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The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha now face a more formidable enemy than Vedanta

Two years ago, when the tribal people of Odisha’s thickly forested Niyamgiri hills unanimously rejected the plans of the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in their lands, it appeared that a decade-long struggle to protect the hills and forests – and the tribal way of life – had finally succeeded.

But that might have been a case of premature celebration. Fear and anger are again stalking the hills.

Security camps of the Central Reserve Police Force have been mushrooming in this part of Kalahandi district. From one camp established five years ago, there are now three on the periphery of Niyamgiri. More are expected to come up.

Government officials cite rising Naxal activity as the reason for the security buildup. But among the tribal Kondhs, the increased paramilitary presence is leading to fears that the government is trying to force them off their land.

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NC Saxena committee says “No!”

It’s very easy to mine in this country once you take the consent of the local communities. They are rational people. If the project is beneficial for them, they will agree. But, look at the development tribals get from these projects. Local communities get less than 5% of the jobs created by these projects. In the last 30-40 years, people displaced by projects have become destitute, not better off. The men have become rickshaw-pullers and the women have become sex workers. Is this what we mean by mainstreaming them? Industry should sit down and think about why its image is so poor.

National Advisory Council member and former bureaucrat N C Saxena headed the four member panel set up by Jairam Ramesh shortly after the PMO put pressure on the ministry to clear the project. In this short interview, he talks about why his report recommends Orissa Mining Corporation (the company that was to supply bauxite ore to Vedanta’s Lanjigarh plant) should not be permitted to mine on Niyamgiri hill. Excerpts.

The New Committee to Study Vedanta

THE Anil Agarwal promoted Vedanta Aluminas plans for sourcing bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills in the Kalahandi district of Orissa will have to wait.The environment ministry has set up a four-member committee headed by National Advisory Council member NC Saxena.The other three members of the committee are Dr S Parasuraman,director,Tata Institute of Social Sciences;retired IFS officer Promode Kant,and Amita Baviskar,associate professor at Delhis Institute of Economic Growth.

more here.

The story taketh a turn…

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has written to the environment ministry to give clearance to the (Vedanta) project after “a thorough scrutiny by the expert appraisal committee and due consideration of all aspects”, a top government official said.

the story indeed takes a turn.

sense and nonsense in the debate over vedanta’s lanjigarh plans

for the longest time, vedanta’s bauxite mining plans in lanjigarh, orissa, have been a lightening rod for criticism. earlier this year, the environment ministry abruptly turned against it. one reason cited for this switch was the congress’ need to hold onto the tribal vote.

but things had been simmering at the ground as well. and so, in april, shortly after a study team sent by the environment ministry submitted a divided report on the project, ET travelled down to lanjigarh and tried to separate facts from opinions. we found that public sentiment had indeed turned against the project. that local politicians — all so adept at reading public sentiment –were opposing it now.

what went wrong? click here.

Vedanta, Niyamgiri and the Congress

Plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri in Orissa, already delayed by vehement protests from non-governmental organisations, seem likely to suffer further damage—quite possibly terminal—as the Congress reaches out to India’s tribal population, sections of which have come under the influence of the grand old party’s arch rival BJP while others have fallen under the sway of Maoists.

the whole story, hither.

Vedanta, Dongria Kondhs and the fight over natural resources.

The plan by the London-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in Orissa a key part of a giant aluminium complex which the company is building in the mineral-rich eastern state could be jeopardised if the Environment Ministry accepts the findings of a report by a government appointed committee.

The complete story, here. Also see the second part of this story, titled “Ministry alarmed at complaints against co”.