopes lie in the changing lifestyle of Indian consumer: more packaged food, more flying miles and higher use of aluminium in building materials.

India presently consumes 2 million tonnes of finished aluminium metal. The bauxite resources in lease hold areas are sufficient to meet a three-fold rise in demand for 30 years! The rush. However, is because of greenfield projects clamouring for captive bauxite mines as a steady source of cheap raw material.

For instance, Vedanta started its Lanjigarh refinery and Jharsuguda smelters in Odisha, investing nearly Rs 15,000 crores with an assurance of 150 million tonnes of bauxite from the state government. It aggressively went ahead with the construction before securing a mining lease. Its investment might be jinxed for now, India’s requirement for bauxite isn’t.

The state giant NALCO’s Panchpatmali mines in Odisha, after 25 years of operation, have remaining deposits of over 200 million tonnes—enough to meet the entire country’s demand for more than 10 years. Utkal Alumina, a subsidiary of the Aditya Birla company Hindalco, will start mining in Baphli Mali hills in Koraput district of Odisha this year. The deposits are a whooping 195 million tonnes. Why then so much drama and shedding of tears after the referendum against mining in Niyamgiri that has deposits of only 72 million tonnes?

Allocating more bauxite mines will be akin to the coal gate scam, where captive miners were given hundreds of years of supply at a nominal price, without taking into account the demand for coal.

Writing on the walls: Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery on the foothills of NiyamgiriWriting on the walls: Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery on the foothills of Niyamgiri

See also: Battle for Niyamgiri

  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/india-with-niyamgiri-win-vedanta-mining-case-comes-to-an-end-tribalrights/" target="_blank"> #India- With Niyamgiri Win , Vedanta Mining case comes to an End ! #tribalrights
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/india-niyamgiri-still-out-of-reach-vedanta-scouts-for-other-bauxite-sources-tribalrights-indigenous/" target="_blank"> #India- Niyamgiri still out of reach, Vedanta scouts for other bauxite sources #tribalrights #indigenous
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/match-over-niyamgiri-hills-12-vedanta-resources-0-tribalrights-win-goodnews/" target="_blank">Match Over – Niyamgiri Hills – 12- Vedanta Resources – 0- #TribalRights Win ! #goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/how-vedanta-lost-the-plot/" target="_blank">How Vedanta Lost the Plot
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/let-us-pause-and-listen-to-the-wisdom-of-the-people-of-niyamgiri-mustshare/" target="_blank">Let us pause and listen to the wisdom of the people of Niyamgiri #mustshare

 

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#India – Where is POSCO headed?

Author(s):
Issue Date:
2013-8-26

Odisha government has completed land acquisition for plant site but proposed mining in Khandadhar hills might stir up another struggle

A file photo from 2011  
shows women and children holding ground in Gobindapur village preventing  
government officers from acquiring land (photo: Sayantan Bera)A file photo from 2011 shows women and children holding ground in Gobindapur village preventing government officers from acquiring land (photo: Sayantan Bera)

After an eight-year-long wait, South Korean steel giant Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) made some headway this year in its plans for a $12 billion integrated steel project in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha. The state government completed the land acquisition in the first week of July after POSCO scaled down its land requirement from 4,004 acres to 2,700 acres (one acre equals 0.4 ha) because of protracted resistance put up by the people of Dhinkia panchayat, the epicentre of protests. POSCO downsized its capacity by a third, from 12 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) to eight MTPA, for the first phase of the project.

The land acquisition, contrary to the claims made by the state government, was far from peaceful. The police resorted to lathi charge several times as residents of Gobindapur panchayat refused to part with their betel vines, their primary means of livelihood. Thirty families from the village have refused to take compensation for the demolished betel vines, informed Prakash Jena of the local resistance group. “The state police has been camping inside the village for the past seven months to create a climate of fear,” he said.

On August 17, addressing a Congress rally in Kendrapara in Odisha, Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh slammed the state government for delaying the project and “making a mess of it”. People who are losing out land and livelihood because of the project do have genuine grievances with regard to the rehabilitation and resettlement, he said.

Officially, land acquisition might be over for the steel plant site, but there is precious little on ground except some container shacks serving as a site office. More importantly, India’s largest foreign direct investment is yet to have its environment clearance revalidated by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

In March 2012, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed MoEF to review the project afresh. It specifically suspended the final order or the conditional clearance to POSCO accorded in January 2011 [2], but did not cancel the original environmental clearance (EC) granted in 2007. After a five year period, the EC expired in July 2012. Ironically, the EC was granted on the basis of a rapid environment impact assessment meant for a four MTPA plant, even though POSCO’s land, power and port requirements are commensurate to that of a 12 MTPA capacity plant that has now been reduced to eight MPTA for the first phase.
A few days back, on August 23, MoEF contended before the NGT that POSCO is yet to provide certain information regarding its port project for which the EC revalidation is held up.

“Despite the stay order from the green tribunal, the state administration has been illegally felling trees in the project area,” contends Prafulla Samantara of non-profit Lok Shakti Abhiyan who petitioned NGT and obtained the stay order against POSCO. Samantara has further challenged before NGT the forest clearance given to the project without settling the villagers rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The hearing is due on August 29.

The Odisha government, despite finishing the land acquisition is yet to renew its memorandum of understanding (MoU) with POSCO signed in 2005. The MoU expired way back in June 2010.

Mining in Khandadhar

A breather to the project, however, came through a Supreme Court judgement. In May this year, the apex court set aside an earlier judgement of the Odisha High Court which quashed the state government’s recommendation for prospecting licence (PL) to POSCO.

The company applied for 2,500 ha spread across the lush Khandadhar hills in Sundargarh district for its captive iron ore mine. The whopping 600 million tonnes of iron ore bounty remains the crucial factor behind the company’s decision to set up an integrated steel plant in Odisha. The Central government, according to the apex court ruling, will have to take a final call if POSCO will be granted mining lease in Khandadhar.

The Prime Minister’s office has been pushing the big ticket FDI project but granting mining lease to POSCO might take time as it requires hearing out other applicants to the mines. There are 226 pending applications for mining in the Khandadhar hills.
The mining issue might turn into another long struggle as the Khandadhar hills are home to primitive tribal groups like the Paudi Bhuiyan. “The unanimous rejection of mining proposal by village councils in Niyamiri hills [3]  will have a bearing on Khandahar,” says Leo Saldanha of the Bengaluru-based non-profit, Environment Support Group, and co-author of a comprehensive report on the POSCO project—Tearing though the water landscape.

Sundargarh is a scheduled district and, therefore, requires the consent of gram sabha (village councils) for mining projects. If people are allowed to have their say, like in the Vedanta’s proposed mining in Niyamgiri hills, POSCO’s hopes might well be dashed.


  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/india-tribals-forced-to-become-industrial-labourers-wtfnews/" target="_blank"> #India – Tribals forced to become industrial labourers #WTFnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/india-posco-is-not-a-closed-chapter/" target="_blank"> #India – POSCO is not a closed chapter
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.kractivist.org/huraah-posco-scraps-project-in-indias-karnataka-state-goodnews/" target="_blank">HURAAH- Posco Scraps Project in India’s Karnataka State #goodnews

 

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Open letter to Priyanka Chopra on #NDTV – #Vedanta- Our Girls Our Pride Campaign #Vaw

priyanka

Dear Priyanka  Chopra,

At the outset, I would like to say that I am a fan, and applaud your choices of multi-faceted roles, often going against the tide of Indian cinema ,you have carved your own niche. To the fraternity and to your fans, you stand out as intelligent and capable of speaking your mind. Therefore, I do understand that you must be approached by many to be a brand ambassador for many a campaign, which is great, but as a fan who knows that there are millions out there who take you seriously, what I want to know is this: do you do your homework about an issue, the people and entities involved in a campaign, before you lend your face and voice and personal brand to?

On August 19th, as many of us were celebrating the landmark success of a real exercise in Indian democracy, where for the first time, a corporation, Vedanta Resources, was forced to seek and was summarily denied consent of indigenous and local communities whose sacred mountains Vedanta sought to mine, I was shocked to see you launching ‘NDTV-Vedanta’s ‘Our Girls Our Pride’ Campaign as a Brand Ambassador to create awareness about issues related to the girl child.

The issues faced by girl children in India, across communities, caste and class, are very close to my heart. I work with the Forum Against Sex Selection, besides many other campaigns on Gender , Health and Human Rights . My outrage lies in the fact that you accepted to partner with mining giant Vedanta, known for a long list of human rights abuse and environmental violations, not just in the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, but in its mines across the country. At the receiving end of grave violations of their human rights to water, food, health, work and an adequate standard of living are the same marginalised communities that Vedanta claims to want to uplift, through its campaigns, with your spotless face to support it.

Let me give you a  snapshot of Vedanta in India and then let you decide for yourself

Vedanta – a British company owned by London-based Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal – was launched on the London stock exchange as Vedanta Resources Plc (VRP) in December 2003. Vedanta signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Orissa government on 7 June 2003 to set up a 1-million-tonne alumina refinery, along with a 100-MW coal-fired power plant, at an investment of Rs 4,000 crore (just over US$800 million). The company planned to dig a vast open-cast bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills to feed an alumina refinery that it has already built in the area, at Lanjigarh in south-west Orissa.

In common with other displaced tribal peoples worldwide, the Dongria Kondh adivasis who live in the upper reaches of the Niyamgiri Hills would have lost their present good health, their self-sufficiency and their expert knowledge of the hills, forests and farming systems that they have nurtured. Those who live in the shadow of its refinery are already suffering from water contamination and severe respiratory and skin diseases, with their farm lands polluted and livelihoods destroyed. The process of community consultation for the expansion of the refinery can be seen here, to give you an idea of how justice has transpired over the last 10 years.

Niyamgiri Hills

Niyamgiri Hills, named after the Niyamraja, the main deity of the Dongria Kondh adivasis, are one of last untouched wildernesses of Orissa. Rising to a height of more than four thousand feet, the hills are the source of Vamshadhara river, which is already being polluted by toxic fly ash from the refinery, as well as major tributaries of Nagavali rivers. Niyamgiris form a distinct phytogeographical zone because of its height and its highly precipitous topography. Niyamgiri flora is of ‘great phyto-geographical importance’ as the hilltops harbor high altitude plants with Himalayan/North Indian and Nilgiri/South Indian elements. Preliminary studies show that it has approximately 50 species of important medicinal plants, about 20 species of wild ornamental plants, and more than 10 species of wild relatives of crop plants .

The forested slopes of the Niyamgiri hills and the many streams that flow through them provide the means of living for Dongria  Kondh and Kutia Kondh- Scheduled Tribes that are notified by the government as Extinguishing Tribal Groups and thus eligible for special protection. Schedule V of the Indian Constitution, which enjoins the government to respect and uphold the land rights of Scheduled Tribes, applies to the entire Niyamgiri hills region, along with the Forest Rights Act, Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Forest Conservation Act. While the Kutia Kondh inhabit the foothills, the Dongria  Kondh live in the upper reaches of the Niyamgiri hills which is their only habitat. Like the rest of the world’s indigenous people, the Kondhs too have a self-sustaining economy – they live in the forest, grow their own produce through shifting cultivation and go down to the towns only to buy salt and sell fruits. In the polytheistic animist worldview of the Kondh, the hilltops and their associated forests are regarded as supreme deities. The highest hill peak, which is under the proposed mining lease area, is the home of their most revered god, Niyam Raja, ‘the giver of law’.

Survival’s short movie captures the voice of the Dongria Kondh as they have faced Vedanta’s incursions

Vedanta’s mining for “prosperity”, destruction for dongria Kondh

The idea being promoted by Vedanta across the board, through its campaigns, is that mining will contribute to Orissa’s economy and make the Dongria and other communities prosperous. For the mainstream, non-cultivating, town- and city-based population, it promises an era of prosperity, where those with initiative and business acumen can make a quick fortune.

On the ground, the truth is starkly different.

The convention in company and government discourse is to assume that industrialisation increases people’s standard of living as measured by a handful of indices, such as cash income and education, which are disconnected from real life situations. For the Dongria  the most important change is moving from a situation in which they owned their own land and grew they own food to one in which they were dependent on the company for their livelihoods – a complete break from their traditional, largely self-sufficient economy. Moreover, the loss of the connection with the land, divisions in the community, and the penetration of money into relationships are being promoted as the indicators of growth!

The Dongria  have been growing their own food on the Niyamgiri hills for generations. Dongria  culture is sustainable in the true sense of the word, in that it is a way of living in which people have been interacting with nature for hundreds of years without damaging the ecosystem.

Priyanka, did you know that the most significant and strategic use of aluminium is in the manufacture of arms, missiles and other destructive weapons. A stark and brutal irony thus infuses the whole episode: people who have co-existed peacefully with nature for centuries are now being hounded out and their habitation squandered to feed an industry the chief purpose of which is to profit from war and large-scale destruction. It is not only the tribals who are threatened,  but entire ecosystems will be destroyed if Vedanta had its way.

This epic struggle for survival has finally been won by the Dongria Kondh and other local communities.

In a landmark judgment in April 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the gram sabhas  (assemblies consisting of all adult voters) of villages located near the proposed mine would need to decide if the mine plans, in any way, affected their religious and cultural rights, including their right to worship, and on all individual and community claims, including fresh ones, to the areas proposed to be mined.

The Court’s ruling echoes the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which state that the government must settle community claims over their traditional forest lands and habitats, and ensure they have the consent of the communities, before attempting to use their land for mining.

In a huge blow to Vedanta Resources Plc’s in Odisha, all the  12 gram sabhas have voted against its Rs 50,000-crore aluminium refinery project in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha .

And yet, Niyamgiri is only the tip of the iceberg of violations committed by Vedanta, one of the world’s worst companies.

In Goa:

Vedanta’s Sesa Goa subsidiary has been accused of large scale fraud and illegal mining.In June 2009 following a pit wall collapse which drowned Advalpal village in toxic mine waste, a 9-year old local boy Akaash Naik filed a petition to stop the mine and mass protests later that year halted mining at one of Sesa Goa’s sites. In 2011 there were more major mine waste floods. In South Goa, a 90 day road blockade by 400 villagers succeeded in stopping another iron ore mine. In 2012, the MB Shah Commission unveiled a Rs. 34,000 crore iron ore scam in Goa, and Sesa Goa stands accused of massive irregularities across the State.

In Tamil Nadu, Tuticorin:

Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite Industries has flouted laws without remorse, operating and expanding without consent, violating environmental conditions, and illegally dumping and storing toxic effluents (including arsenic) and waste, as it operates a copper smelter less than 10 km from India’s only marine biosphere. In 1997, a toxic gas leak hospitalised 100 people sparking an indefinite hunger strike by a local politician and a ‘siege on Sterlite’ that led to 1643 arrests. Later that year, a kiln explosion killed two. An estimated 16 workers died between 2007 and 2011. Police recorded most workers deaths as suicides. Pollution Control Boards, judges and expert teams have on several occasions reversed damning judgements of the company, demonstrating large scale corruption and bribery. In March, 2013, a toxic gas leak from spread panic and discomfort for several kilometres around the plant. The price of its actions over decade? The Supreme Court let Sterlite off with nothing more than a 100 crore fine, just as local communities continue to live in extremely hazardous conditions.

In Tamil Nadu, Mettur:

Vedanta bought MALCO ‘s aluminium complex at Mettur 2 years before permission for their Kolli Hills bauxite mines expired but continued to mine illegally for 10 years. Five adivasi villages were disturbed and a sacred grove destroyed before activist’s petitions stopped mining in 2008. Without local bauxite and with protests preventing bauxite coming from Niyamgiri in Orissa the factory at Mettur was also forced to close. However, the abandoned and unreclaimed mines continue to pollute the mountains and a huge red mud dump by the Stanley reservoir pollutes drinking water and blows toxic dust into the village.

In Chhattisgarh, Korba:

Vedanta bought the state owned BALCO’s alumina refinery, smelter and bauxite mines for ten times less than its estimated value in 2001 despite a landmark 61 day strike by workers. Since then wages have been slashed and unionised workers are losing jobs. In 2009 a factory chimney collapsed, BALCO claimed 42 were killed, but in fact 60 – 100 people are still missing. Witnesses claim these workers from poor families in neighbouring states are buried underground in the rubble, which was bulldozed over immediately after the collapse.

I would like you to see  activist Satyabadi Naik’s shocking video of police crackdown on a peaceful protest by women of Rengopalli and other villages against Vedanta’s toxic Red Mud Pond in Lanjigarh.

The Videos below, will give you goose bumps

URGENT: Villagers Protest Against vedanta Red Mud Pond

Some more films:

The Real Face of Vedanta

Priyanka, In the 21st century, we need to redefine the meaning of “development.” It must be sustainable. Any development project must take into account the needs and aspirations of the local communities, and should benefit all sectors of society. Respect for human rights and the environment must be a priority. Development must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The criteria for “development” need to be more holistic – instead of focussing on GDP, we need to take Human Development Indicators (poverty, health, mortality, education) into account, when assessing a ‘development’ project.

It is once again ironic that the Dongria ’s resolve to safeguard the very essence of their identity is being depicted as “anti-development” and the tribal people themselves as “primitive” and “backward”. For them, to sell their mountains for large-scale mining is an act of pure greed – eating into the flesh of the earth.

But for Vedanta such a philosophy holds no meaning. The living earth is for them a resource to be exploited for profit. Greed is an essential part of their policies and the flesh of the earth the perfect menu for gorging their balance sheets.

This is not the first time Vedanta is trying to hoodwink people of India. Last year they had launched this Creating Happiness campaign, part of which was a short-film competition to extol the achievements of Vedanta. Along with others who felt strongly about this hypocrisy, we started a Faking Happiness campaign. Shyam Benegal and Gul Panag walked out of the jury once exposed to the real face of Vedanta.

Here is my contribution to it:

Many more people contributed and are still contributing to the campaign: http://www.kractivist.org/faking-happiness-competition-2/ , you can also find us on facebook- https://www.facebook.com/groups/fakinghappiness/

I would like to also tell you that a  large, child rights NGO refused  to join your campaign because  they did not wish to be associated with a campaign to launder the reputation of a company with a dismal human rights record.

Also, did you know that Aishwarya Rai  Bachchan was approached to be brand ambassador before you but she refused, as Vedanta is part of this campaign.

Now that you know Vedanta’s history, Would you step down as the ambassador of the Our Girl, Our Pride Campaign  or ensure that Vedanta is not a partner in the Campaign ?

Would you  join us in ensuring that human rights violations are not greenwashed?

The choice is yours;

The respect of your fans, however, hangs in the balance.

If you decide to join us do sign our petition to NDTV  below  https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/NDTV_Withdraw_Vedanta_as_a_Partner_in_Our_Girls_Our_Pride_Campaign

 

Sincerely,

Kamayani Bali Mahabal

PS- The readers if you agree with my letter Please sign in comments section

 

PRIYANKACHOPRA

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#India – Why a tribal revolution is a big India story #Vedanta #Niyamgiri #Sundayreading

By Meenal Baghel, Mumbai Mirror | Aug 18, 2013, 1
Tribal revolution 1364 km away is a big India story
Why a tribal revolution 1364 km away is a big India story
Top: District judge Sarat Chandra Misra (fifth from front) is accompanied by an orderly, a CRPF platoon, a tehsildar and local police as they trek to Niyamgiri on their way to the Lakhpadar referendum (Above) NGO workers take a vote among the tribals in the presence of judge Misra at a pallisabha held at Lakhpadar village, 18 km from the Vedanta refinery. At each of the referendums, tribals have said no to mining
Little-known tribes in remote Niyamgiri are trumping multi-billion dollar Vedanta. This is how the battle has unfolded.

Civilization, as most of us know it, ends at Phuldumer, a fivefamily hamlet in Kalahandi, Odisha. Beyond that is the trek up to the Niyamgiri hills, into the forest with raindrops glistening like sweat on trees, claustrophobic in its profusion. Stillness is a presence; the mist alone rolls around unmindful of the straining, watchful eyes of CRPF platoons combing the area for Maoist insurgents.

The heavily-armed men in camouflage are at the head of a procession that would be picaresque if it were fictional. There are young men and women, their earnestness marking them as NGO workers; a press posse that can only be described as rag-tag; to them, add a Block Development Officer, a tehsildar, local police, a district revenue officer with elaborate maps, a doctor, and lurking somewhere, an IB man posing as a journalist, but only just. At the centre of this retinue is the district judge, a diminutive man with his slicked-back hair, neatly trimmed moustache and crisply ironed shirt tucked into brown rain-proof plastic trousers that fail to dent his gravitas. An orderly walks ahead of him, wearing a red sash, the spotless white of his uniform defying the elements. Perched unseen on their shoulder is the precious and rather fragile burden of democracy being carried, huffing and puffing, up to a people on the outermost margins of existence.

The 19th century emigre naturalist Antonio Raimondi once described Peru as “a beggar sitting on a bench of gold”. That description could well apply to 21st century Niyamgiri. The hill range, spread over 250 kilometers of abundant forest and mineral wealth, straddles two of India’s most backward districts, Kalahandi, infamous for its famines, and Rayagada, battling a cholera outbreak at present.

The indigenous Dongria Kondh and Kutiya Kondh tribes live deep into these forests. They are hunter-gatherers believed to have descended from the Proto-Australoids who were the first group of people to have left sub-Saharan Africa 65,000 years ago.

They speak in Kui, a dialect little-heard outside Niyamgiri. They have no access to social media or mobile phones (no signal in the jungle), and yet the Kondhs, numbering but a few thousand, are winning a sophisticated battle against the 15 billion dollar company Vedanta Resources, which wants to mine the 72 million tonnes of bauxite that lie beneath.

That is our God you wish to desecrate, say the Kondhs. Everything in their eco-system is sacred – they don’t till the land for fear of hurting Mother Earth, and worship the hilltop near the village of Hundaljali as Nimmagiri – the God who protects them from the evil eye.

It would seem that He has been working overtime. In April this year, the Supreme Court, while hearing the Orissa Mining Corporation and Vedanta Resources Versus Ministry of Environment and Forest and Others, asked for a vote to be held across the remote interiors of Niyamgiri.

At each of the referendums held so far – tomorrow is the last of the 12 – ordered by court, tribals have said a resounding no to giving Vedanta any right over the 660 hectares it wants.

Vedanta promoter Anil Agarwal, himself a college dropout who once walked 10 kilometers to his school in Bihar but today flies around the world in private jets, had offered them a model of Corporate Social Responsibility: schools, roads, hospitals, jobs, connectivity. Such was his confidence in this paradigm of progress that even before all permissions were in, Vedanta went ahead and constructed a sprawling 1.7 billion dollar alumina refinery at Lanjigarh at the base of Niyamgiri. All he needs now is the ore that lies so tantalizingly close.

Agarwal’s come-uppance at these referendums goes right to the heart of the great debate of our times: what is it that we consider as developed? By spurning Vedanta and not wanting anything in return, the tribals of Niyamgiri – poor, uneducated, unexposed – have raised a Yaksha Prashna that will require equally imaginative answers.

At the referendum or pallisabha at Lakhpadar, a village that’s at a distance of 18 kilometers from the Vedanta refinery, a bewildered reporter from Daily Telegraph, London, asks one of the tribals, “But what about satellite television? And motor cars…Don’t you miss Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai?”

The tribal, Kumti Majhi of the Save Niyamgiri Council, is equally bewildered: he has never seen them. Like the rest of the world’s indigenous people, the Kondhs too have a self-sustaining economy – they live in the forest, grow their own produce through shifting cultivation and go down to the towns only to buy salt and sell fruits. Each time someone leaves the village to go to the plains on an errand, they leave a twig outside the headman’s door. “This way, we know just how many people have gone and we await their return,” says Majhi. This communal solidarity is coupled with rare independence of spirit, especially visible in the women. The Kondhs have a skewed sex ratio with 1,348 females for every thousand males. The single largest expenditure a Dongria Kondh man will make in his life is at the time of his wedding – in the form of the dowry that he pays to his bride and the feast that he organises for the community. Oftentimes men cannot come up with a suitably attractive dowry (anything from Rs 50,000 to one lakh) leading to, “a spinster culture,” in the words of Special Officer for Tribal Development, Trinath Rao.

Under a makeshift tent a few yards away, at the meeting presided over by a simply-dressed Sikoka Kone, her village folks take the mike to vehemently reject the march of ‘progress.’ They speak in one voice using the same words leading to allegations that they have been tutored by the Maoists. They ask questions that are profoundly unanswerable. “We’ve heard people in cities are not finding employment. As long as we have this forest, its air and water and fruit, we’ll never go hungry, so why bring change?”

“If the machines begin mining they will no doubt also bring dust and water pollution…Who will pay for the ailments arising from those?”

Voter after voter then surrenders individual and community claims to specific tracts of land. Not this much, not that much…the whole of Niyamgiri is ours, they say, getting off the negotiating table and rendering the revenue officer’s maps useless.

This worries Trinath Rao who has stayed back at Lanjigarh because the Supreme Court has forbidden any of the project proponents (including the state government) from being present and possibly vitiating a fair vote. “The tribals are innocent,” says Rao. “The Niyamgiri surface is theirs but what is under that belongs to the government. By rejecting individual and communal claims they are squandering the chance to get title claims. Opportunity, when it comes, you have to take it.”

But back at the Lakhpadar referendum, Kudunji Sikoka, a fierce-looking woman of indeterminate age, waves her axe around wildly to make the point that tribals would not shy away from violence if the state and its security apparatus do not stop troubling them. This stirs district judge Sarat Chandra Misra who has been observing the proceeding patiently so far. He rebukes her mildly, “Just say whether you are for or against the mining. Use words, and not your axe, everything is being video-recorded and you could get into trouble.”

There is a warning within the warning. Stories of coercion by state police and other security agencies are as common in Niyamgiri as fallen fruit in the forest. In a widely-reported instance, men around the villages, where the Vedanta refinery eventually came up, were abducted by police for a day-long excursion to Puri to ‘purify their souls’. Upon their return they found the perimeter wall of the refinery had come up. At other instances, tribals were bribed with local brew and dried fish and made to sign over their land in exchange for paltry sums.

Which was when Rahul Gandhi, in an uncharacteristically specific act of politics and eloquence, stepped in to tell the Kondhs they have a “sipahi in far away New Delhi, and his name is Rahul Gandhi”.

For 30 years, the people of Kalahandi had voted against the Congress, leading to the area’s criminal neglect by the Centre. But a year after Gandhi’s speech at Lanjigarh, Congress candidates won from Kalahandi in the 2009 election. Jairam Ramesh, then minister of environment and forest, taking Rahul Gandhi’s cue, invoked a provision of the Forest Rights Act and denied Vedanta permission to mine the hills. This decision led Vedanta and its partner, state-run Orissa Mining Corporation, to the Supreme Court which ordered these referendums. “The circumstances leading to these pallisabhas have been fortuitous,” says retired English professor and PUCL activist Bhagwat Prasad Rath, 81. “Rahul Gandhi was looking to steal political mileage from the ruling Biju Janata Dal and an enlightened bench heard the matter in the Supreme Court.”

So, an act of political opportunism has alchemized into democracy’s gold. India’s first ever open environmental hearings are being conducted with bureaucratic exactitude. The most marginalized of people have found centre-stage.

 

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#India – 11th Village rejects mining, Score Card- Niyamgiri – 11- Vedanta -0

Odisha: Eleventh Gram Sabha rejects Niyamgiri mining plan
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Odisha: Eleventh Gram Sabha rejects Niyamgiri mining plan
Report by Kishore Dash, Rayagada: Khambesi gram sabha in Rayagada district opposes mining in Niyamgiri. The eleventh Gram Sabha held at Khambesi village under Muniguda block in Rayagda today has unanimously rejected the proposed mining project  atop Niyamgiri hill held sacred by the local tribal people.
It was a painful journey for the officials to reach the Khambesi village, situated some 100 km from here. They had to walk on foot for hours together while passing through the hilly terrains beginning from Serkapadi village.
The entire sacred Niyamgiri hill is owned by Niyamraja (hill deity) who provides us the livelihood. “Our God lives in open space. You can’t keep it locked. We would continue to fight for Niyamgiri. The Dongria Kondh tribal’s worship Niyamraja as their protector and provider, their supreme deity and ancestral kin, who preside over Niyamgiri, the law of the land, said Lado Sikaka, a prominent anti-Vedanta activist.
Earlier 10 Gram Sabhas  held in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts had voted against the mining proposal reaffirming their religious, cultural and livelihood rights over the mineral-rich hills.
District judge Sarat Chandra Mishra supervised the proceedings as CRPF and state police forces including Special Operation Group (SOG) jawans kept watch on the proceedings from nearby hills. The 12th Gram Sabha, which is also the last in the series, will be held at Jarpa village in the district on August 19.
The Supreme Court, in its April 18 order, vested powers on the Gram Sabhas to take a call on the proposed mining of Vedanta Aluminum Ltd (VAL).
The SC was ruled if the BMP (bauxite mining plan) , in any way, affects their (Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others) religious rights, especially their right to worship their deity, known as Niyam Raja, in the hill top of the Niyamgiri range of hills, that right has to be preserved and protected.
In its April 18 order on the Niyamgiri bauxite mining project, the Supreme Court held that if the mining, in any way, affects the religious rights of ttribals, especially their right to worship their deity Niyam Raja atop the Niyamgiri hills, it has to be preserved.
Earlier, inhabitants of ten villages, five in Rayagada and five in Kalahandi, had rejected the proposal. The state government had selected 12 villages for holding gram sabhas, following the apex court directive. The remaining one gram sabha would be held at Karapar village in Rayagada district on August 19.

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@CRPF opened fire near Lakhpadar village yesterday during a combing operation while Gram Sabha was underway at Khambesi #India, to be confirmed
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