How could one of India’s largest and most respected corporate house – Tata Steel, who prides itself on its unwavering commitment to human rights, get it so wrong twice over; in Kalinga Nagar and in Singrur?
How could an isolated fishing community of over 10,000 on the southernmost tip of India in Kudankulam, who rarely construct the subject matter of academic debates on development, enter into our national consciousness as ‘enemy of the state’?
How could multinational corporations, who pay globally renowned consultants millions of dollars to map everything from sustainability to finance and potential market, completely ignore the specific political economy of the area of project location?
These are some of the intriguing questions Sudeep Chakravarti asks in his new book – “Clear Hold Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India”, published by Harper Collins.
The distance, writes Chakravarti, from the “Red carpet” welcome that corporates receive in national and state capitals while signing “MoUs” worth billions of dollars to “Red flag bearing MAOists” in India’s hinterland is increasingly narrowing down with the globalisation of activism, information and even the arm of law.
Global networks of NGOs are tracking down corporate behaviour across continents and holding them accountable wherever law favours local communities over corporate interests.
Chakravarti explains, how in this interconnected world of activism, it is woefully simple for NGOs with global footprints to internationalise a localised conflict between displaced communities and corporate houses.
The author illustrates in great detail, how stand-offs with local communities can cost a great deal to corporates not only in terms of increasing input costs owing to frequent delays, but can also damage their global reputations and even ward off their investors, as happened with Vedanta in Odisha.
Vedanta announced in 2009 that “its operations in Lanjigarh was a great opportunity”. The company had signed a deal with state government to mine over 900 million tonnes of recoverable bauxite deposits from Niyamgiri hills.
Incidentally, the Niyamgiri hills are regarded by local Dongria Kondh tribals as the abode of tribe’s reigning deity- Niyam Raja. Though, neither the government nor Vedanta considered it important enough to consult locals before allowing desecration of their holy lands by mining.
In August that year, winner of “Man Booker award” and star activist Arundhati Roy showcased a Dongria Kondh tribal at Vedanta’s annual gathering meeting in London and successfully globalised a local conflict limited to a few hundred tribals.