Archive for the ‘Ecology’ Category

It’s Time We Spare A Moment And Think.

2 March 2010
It’s Time We Spare A Moment And Think”. Vedanta Resources exhorted Indian Express readers in its full front page advertisement released all across India in its editions on 27th February to do so. It must have earned IE advertising revenue in millions of rupees. This is the third full front page advertisement in Indian Express since 18th November 2009 (see the earlier encounter with the PR blitzkrieg here).
Vedanta is changing the face of Kalahandi, the advertisement declares. This by all accounts is indeed true. No one harbours any doubts about the veracity of this claim. Dispute is over the kind of face that will emerge after Vedanta & the government of Orissa are done with their plans. Kalahandi of yesteryears suffered even starvation deaths (Bhookmaari) among various other woes we are told in Vedanta’s advt. It would be interesting to ask state and Union governments whether they agree with this assessment of Vedanta Resources. Governments have always denied that starvation deaths have occurred observes SC panel, : “….stating that the district administration was found to be spending most of its energies in trying to establish that deaths were not due to starvation but due to health reasons, the commission asked the state government to ensure that the focus should now be shifted to all the communities that were living in hunger rather than waiting to respond to the crisis after deaths are reported”. On the claim of starvation deaths, Vedanta and Activists working at grassroots level will find themselves, ironically, on the same side – at least when talking about yester years.
But today it is a different story. Vedanta is introducing development and prosperity to Kalahandi according to the advt. “Vedanta’s alumina project has brought large scale employment, high quality infrastructure and amenities; that is roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, drinking water, electricity and sustainable livelihood for community at large”. River Vamsadhara was one such lifeline that provided water to the tribals of Lanjigarh. The people dependent on it are suffering now from skin afflictions. The fly ash generated by a nearby power plant is dumped into this river and is the cause of their troubles, conclude the illiterate villagers. The power plant belongs to Vedanta Resources and its Doctors are not available to provide treatment.
Among many other benefits listed, thanks to Vedanta’s bauxite mining/ alumina project, one that is really heartwarming states : “Not a single family will be displaced due to the mining project – no Dongriya Kondh tribe lives at the proposed mining area of Lanjigarh”. This is a zero displacement project. Wonderful indeed!, except that Sterlite Industries (Vedanta Resources subsidiary) own EIA report accepted that there would be some displacement, which would be precisely known after enumeration. Wildlife Institute of India had this to say in its report : (1) “….The Niyamgiri hills are known to be inhabited by localized Knodh tribe known as Dongria Kondh who are primitive and schedule tribe of the state{4.5}”. (2) “….In the EIA report of Lanjigarh Bauxite Mine, these areas are defined as unproductive and tree deficient areas, not useful for wildlife and forests. In reality, however, these plateaus are very productive with high occurrence of several herbivore and carnivore species. This kind of habitat is especially productive during the rainy season when water and grasses are available for several species. Elephants also visit these areas during rainy season when grasses are abundantly found in this area. These areas are also breeding and fawning ground for four horned antelope, barking deer and several other species{4.3}”. (3) “The team however, has been informed that there are several large bauxite deposits that are occurring in the non-forest areas of Kalahandi and Raygada districts. Why the feasibility of exploration and exploitation of bauxite reserves have not been assessed for proposing bauxite mining in such areas and instead the reserves falling in sensitive habitats in the RFs / PF and other sensitive habitats of conservation importance are being increasingly preferred? {6.0/3}”.
Dongriya Kondh are not comfortable with the lofty claims of Vedanta Resources that it is not only a zero emissions project but will soon be a zero waste project. Some 5,000 of them trekked on 21st February 2010 to the sacred Niyamgiri dongar to perform a religious ritual and to take oath that they will defend their Raja with their lives if need be.
©Survival International
These villages never had basic amenities like medical facilities, drinking water and properly functioning schools. The mining project will now take away even the sources of livelihood from them, explained Dadhi Pusika, leader of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samity (Nayamgiri Protection Committee) that was formed by members of affected villages”. “If the mountain remains, our children remain, rains come, winter comes, the wind blows – the mountain will bring all the water, crops will grow. If they take away the rocks, water will dry, we will die, The Mountain is our soul, we will lose our soul. We cannot allow mining even if we are beheaded said Ladha.
Even supreme court panel seems unconvinced by the claims that prosperity has visited Kalahandi in the wake of Vedanta Resources alumina project. It has included Kalahandi among the 15 districts hit by drought in 2009 for immediate food relief, which it has directed Orissa government to provide to avoid possible starvation deaths. Reports Business Standard on 24th January 2010, “Protocol for preventing starvation would ensure that the state response is appropriate to mitigate some of the distress faced by poor and vulnerable groups, SC Commissioner N C Saxena and Special Commissioner Harsh Mander told state chief secretary T K Mishra”.
While the ugly face of development is what stares contemptuously at the most vulnerable sections of society that are affected by the Vedanta Project, the company would like rest of us to believe that it is the most beautiful face of development shining on Kalahandi. A more detailed rebuttal of Vedanta’s tall claims could be found here, “Behind the Lies : Vedanta’s PR Offensive”. Vedanta’s immediate reason for the PR exercise may be the Rs. 171 billion (US$ 3.68 billion) syndicated loan that they are trying to arrange for a tenure of 10 years with a 3 years rest period (moratorium) on interest payment. The loan is expected to be finalized in March 2010 and some US$ 2.5 billion out of it are to be applied for the bauxite mining project at Lanjigarh. That means the battle between the Dongariya Kondh fighting for their very survival and Vedanta Resources is entering its final & decisive moment.
Surya Shankar Dash, an activist film maker, had attended the public hearing of Vedanta Project :
 
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