Video: The Story of Cap and Trade

Courtesy: The Story of Stuff Project. Watch another great video – THE STORY OF STUFF.

The High Court orders meaningful public hearings

Rahul Choudhary

Whenever any project is envisaged and approved, the local affected persons’ consent is the least concern for the authorities. The formal process of public participation in the decision making process comes only at the time of public hearing as provided in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006. As per the notification, thirty days notice should be given prior to the public hearing, so that the local affected person and others can submit their comments and objections. Thereafter the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forest has to do the detailed scrutiny of the project including the proceedings of public hearing and the objections raised at the time of public hearing. However the Notification does not empower the affected persons to say no to project. At best they can raise objection. And the Expert Appraisal Committee in most of the cases just see whether public hearing was held or not and not into the objections of the public during the hearing.

M/s Pandurang Timblo Industries, Margao, Goa is the lessee of Borga Dongrachem Fall Mine and Sociedade Timblo Irmaos Ltd. is lessee of Oiteiro Borga Do Bairro Queri Mine. Both mines were in operation till 1994. When there was again an increase in demand of iron ore from countries like China, South Korea and Japan, the owners in 2006 proposed for restarting the mines. There was a total opposition to the project at the time of public hearing. There was not a single participant who was in support of the project. The detail of the project, and the Executive Summary was made available to the gram panchayat and local affected person only nine days prior to the Public hearing. In the proceedings of public hearing it was clearly recorded that “not a single application nor a single member of the public was in favour of restarting of mine due to grave environmental and social damage”. The opposition of the restarting of mine was on the grounds of damages to agricultural fields and depleting ground water level that the mining will result into.

Without considering the objections and opposition of the affected persons in the public hearing, the Expert Appraisal Committee granted Environmental Clearance to the project on July 26, 2007. The local affected person challenged the order of the Ministry of Environment and Forest before the National Environment Appellate Authority (Utkarsh Mandal Vs. Ministry of Environment & Forest, Appeal No. 12 of 2007). As expected, the NEAA dismissed the appeal against the order of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. The NEAA categorically noted that the Executive Summary of the project was made available only 9 days prior to the Public Hearing, but then it argued that the EIA notification does not specify any time period for giving Executive Summary to the affected people. The NEAA also gave the finding that the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has not considered the opposition at the public hearing, but concluded that this will not vitiate the environmental clearance granted to the project.

The order of the NEAA was challenged by the local affected persons before the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court headed by Chief Justice and Justice S. Muralidhar allowed the petition (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 9340 of 2009, Delhi High Court) and also questioned the functioning of the Expert Appraisal Committee. During the course of hearing, it was also brought to the notice of the Court that the EAC (Mines) was chaired by a person who happened to be the director of four mining companies and as many as 410 mining approval has been granted in the first six months of 2009. In this context, the court concluded that appointing a person who has a direct interest in the promotion of the mining industry as Chairperson of the EAC (Mines) is an unhealthy practice that will rob the EAC of its credibility since there is an obvious and direct conflict of interest. The High Court by order dated November 26, 2009 gave findings on issues related to public hearing and functioning of EAC. This order of the High Court interpreted the provisions of public hearing provided in the EIA Notification 2006. The High Court gave the finding that the purport of the clause (2.4 and 3 of Appendix IV of EIA Notification 2006) of the notification is to “make the public hearing a meaningful one with participation of all interested persons who may have a point of view to state. The above clauses operationalise the de-centralised decision making in a democratic set up where the views of those who are likely to be affected by decision are given a say and an opportunity to voice their concerns. This procedure is intended to render the decision fair and participative and not thrust from above on a people who may be unaware of the implications of the decision… If their participation has to be meaningful, informed and meaningful, then they must have full information of the pros and cons of the proposed project and the impact it is likely to have on the environment in the area.” The High Court concluded that the Executive Summary should be made available 30 days in advance.

On the requirement of the EAC to give reason, the Court held that “in context of EIA Notification dated 14th September 2006 and the mandatory requirement of holding public hearings to invite objections it is the duty of the EAC, to whom the task of evaluating such objections has been delegated, to indicate in its decision the fact that such objections, and the response thereto of the project proponent, were considered and the reasons why any or all of such objections were accepted or negatived. The failure to give such reasons would render the decision vulnerable to attack on the ground of being vitiated due to non-application of mind to relevant materials and therefore arbitrary.”

This judgment delivered by the Delhi High Court, for the first time, discusses the issues of public hearing, the functioning of EAC and the manner in which the environmental clearances are being granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. The Ministry has virtually become a clearing house, accepting almost every project that it receives. Anyone who fulfills the required paper work will get the approval, irrespective of the socio-economic and environment impact.

Singhitarai Project: NEAA creates history

Rahul Choudhary

When the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) has dismissed all the cases (except one in the Polavaram dam case in 2007) filed before it in past 13 years, one cannot expect anything when you approach it but another dismissal. The NEAA is the sole statutory body to challenge the environmental clearances granted to the projects like mining, thermal power plant, hydroelectric projects etc. The authority is composed of a retired Chief Justice of a High Court or a retired judge of the Supreme Court as the chairperson, one vice chairperson and three technical members. Interestingly for last eight years, there is no chairperson in the Authority and no vice chairperson for last six years, and the so-called technical members are all retired bureaucrats. Now there is only one member in the Authority who is deciding the Appeals against the grant of environmental clearances.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) granted environmental clearance on August 17 2009 to the 1200MW Thermal Power Plant near village Singhitarai, District Janjgir-Champa, Chhattisgarh by M/s Athena Chhattisgarh Power Pvt. Ltd. The project was approved by the MoEF even after the process of public hearing was incomplete. At the time of public hearing, the presiding officer came to declare that the hearing is cancelled. Interesting part is that the Presiding officer said that the project proponent has not informed the public about the project in proper manner, and hence the public hearing is cancelled. But when minutes was prepared, it was recorded that the public hearing is cancelled due to the law and order problem because 400-500 people entered the public hearing place and started shouting slogan for cancelling the public hearing. As per the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, the expert committee recommending environment clearance has to do detailed scrutiny of outcome of public hearing. But in this case the Athena Power Ltd. manipulated the public hearing proceedings and must have influenced the expert committee as the owner of company is late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s family.

The granting of environmental clearance was challenged by Villagers of Singhitarai before the NEAA. The main issue of challenge was incomplete process of public hearing. Now the NEAA has only one member and is hearing all the cases. Taking the precedent of the NEAA, when case came up for hearing there was no expectation of relief even after such a blatant violation of the EIA Notification. After watching video recording of the public hearing, the member of the NEAA was convinced that the minutes of the public hearing is different from what has happened during the public hearing and the process of public hearing was incomplete.

In a surprise move, first time in the history of the NEAA, the member stayed the Thermal Power project. This sudden spur of prudence has left many bewildered and guessing, but this stay of the project on the reason of incomplete public participation process will have impact on conducting future public hearings. In the whole process of Environmental Clearances, the Public Hearing is the only stage where the affected person can participate in the decision making process.

The Great Resource Grab Continues: People fight for law, Government throws it to the winds

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

On November 20th, the police opened fire on an unarmed protest rally in Narayanpatna, Orissa, by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and killed three people. The Campaign condemns these murders – for that is what they are – in the strongest possible terms. Meanwhile, adivasi groups organised demonstrations across Andhra Pradesh yesterday against the State government’s illegal move to record community forest management rights and powers in the name of Joint Forest Management committees – which function as proxies of the Forest Department. In Andhra Pradesh or in Orissa, the irony is the same: it is the people who are fighting for the law, and the government that is using all the force possible to break it. In Delhi we find the Prime Minister and the Home Minister talking of the “rule of law” all the time, but for the government it seems that the “rule of law” is just another word for the rule of brute force.

The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha is an adivasi movement that came to attention earlier this year when it mobilised to take back adivasi lands. The lands had been illegally taken over by non-tribals, in violation of the Orissa Land Reforms Act and the Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property Regulation. Though the government insists, as usual, on calling the Sangha a “Maoist front” and a “Maoist overground organisation”, the Sangha’s leaders have always been very clear that they are not linked to the CPI(Maoist) and have publicly stated their differences with the Maoists. They have organised people in a mass movement for adivasi land rights. This movement, of course, is intolerable for the government and for powerful interests; so, as usual, those fighting for people’s rights are labelled Maoists and, on this pretext, killing, beatings and torture all are considered justifiable.

On the 20th, the adivasis gathered to protest harassment of women and children, including beatings, that had taken place during so-called “combing operations” in the preceding days. According to fact finding reports, they were not carrying even their traditional bows and arrows. The police opened fire within half an hour of the protest reaching the police station. An estimated 60 people have been injured (no injuries to police have been reported) and those injured are not receiving medical treatment. The police are still engaged in combing operations and have arrested a number of other adivasis. There is no report of any action being taken against those responsible for the killings.

In Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, a quieter attack on democracy is underway. The Forest Rights Act recognises the right and power of forest dwellers to protect, conserve and manage their “community forest resources”. This was the biggest step forward in this law, and it is the one part that the government appears most keen not to respect. In AP, the Forest Department has found a new trick to get around these provisions – it has persuaded the State government to confer community management rights under the Act on Joint Forest Management committees, which have forest guards as their secretaries / joint account holders and are effectively controlled by the Department. This is completely illegal and amounts to robbing people’s resources through the back door. But, once again, we find deafening silence or active support from the Central government for these illegal activities, and reportedly AP has even been cited as a ‘model’ by Central officials for this action.

Thus the struggle of the people for control over their resources and their livelihoods continues. The question that the government has to answer is very simple: does it actually believe in the rule of law? Or does it believe in crushing all those who fight for the very laws that it has passed?

Video: Dharna for Proper Implementation of Forest Rights Act

A dharna organised by Campaign for Survival and Dignity and Adivasi Vikas Manch at Jantar Mantar, Delhi on Nov 3 2009.

Want to know what the protests were about? Click here: Forests Under Siege.

Thousands joined protests across India against the Central and State governments to place Forests Under Siege. A dharna took place in Delhi on the 3rd and a rally on the 4th, with participants from MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Dharnas and rallies also took place in Bhopal, Udaipur, Raipur and Bhubaneshwar on the 3rd. More than 5,000 people participated.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister informed State governments at the Tribal Ministry’s “review meeting” that “systematic exploitation of tribals must end.” In that case, why is his government intensifying this exploitation? The mockery of democracy and the rule of law continues.

Petition against New Uranium Mining and Nuclear Power Plants in India

Smt. Pratibha Patil,
The President of India,
Rashtrapati Bhavan,
New Delhi – 110 001.

Copy to:

Sri Manmohan Singh,
The Prime Minister of India,
New Delhi – 110 001.

Sri Jairam Ramesh,
The Minister of Environment & Forests,
New Delhi – 110 001.


We are writing to you on behalf of the National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements.

It is to protest against the reported decision of the government of India to take a quantum leap in installed capacity for nuclear power generation, from the current level of 4,120 MW to 63,000 MW by 2032. This decision is but an invitation to disaster.

In this context, we will like to submit the following.

Nuclear power, contrary to orchestrated hypes, is actually costlier than power from conventional sources like coal, gas and hydro. And once all the hidden costs are factored in, it would be costlier than even from renewable sources, like wind, in particular.

More importantly, it is also intrinsically hazardous, as large amount of radiation is routinely released at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. An even more intractable problem is that of safe storage of nuclear waste and safe disposal of outlived power plants, given the fact that the half-lives of some of the radioactive substances involved are over even millions of years.

Even more disconcerting is, considering the complexity of the technology of a nuclear reactor; there is no way to ensure that a major accident at a nuclear power plant will never take place. And a major accident, given the nature of things, will just turn catastrophic affecting a very large number of people, over a large territory, over a very long period. The disastrous accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in the Ukraine province of the then USSR, on April 26 1986 is a chilling illustration.

The promise of nil greenhouse gas (GHG) emission is also nothing more than a myth if the entire fuel cycle – including mining, milling, transportation and construction of the power plant – is considered.

Moreover, nuclear energy with its highly centralized power production model would only further aggravate the problem by accentuating the current development paradigm reliant on mega-industries and actively blocking any possibility towards ecologically benign decentralized development.

The strong linkage between nuclear power and weapons – in terms of large overlaps in technology, in turn triggering strong political push – of which India itself is a graphic illustration can also be overlooked only at our own peril given the genocidal, and suicidal, character of the nuclear weapon.

As nuclear power is economically unattractive and socially unacceptable, on account of radiation hazards and risks of catastrophic accidents, no order for new nuclear reactors was placed in the USA and most of West Europe during the last 30 years, since the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979.

The US and European companies in nuclear power plant equipment and nuclear fuel business are thus looking to Asia for markets – India, China and Japan spearheading the current expansion programme.

It is unfortunate that the Indian government is becoming their willing collaborator in this in pursuit of its megalomaniac hunt for nuclear power and weapon. It has thus, over a period of just one year, rushed to enter into agreements with as many as seven countries, viz. the US, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Mongolia and Argentina.

So far, nuclear power production capacity in India is very small, only about 3 percent of the total electricity generation capacity; and the veil of secrecy surrounding the existing nuclear power plants in the country, and absence of any truly independent monitoring agency, has seriously hindered dissemination of information on accidents – large and small – at these plants and their public scrutiny. That explains the current low level of popular awareness as regards the grave threats posed by the nuclear industry.

Taking advantage of this, the government of India is now set to steamroll its massive expansion program.

The contention that nuclear power is indispensable to meet future energy needs is false; for energy demand, and “need”, is obviously a function of the development paradigm chosen and pursued. And “energy security” is not an autonomous entity or objective, but must be in alignment with other chosen objectives which must include equitable growth and concerns for ecology.

Viewed thus, “energy security” may be achieved by: (I) Increasing efficiency of electricity generation, transmission and distribution. (II) Doing away with extravagant and wasteful use of energy. (III) Pursuing a path of low-energy intensity and decentralised development. (IV) Making optimum use of alternative energy options. (IV) Radically raising investment in development of sustainable and renewable energy sources and technologies, especially wind and solar energy.

As a part of its expansion program, the government of India has announced plans to expand the nuclear power plant coming up at Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu). Additional four reactors from Russia of 1,200 MWe each, in the immediate or near future, are to come up over and above the two of 950 MWe each, presently under construction. The process for setting up a nuclear plant at Jaitapur (Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra) has also reached an advanced stage. The French company Areva is set to supply two new generation reactors of 1650 MWe each, to be followed by another two. Land acquisition notices have been served on the local people to acquire 981 hectare of land.

The government has reportedly already approved 15 new plants at eight sites. These sites are Kumharia in Haryana – meant for indigenous reactors; Kakrapar (indigenous reactors) and Chhayamithi Virdi (reactor from US) in Gujarat; Kovvada (reactor from US) in Andhra Pradesh; Haripur (reactor from Russia) in West Bengal; Koodankulam (reactor from Russia) in Tamil Nadu; and Jaitapur (reactor from France) in Maharashtra.

Similarly, the mad rush for more and more power plants is matched by an accelerated drive for uranium mining in newer areas: Andhra and Meghalaya, in particular. And this, despite the horrible experience of uranium mines in different parts of the world, as also in our own Jadugoda – where appalling conditions continue despite strong popular protests, spanning decades.

In view of all these facts enumerated above, we the undersigned demand that the government of India put a complete stop to the construction of all new uranium mines and nuclear power plants, and radically jack up investments in renewable and environmentally sustainable sources of energy.

We also earnestly urge you to intervene immediately.


Please Sign

‘Mine’ – A film on the Dongria Kondh’s fight against Vedanta

With stunning footage from the mountain forests of Orissa state, India, Survival‘s new short film, Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain tells the current situation of the Dongria Kondh tribe as they face and fight their own destruction. Right now, UK-based, FTSE100 firm Vedanta Resources is pushing ahead with a bauxite mine which will devastate their livelihoods and sacred sites. In this film, their voice is heard. The film is narrated by Indian-born actress Joanna Lumley and features music by Skin.


There is no question of any placement of any person or persons. The Dongria Kondh tribe does not reside in this area. Vedanta Resources letter to Survival, 2008

We are used to the Indian government here. But the Vedanta government has come and devastated so many people. They won’t let us live in peace. They want to take these rocks from the mountain. But if they take away these rocks, how will we survive? Because of these the rain comes. The winter comes, the wind blows, the mountain brings all the water. If they take away these rocks, we’ll all die. We’ll lose our soul. Niyamgiri is our soul. Sikaka Lodu, Dongria Kondh man, November 2008

You should go to Lanjigarh and find out how the refinery came to be there. Life is so hard there. Now that people there have realised what is happening they are speaking out against it. Initially they welcomed the company but now they realise their mistake because they live like dogs. Now they realise they’ve lost their land and their homes forever. Vedanta has stolen everything from them. Go to Lanjigarh and see it for yourself. Sikaka Lodu, Dongria Kondh man, November 2008

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters, did you hear everything? We need people from outside to stand with us. Then we have to fight. Then we can survive. We can save our land. And we can be in charge of our territory. Pidikaka Bari, Dongria Kondh man, November 2008

Courtesy: Survival International

Public Hearing at Munsiyari, Uttarakhand

Rahul Choudhary

Recently held Public Hearing for Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project at Munsiyari District of Uttarakhand is an example of the establishment and corporate playing farce with the provisions of public hearing provided in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 (EIA Notification). The EIA Notification provides for conducting Public Hearing in the project-affected areas for the projects which fall under the schedule of the EIA Notification. The Public Hearing is a platform where the persons who have any objection to the project can register the same, and the proceedings of the public hearing with objections of the public are sent to the Ministry of Environment & Forest to decide over granting Environmental Clearance to the project.

The Project proponent of Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) scheduled the public hearing on 11.06.2008 when most of villagers are out to higher altitude of mountains to collect ‘Yarsagumba’ ( or cordyceps sinesis is a rare herb and grows above 3,500 meters of the Himalayas) knowing very well that most of the villagers will not be able to participate in the public hearing. The NTPC scheduled the public hearing at this time to complete the formality of conducting public hearing without any opposition. The way this public hearing was conducted shows that NTPC and the State Machinery did not want Public Hearing to be conducted in fair manner.

The number of families who will be losing land is almost 1362, according to the NTPC, which is generally careful not to reveal the true figures. It is true for other projects and will happen in this project also that the villagers who are dependant on agricultural land for livelihood are paid very less compensation for their land, and the money given is not sufficient to buy similar kind of land. The money given as compensation does not last long and the farmers end up becoming labourers on the construction site or working in small hotels or dabhas in Delhi and living a miserable life. The government has developed a great law for acquisition of land, where under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, invoking urgency clause it can acquire the land without entertaining any objection, but at the same place there is no proper policy about the rehabilitation of the person affected by the project.

This situation is similar as stated by Karl Marx in Capital Vol-1, referring to legislations against the expropriated of France, Netherland and Holland, that “Thus where the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded by laws grotesquely terrible, into discipline necessary for wage system”.

The Public hearing held on 11.06.2008 was opposed by the local people on the grounds that:

* Almost all the villagers of 8-9 villages of the project area would go to collect ‘Yarsa Gumba’
* The other villagers were not informed about the project properly.
* No sufficient information about the public hearing.
* The executive summary of the project was not made available.
* The Environment Impact Assessment report of the project was available almost at the distance of 150 K.M from the project site, which was not possible for the villagers to access.
* The Procedure of conducting Public Hearing has not been followed as provided in the EIA Notification, 2006.

The Public Hearing was scheduled at 11 AM, and just at the start of public hearing the locals got hold of dais and asked from the panel members of the public hearing to postpone the hearing. There were villagers like one Gram pradhan and Block Head who wanted to continue the public hearing for the reasons that they will get petty contracts from the NTPC during the construction of project. For almost three hours the hearing was stalled and the panel of the Public Hearing decided to postpone it. However the NTPC gave the presentation highlighting the benefits of the project and very obviously missing out the impacts of the projects. No questions or objections were raised to the panel members as the public was told that this public hearing is postponed and it will be held again in October when the villagers are back. Only two-three persons who were expecting favour from the NTPC in terms of getting contracts spoke in support of the project, to which the NTPC personnel were not tired of clapping.

The very next day on June 12, 2008 it was reported in the newspaper like ‘Amar Ujala’ and ‘Rashtriya Sahara’ that the public hearing was postponed due to protest. But the NTPC did not allow the media to ruin their plan to show the public hearing of June 11 as the final hearing to get the Environmental Clearance. The very newspaper ‘Amar Ujala’ which reported that the Public Hearing was postponed published an advertisement in its 13th June edition, that the public hearing was held for the Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project amidst protest. This is clearly an indication that the NTPC will submit this as a final Public Hearing, showing the Ministry of Environment & Forest that the project was supported by the locals.

To paraphrase Marx, capitalism flourishes only by breaking down all resistance. Evidently, this public hearing is also an example of a strong corporate-state-media nexus, which undermines public objections and opposition, looking for every means to breakdown the resistance of the maginalised people.

On the way back from Dhinkia

Anti-POSCO struggle – Some Questions


“If you are living in a state which is rich in mineral wealth, you will have but a fragile democracy”. Desperately commented an activist fighting against the proposed iron ore project by POSCO in Orissa.While having tea together on the way back from Dhinkia, he abysmally expressed no hope for a change in the way by which democracy has been functioning. At the same time, adding to my embarrassment he categorically ruled out the possibility of the POSCO project getting materialised. He says the chances are very low and he attributes several reasons for the same. He is not only an activist belonging to PPSS (POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti) but also a local leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), the party which has taken a significant role in the upsurge against POSCO.

On the way back from Dhinkia, the hot bed of anti-POSCO struggle in Orissa, I repeated the same question to all the people I met there from different strands of life. I wished to know how far they believed that the project would really be materialised. The answer was not in affirmative. Neither the cream of activists who are involved in the struggle nor the NGOs who support the movement believe that the project has reached the threshold and the stage is well set for a mass scale displacement of tribes as it has been claimed throughout the struggle. Obviously the question is then why somebody is keeping the villagers of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakunjanga constantly sleepless, vigilant, alert and even armed against the foe who is sometimes visible and at other times invisible. I find the phenomena complex and abstruse in which the whole civil society initiatives including political parties and NGOs who support the struggle are playing a part of their own. There might be people who think that the time is not ripe to raise critic against a historic struggle which is on its way bloodied yet ahead. Never ever being a cynic, I believe no struggle, people’s movement or any kind of political resistance could be taken for granted. Hence there is no harm in debating over the political undercurrents of the anti-POSCO movement in Orissa.

A brief account on what had happened in the past in the phase of the struggle against POSCO, the Korean Steal giant is indeed necessary to understand what the current situation is there in the affected villages. Let me take a hairpin deviation from the questions or apprehensions raised above to the recent past of the historic struggle led by the people of Jagatsinghpur district.

The anti-POSCO struggle was triggered soon after the notorious MoU had been signed between the Govt of Orissa and the Korean steal company POSCO three years back in 2005. The people in the three Panchayats of Erasama block in Jagatsinghpur district, where 6000 acres of land is proposed to be acquired for the project, organised under the banner of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, an umbrella organisation which is predominantly led by CPI. Abhay Sahoo the chairman of PPSS is the state secretariat member of the party. Nobody could evade appreciating CPI for its organisational investment to energise a movement which is a genuine uprising of the people against a multinational project which may take away their land and livelihood. Since the struggle started, there had been a number of bloody attacks over PPSS activists by goons employed by the company as well as police who were playing an explicitly partisan role throughout the scene. In November 2007 the camp set up by the PPSS activists was set ablaze. There were constant efforts to manhandle the activists, intimidate and thus destabilize the movement. The Naveen Patnaik Government more or less used the state machinery to throw the people away from the proposed land irrespective of all the prevailing laws which speaks in favour of the people. The government was in a hurry to move ahead even before getting the environmental clearance for the project. Anyhow the movement against POSCO, learning lessons from Kalinganagar, successfully grabbed national attention which resulted in the large scale intervention by human right activists and organisations all over. On 1st April, which is the foundation day of Orissa called Utkal Divas in Oriya, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti organised a massive rally against the project which was blocked by the police. A great number of men, women and children broke the barricade and reached Balitutha the venue of the public meeting conducted thereafter. Over 2000 people participated in the rally which was a powerful expression of their determination and will against the proposed project for mining.

We, a group of six women from Delhi coming from different strands of social life sharing the common thought of upholding the politics of resistance against the spate of development without a human face, reached Dhinkia on the eve of Utkal Divas. The driver of the cab by which we managed to reach the place was detained and badly beaten up by the police next day alleging that he transported a group of Maoists who gave arms training to the villagers! We spent a whole night with the villagers and shared the agony and sense of loss in their lives. Next day we walked with hundreds of people who were marching in the rally, shouting slogans against the political project of washing out the indigenous people, marginalising the poor and displacing farmers for the corporate desires of a powerful ruling class.

On the way to Balitutha, the venue of the public meeting, we were interrogated by a journalist who introduced himself as the correspondent of Samaj, one of the leading Oriya newspapers. I revealed my identity as a journalist (an identity which I never tried to hide!) and introduced others. The story which was carried next day in Samaj was similar to the pretext used by police to torture our taxi driver – that a group of women maoist leaders camped in Dhinkia and gave arms training to the villagers! It added that the whole scene of the rally reflected the presence of Maoists who maintain the flavour of militancy in their each and every move! Being a journalist from Kerala, it was of course not an eye opener but a sharp reminder for me on how Maoists are born. Alleging Maoist presence is the easiest way to make cracks in a struggle if it is essentially against the state.

The rally, breaking the barricade, shouting slogans and taking the oath to resist up to the last breath was immensely inspiring. I was deeply disturbed by the imminent catastrophe shadowing over their lives. Hence I talked to many people who were playing a leading role in the struggle as well as those who came from outside in support of the struggle. I got more and more perplexed to see their stake in the issue. None of them really think that the project would materialise in the immediate future. The reasons are many. The hardest obstacle in the way of the project is the recently notified forest rights act. It is not hard to find that the project in its present form is a blatant violation of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest rights Act 2006). It is not amenable to my reason to think that any Government would take a suicidal step to go ahead with the project irrespective of the fierce reaction from the public especially when the general election is approaching. It was said by some ‘highly placed sources’ that the Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik is not even willing to have a face-to-face meet with the POSCO officials. As far as he is concerned, the game is over at least for the time being because the mood for assembly election has already been set. It is alleged that the political leadership, the bureaucracy and even the judiciary are playing harmoniously well to bargain with the multinationals which are fascinated by the immensely rich natural wealth of the state. ‘Nobody is loosing the game’ a CPI leader and PPSS activist remarks, ‘all those who were playing in the field as well as sitting in the gallery have gained maximum monetary benefits’. He adds that, in fact the ruling front is happy to see the struggle gaining momentum, because the more the struggle is strengthened, the more they could bargain with the POSCO people! It is alleged that not only the ruling BJP-BJD front but even the leadership of Congress, which has a rather weak position in the current political scene, could not be absolved for the complicity of being a part of the biggest corruption story in the history of Orissa.

Now the focus and priority have shifted from the bargaining game to the forthcoming assembly election for which they have already started the game of winning hearts. Whatever may be the reason, I am happy that no more police actions will be there in Orissa at least for the time being. The April 1st rally itself was a clear indication of the changing attitude of the Government. The Government has strictly instructed the police not to get provoked even at the worst.

It is quite obvious that POSCO has already spent crores of rupees to grease the palm of the political and bureaucratic bosses. But you are blatantly wrong if you jump into the conclusion that POSCO is the looser in this game. POSCO has already started bargaining with Brazil which categorically denied any chance of selling its mineral wealth for an amount which is lower than the current market rate. POSCO won the game in coercing Brazil to bring down the price. The MoU signed is a powerful weapon for the company by which they could successfully conquer the market.

CPI will be regarded for being with the people in their struggles for survival. Even when bearing the brunt of the UPA rule, the party stands out by making its stake clear in such issues. But is this enough to absolve the party for being an accomplice in the game of using any kind of people’s interests for its own political gains? The answer is a big blatant NO. The ground reality is that all those who have a major role in leading the anti-POSCO struggle know well that the project is not an immediate threat. The NGOs in and out of Orissa also are not exempted from this.

I left Bhubaneswar the day after, leaving the question unanswered. Is it very necessary to keep the innocent poor villagers sleepless, alert even armed as if they have to go into a war at any point of time? They are struggling hard to make both ends meet. Don’t they have the right to sleep peacefully without the scaring boot steps? Will it be ‘politically incorrect’ to advocate for their right to take a breathing space before plunging into bloodier battles?

Environmental Clearance, a farce played by MoEF-The Vedanta Case

Rahul Choudhary

Whether it is the Samata ((1997)8SCC19) case, Kudramukh case or more recently the Vedanta Mining case in Orissa, mining is always in disputes and creates a tremendous conflict of interest. For government and the mining company it is always a lucrative enterprise, but for environmentalist, tribal and other affected by mining, it is a disaster. While the mining company flaunts the benefits, concealing the real impact of its project in order to get the environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), the Ministry itself never seeks to assess the real impact through its so-called expert committees. There are numerous examples where a mining company has tried (rather successfully) to evict members of some indigenous community, projecting the dense forest as rocky and barren land. Even when there are hundreds of indigenous people affected, they are projected as few, and most of them are not even included in the list of Project Affected Persons (PAP).

Vedanta Alumina Limited, a subsidiary of M/s Strerlite Industries (India) Ltd proposed a one million tonne per annum capacity alumina refinery project together with a 75 MW coal based captive power plant. The bauxite for the refinery was to be sourced from the Niyamgiri Hills. Interestingly, the Alumina refinery was granted environmental clearance without linking the project with the Mining.

M/s Sterlite (the parent company of M/s Vedanta) applied for environmental clearance on 19.03. 2003 to the MoEF. In the application, Vedanta stated that no forestland is involved and that within the radius of 10 kms there is no reserve forest. M/s Vedanta thereafter on 16.08.2004 applied for use of 58.943 ha forestland consisting of 28.943 ha village forest and 30 ha reserve forest. However, the application for environmental clearance was not modified and the same was processed on the premise that no forestland is involved.

Further, though Mining at Lanjigarh was integral part of the Alumina refinery project, Vedanta could not have started the work on the Alumina refinery without getting the clearance for mining also. As per the guidelines of the MoEF – “for projects requiring clearance from forest as well as environment angles, separate communications of sanction will be issued, and the project would be deemed to be cleared only after clearance from both angles…”

M/s Vedanta requested the MoEF to grant environmental clearance for the Alumina Refinery Plant stating that it would take three years to construct the refinery plant whereas mines can be opened up in one year. In its application for seeking environmental clearance for the project dated 19.3.2003 it is stated that “nil” forestland is required for the alumina refinery and that within a radius of 10 km of the project site there is no reserve forest, which is contrary to the facts on record. Subsequently, on 16.8.2004 a proposal for allowing the use of 58.943 ha forestland, consisting of 28.943 acre of “Gramya Jungle Jogya” land and 30 ha of reserve forest, was moved under the FC Act through the State Government to the MoEF. Out of the above, 26.123 ha forestland was required for the refinery, 25.82 ha for the mine access road and the balance 7.0 ha was required for the construction of the conveyor belt for the transportation of the mineral from the mine site to the plant.
The MoEF gives environmental clearance for Alumina Refinery Project by delinking it with mining project. In the environmental clearance it is stated that no forestland is involved, even though the application under the Forest Conservation Act was still pending.

As per para 4.4 of the guidelines laid down by the MoEF “Some projects involve use of forest land as well as non-forest land. State Governments / Project Authorities some times start work on non-forest lands in anticipation of the approval of the Central Government for release of the forest lands required for the projects. Though the provisions of the Act may not have technically been violated by starting of work on non-forest lands, expenditure incurred on works on non-forest lands may prove to be infructuous if diversion of forest land involved is not approved. It has, therefore, been decided that if a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should not be started on non-forest land till approval of the Central Government for release of forest land under the Act has been given

But Vedanta started the work on Alumina Refinery in blatant violation of this provision.

Three applications were filed before the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), constituted by the Supreme Court of India against establishment of project and the environmental clearance granted by the MoEF without considering the forest area on 22 Sept 2004 to M/S Vedanta Alumina Ltd. The CEC heard the matter and also conducted a site visit of the proposed refinery plant and mining area. The CEC filed their report on 21 Sept 2005 before the Supreme Court with the recommendation that the apex court may consider revoking the environment clearance dated 22/09/2004 granted by the MoEF for setting up of an Alumina refinery plant by M/S Vedanta and directing them to stop all further work on the project.

The Supreme Court in its order dated 03/02/2006 in I.A.NO 1474 with I.A.No.1324 in writ petition (civil) No.202 of 1995 directed the MoEF, GOI, New Delhi that various studies to assess the impact of the project may be carried out within three months. Accordingly the MoEF placed the application for forest diversion of Lanjigarh Bauxite Mine before the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), constituted under section 3 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The FAC after examining the proposal also suggested for carrying out in depth studies to assess the impact of the project. The MoEF, GOI, New Delhi directed the Central Planning and Designing Institute (CMPDI), Ranchi to carry out the above-mentioned studies.

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) submitted their report dated 14 June 2006 to Forest Advisory Committee and it was examined by them in its meeting held on 30 Aug 2006.The WII was asked to reexamine the report in the light of facts and figures put forward by the State of Orissa. The WII prepared a supplementary report dated 25th Oct 2006. In this report WII put their point of view on wild life, likely adverse impact of mining and identification of alternate source of bauxite among others. The studies related to soil erosion, impact on ground vibration and the studies related to soil erosion, impact on ground vibration on hydrological characteristics, flow of natural water resources/ streams etc were carried out by the Central Planning and Designing Institute (CMPDI), Ranchi as per the request made by the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and after their proposal was accepted by the OMC.

The approach of the Supreme Court is perplexing, as the Central Empowered Committee clearly pointed out the illegality in the clearance granted and once the clearance is granted then post facto impact study is not provided in law.

The Niyamgiri hill is spread over in of area. This hill is also known as Dongaria Kondha country. Dongaria Kondh is one of the primitive and schedule tribes of the state and fully dependent on the Niyamgiri Hill. If one claims to be Dongaria Kondh then he must reside in the Niyam Giri Hill. Niyamgiri Hill is also a source for Vamsadhra River, along with for various other perennial streams. Mining in the Niyamgiri Hill involves a blatant violation of various laws which are there for the protection of Scheduled tribes, like the Orissa Schedule Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (Regulation) 1956, the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes (prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. .

The mining company put up the point that by mining there will be a development of the area, the villagers will get employment etc. But the reality is the villagers who are self-dependent, having land of their own will become marginalized workers in the mines. As most of the villagers are unskilled for industrial or mining work, they will only get job of informal and unskilled labourers dependent on the whims of the company and the contractor. They lose everything to pass over to the next generation except the misery of working in the mine. We all know also who benefited from the mining at Dhanbad and various parts of Rajasthan for several decades.

The Supreme Court is hearing the matter in detail but has not stayed the work on this 4000-Crore-Rupees-project on the ground of large investment involved. Tendentially, the company’s argument before the Court is that, as they have spent a large amount of money, so the project should not be scrapped.

While at the same time, the Courts are quick in granting the removal of jhuggi jhopris (urban poor settlements) in Delhi and other metro cities in the country on the ground of  being unauthorised. However, if the investment of the jhuggi jhopris is considered, then that is in fact an absolute investment by the poor people living there. Moreover, the same courts have allowed construction of big shopping malls and even 5-star religious temples like the Akshardham Temple in East Delhi on the same land from where the authorities removed the Jhuggi jhopries.

With all regards to Indian judiciary, we must admit that in recent years, unlike in the 1960s-70s, it is unwilling to check the reckless pace of corporate industrialisation, which is taking its toll on the environment, tribals and people in the pursuit of profit. On the other hand, the downtrodden majority has no recourse left within the coordinates of the status quo (as fixed in the constitution, interpreted by the judiciary and amended by the legislature), except queuing up for electoral rituals now and then.