Spotlight Orissa

Published: Sunday 31 August 2008

Two controversial projects in state cleared in a day. People vow to continue with the struggle

on august 8, severe rains lashed tribal villages in Niyamgiri hill in Orissa. Far away in Delhi the tribals' last hopes of getting reprieve from a project that will take away their land were dashed as the Supreme Court cleared the decks for the controversial Vedanta project. Also cleared was another controversial project, Posco, in the same state. The verdicts are a huge blow to communities protesting against the projects.

A three-judge bench headed by chief justice K G Balakrishnan allowed Vedanta's Indian subsidiary, Sterlite Industries, to divert forest land for mining bauxite to feed its already existing refinery. In case of posco also diversion of more than 1200 hectares of forest land has been allowed for construction of a steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district. (See - News - Heavy metal).

In the last hearing held on July 25 the apex court had reserved its judgement on the Sterlite's bauxite mining project. Strangely, during the entire course of the hearing the only issues that were argued upon were the nitty gritty of carrying out the mining operations and the financial details. Whether to allow mining or not, which has been the core issue, was not discussed in the court at all. Neither were the environmental and social implications of the mining activity. Environmental impacts of the mining operation and the inimical effects of the project on the resident Dongria Kondh tribals have been at the centre of the debate ever since the case came up for hearing in the Supreme Court.

The Central Empowered Committee, had in its final report filed in the court, concluded that "allowing mining would be a sacrilege". It had said that it was virtually impossible to mitigate the impacts of mining on the ecology and wildlife in the area and that the tribals worship the forests and have staunchly protected them. None of these issues came up during the final arguments. The arguments focussed around the amount and way for compensation and who will undertake mining.

Protestors in both the places now say, no matter what, they will continue with their struggle. And if one is to go by the recent claims made by the chairperson of Vedanta, Anil Agarwal, mining operation would in no way begin. Recently Agarwal told his shareholders that mining would only commence with full consent of the resident tribals. The Dongrias are in no mood to relent. "Over our dead bodies," a Dongri Kondh leader told the journalists gathered outside the court just after the hearing. Are we ready to pay that price?

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