Political Safari- The unanimous decision of the Dongriya Kondh gram sabhas to reject the development of Bauxite mines in Niyamgiri hills is a victory for India’s environmentalists and a humiliation for those with deep pockets and little concern about anything else other than profit.
On August 29, 2010, veteran journalist Tavleen Singh attacked the ‘fringe environmental lunatics’ in her column in The Indian Express, calling the fight against Vedanta’s Niyamgiri Hills project in Orissa as waged by ‘idle socialists’ at home and abroad. Mrs. Singh’s only concern, it seemed, was to see that aluminum prices were ‘halved’ around the world, when Vedanta was finally given the go-ahead for the project. Sadly (for her), this week, the twelve gram sabhas around Niyamgiri Hills comprising people of the Dongriya Kondh tribe, which has carried out the fight for their survival against Vedanta, overwhelmingly voted against the project. This has dealt a death blow to the British corporation’s plans as these gram sabha consultations were ordered by the Supreme Court and their approval was essential for the resuscitation of the mining project.
So, is the fight between Dongriya Kondh and Vedanta simply a hollow one waged by jholawala NGOs as claimed by Mrs. Singh? Or is there a genuine threat to the survival and livelihood to a substantial proportion of the Dongriya Kondh tribe whose population numbers only an odd 8,000? To answer these questions we need only to turn to the report submitted by the four member investigative committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the proposal for mining of Bauxite in Niyamgiri.
1) illegal occupation of forest land by the existing Lanjigarh refinery
2) concealment and falsification of information related to the project
3) use of bauxite from mines without environmental clearance
4) blatant violation of the Forest Conservation Act and the Orissa Forest Act
5) inadequate Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and even falsification of information in the 2005 EIA related to mining
6) violations of norms in refinary expansion
7) violation of pollution control norms, and shockingly
8) contempt of Supreme Court orders.
These are only some of the charges against Vedanta and the Orissa govt. as mentioned in the report. In addition, the committee noted that if the project was allowed to go through, it would not only require the felling of approximately 1,21,337 trees and more than 3,63,000 shrubs and flora found in the region, but would directly impact the livelihood of more than 1453 individuals of the Dogria Kondh tribe (whose land and livelihood rights are protected under Schedule V of the constitution) and would thus pose a grave danger for the continued existence of the entire community. Faced with such indisputable facts, its not a wonder then that Mrs. Singh resorted to petty name calling to vent her ire.
The report convinced the central government to block the development of the project. This decision was challenged in the Supreme Court and the Honorable court ordered that Dongria Kondh must hold village councils to determine the fate of the project. The Lanjigarh refinery was closed sometime before the court order came in, due to, hold your breath, lack of bauxite. Vedanta admitted that it had already spent $800 million in expanding the site, without having secured the required permissions!
Coming on the heels of 2G spectrum scam and the Coalgate blunder, the Vedanta episode highlights the incompetence and arbitrariness of government authorities in allocating natural resources for private use. Yet, ‘journalists’ such as Mrs. Singh would rather let foreign corporations violate our laws and rules with impunity for an assumption rooted in the future, rather than speak out to protect the genuine interests of our people and our ecological heritage.The Dongriya Kondh gram sabha vote is, without doubt, a slap in the face of Vedanta and their cheerleaders here in our country.
Tavleen Singh column: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/politics-pollutes-the-environment/673939/0
Saxena Committee Report: http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Saxena_Vedanta.pdf