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A double disgrace that shames all India

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Published Date: 11-08-2008
Type: Report
Source: London Calling
Source Date: 10-08-2008
Last Friday, India’s highest judicial authority delivered a double whammy to hundreds of thousands of tribal people, poor farmers, human rights campaigners, environmentalists – and those who value the law.
The so-called “Green” bench of the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead not only to Vedanta Resources’s bauxite mine plan on Orissa’s Nyamgiri Hills; it also waved through South Korean steel-maker Posco’s own massive project in the same state.
The announcements were hardly surprising, though they still had the power to shock. It seemed as if the court were determined to display its pro-industry credentials on both sleeves – perhaps (even more cynically), to divide the opposition by throwing it two challenges at once.And challenges there will be, though legal recourses now seem heavily circumscribed.
We have only to recall the huge resistance generated over the last three years to attempts at siting  unacceptable industrial plants in the heart of indigenous and rural communities –  at Kalinganagar, Nandigram and  Singur.In giving its green light for Nyamgiri the court made no pretence (as it did last November) of  endorsing an Indian, rather than British firm. Then, it condemned Vedanta’s record, citing the Norwegian Pension fund’s disinvestment from theLondon-listed company, while inviting its subsidiary, Sterlite to submit a Special Purposes Vehicle (SPV) to mine the hills.
From the precious little that has been announced so far, it seems that Vedanta would pay only 1% of  the London Metal Exchange price for aluminium trades in order to access the Nyamgiri bauxite. The argument is that it’s impossible to price bauxite in the market – which is not the case. Even adjusted for costs of power, infrastructure, and other inputs, this proportion would represent  around US$25 per tonne on recent spot prices.  Yet China – India’s main customer for its exported bauxite – has been paying around $130 per tonne. Such an arrangement would  appear to represent  a palpable give-away to the UK company.
Whatever the fine points of the eventual SPV, the court has insisted that mining should benefit local people and demonstrate good environmental management. Given Vedanta’s appalling record in this regard – both at its bauxite operations in Chhattisgarh and the Lanjigarh alumina refinery nestling beneath Nyamigiri – it doubtless still has many obstacles ahead.
One of the key struggles for the company will be to present its credentials as a bona fide partner to the Dongaria Kondh, custodians of Nyamgiri and upholders of the mountain’s own law (Niyam Raja).
Several newspaper reports, in the UK and India, have cited Vedanta’s executive chairman, Anil Agarwal, as recognising the rights of the Dongaria Kondh to withhold permission from the project.  This is based on a statement allegedly made by Agarwal at the company’s London AGM on July 31st.  However, scrutiny of notes taken at the meeting show that Agarwal gave no such promise – referring instead to necessity for permission to be granted by the supreme court and the central government. Already subtle and not-so-subtle pressures, intimidation, and bribes, have been applied to Kondhs on the plains around its Lanjigarh refinery, seeking their  acquiescence  to the company’s ravages. It’s a savage irony that those living in the hills might actually be better off, if they’re now spared further such aggression, to gain their pretended “consent” to a project which numerous observers  confirm they manifestly reject. Demonstration of this rejection will not be found in surveys, yet more interviews, or pretences at public enquiry.The true  battle for the hills has only just commenced.
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Written by janjagriti

August 11, 2008 at 5:22 pm

Posted in News

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