Victory for the people’s struggle in Niyamgiri

On August 24, 2010 the Minister of Environment and Forests, Shri Jairam Ramesh rejected the forest clearance for the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and Sterlite bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri hills in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Orissa.

On August 24, 2010 the Minister of Environment and Forests, Shri Jairam Ramesh rejected the forest clearance for the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and Sterlite bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri hills in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Orissa. According to a statement issued by the Ministry, this decision was taken on the basis of the report submitted to the MoE&F by the four-member N.C. Saxena Committee (appointed by the MoE&F), which found the project to be in violation of various legislations, especially the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006. The observations of the Committee suggest active collusion between the Vedanta mining company and state government officials. Further, the report of the Committee states that an approval to Vedanta Alumina's bauxite mining project will have serious consequences for the tribals in Niyamgiri hills.

For several years, the tribal people of the Niyamgiri Project site have been agitating against the bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri Hills. These hills are in an area of rich biodiversity. They are the home of two tribes, the Kutia and the Dongaria Kondh, who number under 10,000 people. The tribal people hold the hills as sacred, and are willing to defend them from destruction with their lives. These hills are the source of a number of perennial rivers which provide drinking water and irrigation to people in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The presence of bauxite in these hills ensures that rain water is preserved and this is the source of the perennial rivers and streams.

The entire development of the project of Vedanta reveals how this Aluminum monopoly (which bought BALCO from the government in 2000), assisted by the state and Central governments, and the judiciary has completely trampled on the rights of the people, attacked the fighting people with state forces as well as private armies, and turned them into refugees in their own lands, deprived of whatever means of livelihood they had traditionally. However, the people have resisted with determination, the mighty forces of the state, and they have organised numerous blockades and protests, preventing the mining project from coming up.

Vedanta had two projects — an aluminum refining project, and a bauxite mining project, both in the same area, and the two are obviously connected with each other. It got the refining project cleared, even though a portion of the land was forest land, by forcibly acquiring the land from the people, and set up the refinery. Obviously, this was done with the full connivance of the state and central governments, and the Supreme Court. It is known that in an integrated project like the Vedanta mining and refining project, clearance has to be obtained for the integrated project, not for a portion of it. The work of building the refinery was begun well before the government gave official clearance to it, indicating that the Company was fully confident that the authorities will turn a blind eye and connive with it.

The history of the struggle of the people of the area against the mining project and refinery shows the callousness of all the arms of the state. The Supreme Court set up a committee in 2004 to look into the environmental and other impacts of the mining project. The committee reported that the Company had violated several laws and there would be grave environmental impact. Overruling its own Committee's report, the Supreme Court gave the go ahead for the refinery and the mining project.

Since 2004, the tribal people have blocked the project and refused all offers of compensation. Their struggle has won the support of democratic minded people all across the country. Since then, the Forest Rights Act has also been passed, which formally gives ownership rights to forest dwellers. Most of the mining project is in a classified forest area. By 2009, the Environment Ministry had given clearance to the mining project in the teeth of public opposition. However, as a result of the intense struggle of the people, the Environment Ministry set up the Saxena Committee to go into the project once again. The present decision of the Environment Ministry is based on the Saxena Committee Report.

The people cannot afford to be complacent and lower their guard. Every effort will be made by the Vedanta Group to get the project through, on this or that pretext. Both the Central Government and the Orissa Government, represent the interests of the corporate houses. Violence as well as demagogy are both preferred methods used by the rulers to defend the interests of the capitalist class and safeguard their rule. Given this, it is important to understand that the decision against Vedanta could well be the outcome of contradictions between the Congress and the BJD ruling in Orissa, and at this time, this has worked in the interests of the people. However they are both united against the people and defend the interests of the corporate houses. Therefore, the times call for stepped up struggle.

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