Vedanta's false job promises anger local youth

By Maureen Nandini Mitra
Published: Saturday 15 March 2008

manoranjan Das bsc, llb, mca thought his degrees would get him a job at the Vedanta Alumina refinery in Orissa's Lanjigarh block. He had more reasons; one acre of his family land is now part of the refinery's ash pond. "I sent my resume several times but they didn't reply," says Das who is unemployed.

Fed up with the "false promises of development and jobs", hundreds of local youth disrupted work at the refinery for four days starting February 12. Blocking all gates to the complex, they refused to let in any truck. The protesters demanded the company should give permanent jobs to those who had lost land to the refinery, or a compensation of Rs 5 lakh--20 years' salary at the rate of Rs 10,500 per month--plus the company's shares worth Rs 10 lakh per family. Vedanta rejected the demand, terming it illegal. The agitators lifted the blockade on February 16 after the district magistrate promised talks with the district revenue commissioner.

The youth were once staunch supporters of the company which acquired land in 12 villages in Lanjigarh. They say the company and the district administration had promised jobs to members of the displaced families and land-losers. For this they had even fought other villagers who, fearing displacement and loss of livelihood, opposed the plant. "Vedanta showed us big dreams; said they would make our villages golden. But nothing has happened," says Niranjan Nag of Kenduguda village.

The refinery, part of a mining complex that includes a proposed 3 million tonne-per-annum bauxite mine atop the adjacent Niyamgiri hills, began trial operations in March 2007, violating environmental laws. Tribal communities who hold the hill sacred also opposed the company. The legality and feasibility of the mining component of the complex is still being contested in the supreme court.

The give up game The plant displaced 102 families from their home. Another 1,220 'project affected' families lost either all, or parts, of their farmland. Of these, 661 have accepted the one-time cash compensation of Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000 as a settlement in lieu of jobs, as per a 2003 resettlement and rehabilitation policy drawn up specifically for the project. But most of them are unhappy with the deal. The policy also stipulates that at least one member of each displaced and project-affected family be given "preference" for jobs "either in the industry or in its ancillary units," with the displaced families getting priority.

Officials at the refinery say the company and its sub-contractors have hired about 400 local residents as unskilled labourers, of which some 76 are from the displaced families. But the protesters say the company has not given a permanent technical-level job to any person from a project-affected family; not even to those like Das or any of the 110 youth who will soon complete Vedanta-sponsored industrial training institute (iti) courses. "They are saying that they didn't promise any jobs after training and that they trained us so that we could get other jobs elsewhere and learn to be self-reliant," says Surya Kumar Bohidar, one of the trainees.

District magistrate P C Patnaik says the administration never promised job security, at least not in writing. "Why should the company hire people it doesn't need? Everyone does business for profit," he says.

Vedanta officials say the mostly mechanized plant needs highly skilled workers whereas the majority of the local youth have not even cleared high school. "They are almost zero. Even with the iti training, it will take several years of further training to make them employable," says Vikas Das, the plant's assistant general manager for human resources, adding, "They are not interested in hard work. They want to sit at home and make money."

Activists opposing the alumina complex are supporting the protesters. "These boys come across reports on projects such as Posco and are finally realizing they have been duped," says Siddharth Naik of Kalahandi Sachetan Nagrik Mancha, one of the three local outfits fighting the project.

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