Giving in

Orissa's tribals put Canadian company on the back foot

Published: Monday 31 May 2004

under sustained public pressure, Canadian company alcan has finally agreed to release documents pertaining to the likely environmental impact of its controversial bauxite mining project as well as its proposed aluminium plant in Kashipur village of Orissa's Rayagada district. The entity's decision constitutes a major victory for the tribal people of the district, who have been opposing the Utkal Alumina International Limited (uail) project for the past decade. alcan is a partner in the joint venture, which has the Aditya Birla Group as its majority stakeholder.

On April 22 alcan's shareholders insisted during its annual general meeting in Montreal, Canada, that the company come clean. They demanded that not only should it submit the relevant documents, it should also withdraw from the project. The local people of Rayagada allege that the project will cause large-scale environmental degradation and displacement.

According to Michael Hanley, alcan's chief executive (bauxite and aluminium): "(The company) has still not decided whether to further develop this long-stalled project." Abhimanyu Sud, coordinator of 'alcan't In India', an umbrella group of concerned citizens, says: "While we are glad about the development, alcan's indecision is unacceptable as the livelihoods of many local people remain in limbo."

Meanwhile, Orissa government officials reveal that work on the project has begun. D Bhattacharya, director, Aditya Birla Group, says: "Aluminium is our core business and we are committed to the Utkal project."

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