Bauxite mines in Andhra Pradesh draw tribals' ire

By Archita Bhatta
Published: Saturday 15 March 2008

Bauxite mines in Andhra Pradesh draw tribals' ire

Tribal residents of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh, are preparing to protest a proposed smelting project that will affect five villages in the district. Despite a formal resolution against mining and smelting projects by the people, the Union environment ministry cleared two such projects in October and December 2007, and a third one is in the offing. The environmental impact assessments for the projects cleared are also a sore point among the Kondadora, Nokodora and Valmiki tribes.

They allege the smelting and mining units will lead to loss of livelihood. "We will lose our land, water and coffee plantations. I have nearly 3 hectares (ha) of coffee plantation and around 1.5 ha of silver oak. There is no way the smelting project can be allowed," says Gemmala Bimala of Beesukuram village. The village is a part of 11 mandals (local administrative bodies above panchayats) that submitted the resolution to the state government.

The Eastern Ghats are a storehouse of bauxite--with 564.33 million tonnes of deposits in Visakhapatnam district alone--and it is not very difficult to identify such areas there. Scarce vegetation among otherwise dense green hills is the most striking feature of a bauxite-rich area. Then there are coffee plantations below bauxite-rich areas and villagers grow rice, pulses and beans below the coffee plantations.

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Killing livelihoods
Rivers' catchments are bauxite-rich areas. They will all go dry
click here to enlarge Map
"The entire coffee plantation is in the bauxite belt. Around 2,025 ha of coffee plantations will be lost if the mines come up and numerous workers in the plantations will lose their jobs," says Uma Maheshwara Rao, a leader of the Girjana Udyogula Sangham, an organization comprising tribals of the 11 mandals.

Water is also a concern. "Bauxite absorbs rainwater, and it is this absorbed rainwater that is the source of numerous streams in the area. We will lose our water and hence our crops, besides bauxite," Rao adds. Rivers such as the Gosthani, Varaha, Tandava and Sarada have their catchments in the bauxite deposits, which will be lost if bauxite mining is allowed, says Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director of Samata, an ngo working on tribal rights in Andhra Pradesh.

Korra Ramammna of Beesukaram village says there is a lesson to be learnt from Orissa (see box The Orissa connection). "I strongly oppose the project. After I learnt of the plight of the people of Orissa, I decided not to allow my son to work there," he said.

Down to Earth "They cannot lure us with promises of jobs and development of villages. People in Orissa have lost their land and water to bauxite mines. They have become beggars. We don't want to reach that stage"
--PettalaRAMu sarpanch of Shankarmettu village
The Jindal factor The smelting project, proposed to come up in Bodwara village in Skota mandal belongs to the Jindal group. Environmentalists point out several irregularities in the environmental impact assessment (eia) of jsw alumina project, the smelting project. Bauxite smelting requires a huge amount of water but the company is not sure of where it will source it from, they say.

At a public hearing in November 2006, Jindal officials had said that the Yeleru canal, around 60 km from the plant site, would be the source of water. But the eia says the water requirement will be met by the Raiwada reservoir, which is around 25 km away, or from any other source with the approval of the state government.

The "source" was changed yet again in another public hearing on June 4, 2007, when people opposed using the reservoir's water for the smelting plant. It was then decided the source will be the Godavari river.

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"Tribals protest at a public hearing at Kiltampalem, Skota mandal, Andhra Pradesh
On July 3, the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (gvmc) passed a resolution refusing to part with 8 million gallons of water per day from the Godavari. So the source of water for the refinery still remains uncertain, says G Srinivas of Samata. "They have not yet got the permission for this water," he adds. The eia also does not make any mention of the 8 million gallons of water per day.

Ramesh Chandra Swain, project head, jsw Aluminum Ltd, says gvmc chairman allotted water to the company in May. " gvmc's July resolution doesn't hold credibility because the chairman said in August that he had the right to allot water," Swain said.

Down To Earth's repeated attempts to get an official version yielded little results. P B Rastogi, additional director in charge of mine smelting projects, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, said it would not be possible for him reply to the queries about the projects. "So many projects are cleared in a day. It is impossible for me to find out files and reply to your queries. If you find out the file for me I will reply to your queries," he told Down To Earth.

ngos have criticized the clearances. "They take 15-30 minutes to go through projects and clear them. It is better to do away with clearances," says R Sreedhar of Environics Trust, Delhi.

Ready to kill People are not sure what to do to stop the projects. "We know that the projects are not good for us. But we have no idea how to oppose them," says Korra Aruna Jyothy, president of the Araku mandal parishad. While some routinely stop land surveys, there are others who threaten violence.

"We will take up arms to prevent industrialists from mining bauxite in our area. We might pick up our traditional bows and arrows for the purpose," says Killu Surendra, district president of Andhra Pradesh Girijana Sangam Parishad, a local political party.

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