Battling bauxite

Three persons were killed while protesting against mining operations in the tribal areas of Orissa

Published: Monday 15 January 2001

the ongoing protest against bauxite mining in Orissa's Rayagada district took a violent turn on December 16, 2000, when three protesters were killed in a police firing. The police resorted to firing when a clash occurred between the protesters and supporters of the bauxite mining.

In Rayagada -- the home to the primitive Paroja-Kondha tribe and also the reservoir of two billion tonnes of bauxite -- local residents have been protesting against mining in the region. They contend that mining would eventually dry up around 700 streams and chew up the forests, the lifeline of the district's 85 per cent tribal people. Being a Fifth Schedule area, the tribal people argue that they have the constitutional right to decide on 'development' of the area.

The district already has aluminium plants. After privatisation of mines in 1991, the Union government allowed half-a-dozen private mining companies to extract 500 million tonnes of bauxite every year. This would result in setting up of at least four big aluminium plants. Earlier, the state pollution control board had warned against further industrialisation, citing potential damage to the fragile ecology of the region.

The recent clash was provoked by an all-party meeting called by Bhaskar Rao, a leader of the ruling Biju Janata Dal, to campaign for the companies. Rao reportedly called the meeting despite a police warning. To counter Rao's meeting, a 1,000-strong group of protesting villagers took out a procession. Eventually, there was a clash and police opened fire killing three and injuring 50.

The killing has triggered a sharp reaction as it coincides with a Union government proposal to amend the Indian Constitution's Fifth Schedule to facilitate mining and land acquisition in tribal areas ( Read: Scheduled abuse, Down To Earth , December 31, 2000). The Supreme Court had earlier declared all mining and industrial activities illegal in Scheduled areas.

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