Why Should Adivasis Bear the Burden of ‘National Development’? Deba Ranjan

Guest post by DEBA RANJAN

On 25th August 2014 large number of armed police including CRPF with magisterial power reached at the top of the Baphlihill, where Utkal Alumina of Aditya Birla – Hindalco is continuously transporting bauxite through trucks to its Doraguda Alumina Plant. They started beating the villagers of Paikakupakhal. “They were in 25 four wheelers and one bus” Padman Nayak of the same village said. Many got the injured and three dalit villagers namely Mangaldan Nayak (30 years), Kalendra Nayak (30) and Ms Kiyabati Nayak got seriously injured. Kalendra got treatment outside but again was lifted from the Medical by the police so that he may not speak about such action of police to the outside world. Both print media and TV channels (except one newspaper) did not cover the incident. The local journalist of that newspaper later on was harassed by the goons not to write more on it.

I had been to Siju Mali few days before and went to the top of the Hill. It falls in Kashipur area of Odisha just behind the Niyamgiri hill. For last few months this Siju Mali and its adjacent Kutru Mali, two bauxite hill ranges, have been in news because the Vedanta International Limited (VIL) has kept its eyes on it.

After the Lok Sabha election, between April and November 2014, Anil Agrawal, director of VIL has met Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik thrice and every time he comes out with fully glowing remarks that the latter assured him of transferring the bauxite hills to the Company. It is quite possible too. Election experts have highlighted corporate funding behind Biju Janata Dal’s election campaign and the State Election Commission is unmoved on such complaints.

“We are here since the days of our ancestors were eating roots”, Birsingh Majhi, the old man of Malipadar village said to me. I was surprised with the answer. I tried to imagine how long that would be. These adivasis mainly of Kandha community learned cultivation much after the plains people got to know agriculture.

Malipadar village of 40 houses is situated in Kashipur block of Rayagada district. Surprisingly, nobody talks about these villagers whenever the matter of handover of mining lease comes up. Neither the VIL nor the government of Odisha has anything to say about them.

Besides Malipadar, other adivasi villages like Siju Mali of 22 houses (on name of the Hill) Malangabandha (70 houses), Lilingpadar (15 houses), Hechkani (30 houses) and Dikapanga (10 houses) are situated on top of the Hill. There is no escape for these adivasi villages from sure forceful displacement if mining by the VIL takes place.

This Hill has deposit of 245 million tonnes of bauxite. Though this Siju Hill and Kutru Hill (of 40 MT) was given to Larson and Tubro for mining in 1992, the company failed to start it for which Odisha government then cancelled the allotment. Now L &T has not yet closed down its camp situated at Srunger and is waiting for the bidders to get its share.

Tankadhar Nayak of Banteji village, situated just at bottom of the Hill, said, “It would be equally tough for the Vedanta if it comes for the mining.” He and other villagers had been arrested twice in 1995 and 1997 due to their resistance to L&T project. These villagers would lose their crop once mining is started.

The aluminium is required by the industries and its ore like bauxite is life of common peasants of the area. Wherever there is bauxite there are perennial streams. Those streams are life of peasants down the Hills.

Has the mining brought any improvement of local people? Is the Indian nation different from its citizens? Is the campaign of ‘Make in India’ launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is meant to make progress or bring more sorrows, destruction and injustices for its citizens?

Siju Mali could be a test point.

Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said when the ‘Make in India’ campaign was launched, ‘manufacturing is required for higher trajectory and to generate number of new jobs and by this India can become a manufacturing hub.’ Is this the reason of such campaign that to help Indian companies to be more assertive global players at the cost of its own citizens?

Hindalco, of Aditya Birla Group has its presence in same Kashipur area. On 16th December 2000, three adivasis died due to the resistance against the project. From 2005-06 many more arrests, torture and lathicharge happened to make the project a success. Alcan of Canada and Hydro of Norway withdrew from the consortium called Utkal Alumina (UAIL). But Aditya Birla Company, now sole owner of UAIL, was hopeful and determined. The politicians, administrators and police officers joined their hands with the Company and ‘helped the company to clear its battle field.’

On 25th August 2014 large number of armed police including CRPF with magisterial power reached at the top of the Baphlihill, where Utkal Alumina of Aditya Birla – Hindalco is continuously transporting bauxite through trucks to its Doraguda Alumina Plant. They started beating the villagers of Paikakupakhal. “They were in 25 four wheelers and one bus” Padman Nayak of the same village said. Many got the injured and three dalit villagers namely Mangaldan Nayak (30 years), Kalendra Nayak (30) and Ms Kiyabati Nayak got seriously injured. Kalendra got treatment outside but again was lifted from the Medical by the police so that he may not speak about such action of police to the outside world. Both print media and TV channels (except one newspaper) did not cover the incident. The local journalist of that newspaper later on was harassed by the goons not to write more on it.

Paikakupakhal village having 277 houses, mostly dalits and adivasis, is at the entry point of the Baphlimali mining. On the day of 20th August 2014 all villagers went to the mining site and demanded to work inside the mining. They argued to replace the machines first. Since then they were going to the top of the Hill and were loading bauxite. Such preparation did not happen in one day. It has a longer and bitter history. Initially those villagers were opposing the mining that is up to 2012. After they got written assurance from the then CEO S. K. Mishra of UAIL and the lease holder of the Company Mayen Chakrabarty, that the mining would not affect their cultivation, they agreed on it.

The mining activities of last two years like mining bauxite and transporting same through trucks, installation of conveyor belts, construction of mining roads to top of the hill range have already destroyed their agricultural fields. The villagers who were growing paddy, maize, ragi and different vegetables are now surrounded with mining works. In this month of October where crops would have been waving with winds and faces of peasant would have been with sure happiness, the villagers when I reached were in deep depression. The police operation at the top of the Hill shattered their hopes. Kumar Mangalam’s assurances of ‘generat(ing) new jobs’ is meant to make working people jobless. This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘make in India’ plan.

Indian aluminium industry people are happy for the ‘low cost of labour’ with ‘deposit of high quality of bauxite’ and cheap availability of ‘resources for power generation (coal)’ at every bauxite hill range. These facilities already have placed India as fifth largest producer aluminium in the world. They were feeling uncomfortable with stagnation of production at 1.6 to 1.7 million tonnes mark for the last few years but were expecting that the production would reach 5.3 million tons per annum (mtpa) by 2015 and 10 mtpa by 2020 or 2025 if major Greenfield projects of both HINDALCO and Vedanta would work out. These 3 billion tonnes of total high quality of bauxite which India has now would last for 100 years if it reaches 5.3 mtpa mark and for 40-50 years if it touches 10 mtpa mark, as per the same industrial report. (Indian aluminium industry on fast growth’ published in “Foundry”, May/June 2010).

Is then life of Niyamgiri for 40-50 years? Can the life span of Dongarias be of 40-50 years then? Now the industries are daring to fix the life of ecology for its profit. One industry man wrote, ‘Our competition is with China’, the highest producers of aluminium in the globe. But this competition is not a point of concerned for Dongarias who fought against the Vedanta Ltd. In all eleven gramsabhas, held as per direction of Supreme Court, the resolutions went against the proposed mining of VIL. It was evident for the Odisha Mining Corporation of government of Odisha and sole authority of distribution of mining projects in Odisha to go to the Supreme Court when Ministry of Environment and Forest rejected mining plan of the Vedanta Ltd for its violation of Forest Rights Act. Before converting forest land into industry Vedanta had constructed conveyor belt inside Niyamgiri.

In Kashipur, Aditya Birla – Hindalco got this lesson and have left a small place at Hatikhaman village forest of 21 km conveyor belt without completion. It is waiting for the clearances from Environment and Forest Department to complete its conveyor belt.  The 3.62 acres of Hatikhaman village forest (Kashipur tehsil case number 44/95) has to be transferred to the Company. But the Company has completed rest of 21 km conveyor belt from Baphlimali bauxite mine to Doraguda alumina plant. Has the government transferred village forest of Ratachuan (0.16 acre/ Kashipur tehsil case number 41/95), Lundurkana (0.32 acres/ Kashipur tehsil case number 40/95) and Andirakanch (0.78 acres/ Kashipur tehsil case number 03/95) before completion of that conveyor belt?  The tehsil office of Kashipur is not at all cooperative in one wants to access this information. The Company has completed its ash pond inside the deep forest of Bhitarmuskuni and red mud pond near Tikarapada village.  The company is happy with ‘large deposit in single plateau’, ‘abundant coal available’ and ‘relatively cheap labour’ in the area, as per its report for investors (site visit – March 2014) and has brought attention of the government to transfer 324.77 acres of government land (out of total 518.25 acres of government land) to the Company. Has it got the permission of those 5.18 acres village forest land of Bhitarmuskuni (Kashipur tehsil case number 30/95) and 68.32 acres of reserved village forest land of Tikarapada (in Rayagada District Magistrate case number 14/95) for the Company? Has it got the permission of converting 1.5 acres of Gramsabha land and 162.41 acres of Reserved Village Forest at Dimundi adivasi village where the Doraguda Alumina Plant has already been constructed? This is in the fifth Scheduled Area and adivasi community land should not have been transferred for any other purpose. But lips of District Officers are tight with an intention.

When the Company does not have required permissions how did it complete construction of the conveyor belt on all other lands? When the company does not have a completed the conveyor belt then how is it transporting bauxite through trucks from the mining site to the alumina plant? Has the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) has been done on these land? Kunia Nayak’s house is at the entry point of Paikakupakhal village and he is disturbed with continuous transportation of bauxite through lorries in front of his house. “This day and night, in every minute, hundreds of trucks are moving in front of my house and has made our life vulnerable. We are continuously falling ill due to it”, he said. On this hill land this continuous movement of trucks has led to landslides and his house has come on the edges. The Company has already constructed its site office on two acres of patta land of Padman Nayak without payment.

The dalit villagers like Alekha Chandra Nayak, Ghunua Nayak and the adivasis like Gurunath Jhodia, Trinath Jhodia and many others of the village have lost their dongar land (cultivable hilly land) due to the mining. Though the Forest Act says that the gramsabha has to give consent for conversion of forest land but the concerned authorities have never asked for it. Their respective patta lands in this hilly plateau have lost productivity due to continuous flow of inner soil with rain water. Streams are also dying up. But all these hazards never got mentioned in the MoEF report. The company gives compliance report every six months in a cut and paste manner that ‘adequate measures are being taken at the mining areas such as drainage system to catch precipitated water with adequate no. of check dams’ but none of the government staffs ever visit the mining site and even if they do visit on rare occasions, they hardly consult the villagers and even if consult with one or two villagers it never got mentioned in their field visit report. The new central government is silent on entire issue.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Na khaunga, Na khane dunga (neither will I take bribe, nor will I allow anyone to take bribe) (Economic Times April 12, 2014). Aditya Birla‘s Company, who came under investigation by the CBI in the coal allocation case, was the largest contributor to the BJP donating Rs 7.50 crore through his General Electoral Trust in 2012-2013. The Trust had donated Rs 26.6 crore to the BJP between 2004-2005 and 2011-2012 (The Times of India June 26, 2014). Its coal block has been cancelled by the Supreme Court which termed it as ‘illegal’. The Company expects the ruling BJP government to make changes in the Forest Rights Act so that many of its projects including Hindalco in Baphlimali mines go ahead in full swing.

The full fledged operation of such mining of HINDALCO (and Vedanta) would make India the largest producer of aluminium. The industry people are campaigning for increasing the consumption of the aluminium to tap the domestic market as well. The per capita aluminium consumption in India is just 1.3 kg, compared to about 12 kg in China, 28 kgs in the US an 39 kgs in Germany. The aluminium industries are making effort to increase to 10 kg by 2020 so that India could be number one. Who would take the burden of it? Is it not like the Paikakupakhal and Malipadar? Why should these hundreds and thousands who would be affected by bauxite mining, take on the burden of getting India at the top of production of aluminium? This is a simple question that we should ask ourselves and decide which side we stand.

No where does the Indian constitution say that growth of India should take the course of capitalism. But due to wrongheadedness of few leaders in the early phase as well as the continuing pressure of Indian capitalist class the economic system of India took this turn. This is unfortunate. Of course in many parts of India small struggles have been going on against the growth of capitalism. But it is not taking a larger shape because of lack of confidence in among its leaders. It is difficult also. But to say a big NO definitely will help us to find our ways of development otherwise we will only find ourselves marooned on a desert island.

Deba Ranjan is a human rights activist. Email: debasar11@yahoo.co.in

3 thoughts on “Why Should Adivasis Bear the Burden of ‘National Development’? Deba Ranjan”

  1. Adivasis will have to bear the cost of development because they belong to the internal colony of independent India. India’s model of development is based on the model of internal colonization. Jangal Mahal and North Eastern states serve as the colony of developed India.

  2. Middle 21st century headline: ‘Eastern Ghats as tinderbox (‘rivers interlink’ never did it any good)’

    We seem to ‘develop’ in bursts of this duration; bursts which cannot be sustained, as the true (longer term) picture rears up, horrific in its homogenization and commodification, reducing the social structure to minimal (and culturally messy) classes, whetting both strife and alterity

    Many times we wonder: what does this mean for a red-green praxis (in a world that has seen so many cycles of extinction/exploitation and oppression, both of humans and nature (‘extinction’ is really a very mild euphemism in world environmental history).

    One must also wonder at development as both trigger and consequence. ‘Essentially how capitalism works from the very beginning is a kind of ecological hit and run’ (possibly not very precise an analogy, seeing as how predatory interests dont run, but lock the gaze of gain and desire onto mighty depredations/transformations.
    At the same time, in a structural sense, we internalize fascism in our own lives, which does not remain bound to an (external) person(ality), but which takes over, intimately, our social relations, performances, and tolerates fascist ex(tr)actions

    Indeed, “development” is now increasingly [or should be] about how we survive the future, rather than how we improve on the past” (PMcMichael, 2010:95). It cannot retain its postwar meaning and sanctity, acting in the interests of political, bureaucratic and contracting/corporate classes. The ‘middle’ countries only have a chance in hell, being ordained to offer up their resources (one can see it from ALL their national histories (of development and depredation)!

    Full marks and all power to Deba Ranjan in this struggle

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