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A Twist in the Tale, Or, the New Copernican Revolution

Even as the rejection of Vedanta’s application to mine in Niyamgiri is being widely hailed as a victory for tribal rights, there is of course one set of very predictable voices, which has leapt in to start damage control for their corporate heroes. Thus one such cheerleader of Capital tells us that the ‘real twist’ in the script is that the ‘denial of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri’ can mean disaster for the future of a poor region and a poor state!

On the other hand, a statement by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity – a platform of tribal and forest dwellers’ organizations from all over the country has hailed the decision, arguing that: “The project’s main problem was that it violated the Forest Rights Act’s provisions requiring ‘recognition of habitat and community forest rights’ and the consent of the gram sabha prior to taking forest land. This sounds like technical legalisms. But the basic point is that, under the law, the Dongria Kondhs have the power to protect and manage their forests and lands. Simple, but unprecedented; it has never happened before.”

For our scribe however, the “really nuanced” stories of Niyamgiri are not those of the tribals and forest dwellers. They come from “the likes of Raju Sahu who came from Bihar to Kalahandi 10 years ago and runs four tea/food stalls on the state highway that links Lanjigarh – where Niyamgiri and the Vedanta factory are situated – to Bhawanipatna, the district HQ”.  Sahu apparently told our journalist-investigator that his business has more than trebled in the last four years since Vedanta started operations there. This is true for any big economic enterprise that gets set up – a large number of small businesses sprout up around it. There would be as many stories about poor people who benefited from the life that grew up around say, giant public sector units – the end of which is celebrated by these cheerleaders of Capital.  Will the perishing of those small businesses as a fall-out of the closure of PSU’s be accepted by our nuanced story-teller as a justification for the continuation of PSU’s? Never. For we know that there are always different standards for judging the merits of corporate marauders. You can tell even before you start reading a column by a Shekhar Gupta or a Tavleen Singh or a Saubhik Chakrabarti, what is coming – be it Niyamgiri, Bhopal and Union Carbide, the loot of the Commonwealth Games or the studied silence on matters relating to DIAL and GMR. And sometimes, just sometimes, we happen to know why…

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