Skip to main content

Warning bells for India: Tribal exploitation by powerful corporate interests may turn into international issue

By Ashok Shrimali*
Warning bells are ringing for India. Even as news drops in from Odisha that Adivasi villages, one after another, are rejecting the top UK-based MNC Vedanta's plea for mining, a recent move by two senior scholars Felix Padel and Samarendra Das suggests the way tribals are being exploited in India by powerful international and national business interests may become an international issue. In fact, one has only to count days when things may be taken up at the United Nations level, with India being pushed to the corner. Padel, it may be recalled, is a major British authority on indigenous peoples across the world, with several scholarly books to his credit. 
Recently the two scholars, known for their studies on Adivasi areas of India, presented a paper at a conference organised by Paris-based SOGIP project, (acronym for "Scales of governance, the United Nations, governments and Aboriginal peoples to self-determination at the time of globalization"), a lobbying group at the UN for those fighting for tribals' interests. The paper, widely acclaimed by those present, underlined, "As investment in mining and metal production rises rapidly from the world’s financial centres, the takeovers of indigenous people’s land and resources escalate, in India as in other ‘developing countries’, with all the familiar signs of the resource curse,including severe repression and manipulated civil war."
Already, Vedanta mining move is meeting with stiff protests in Delhi, Niyamgiri in Orissa and in Goa. The plan is to take the protests to London. According to NGO sources, the international solidarity group Foil Vedanta will lead a major annual demonstration in London, storming the All General-Body Meeting (AGM) of Vedanta Resources to be held on 1st August'13. All this is happening with five gram sabhas in Odisha in the villages of Serkapadhi, Kesarpadhi, Tadijhola, Kunakadu and Palberi the five villagers have expressed a thundering no to the proposed mining activity by Vedanta.
Taking Vedanta's plan as a case in point, the paper, titled "Can Adivasis stop the race to the bottom?" says, "In India, as in other countries rich in mineral resources, indigenous communities are facing a multi-dimensional invasion of their lands by mining companies and the ‘mafia’ elements that invariably seem toform part of mining and metal producing operations. Many of the areas where Adivasis live are rich in minerals, so as mining-based projects proliferate, boosted by foreign investment seeking profits from India’s resources, their impact on Adivasis has become enormous."
Pointing out that the land rights of tribal people are guaranteed by the 5th and 6th Schedules of India’s Constitution, the scholars say, "This is complicated by this ambiguity as to which groups of people are classified as Scheduled Tribes, the non-inclusion of a large proportion of tribal villages under the specified Scheduled Areas, and the loophole that allows the sale of tribal lands for projects deemed ‘in the national interest’or for ‘public purpose’. This loophole has caused the displacement of perhaps 20 million tribal people - a quarter of India’s Scheduled Tribe population - within the last 60 years."
Accusing such top mining companies such as Tata, Jindal, Posco, Mittal and Vedanta for forcing through projects in tribal areas through the deployment of massed police –often hundreds at a time - who frequently express strong anti-Adivasi prejudice, the scholars believe this has led to "many atrocities recorded by human rights groups – atrocities which are alienating Adivasis from mainstream authorities with unprecedented force."
They underline, "Many Adivasis have joined the Maoists, and hundreds – probably thousands – of Adivasis have been tortured and killed by security forces and falsely charged or imprisoned as Maoists when they are not. India’s present Tribal Affairs Minister, Kishore Chandra Deo, has been outspoken about these atrocity tactics as well as the forcing through of mining projects without the consent of tribal communities."
Commenting on this connection and the massacre by security forces of 17 innocent Adivasis (including children) at the village of Ehadsameta in Bijapur district, Chhattisgrah, on May 17, 2013, the minister had said: ‘It’s no excuse to say that they were being used as human shields and hence they massacred them. Why were they being used as human shields? You have to go into the causes for that. Once you understand that then you can get to the root of the problem… If mining clearances are given without the consent of tribals then you will only be antagonizing them."
The scholars comment, "The Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA) has begun to settle longstanding claims of Adivasis to forest lands, but neither this nor PESA – the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 – have been properly implemented. Complaining of this, Kishore Chandra Deo has been outspoken about the complete lack of consultation with his Tribal Ministry over clearances for mining projects in tribal areas, and the vested interests that are fuelling the bloody war against the Maoists in these areas."
In fact, the scholars find a pattern of repression and resistance evident in projects promoting India’s aluminium industry as much as its steel industry, as in new bauxite mines in the Eastern Ghats of south Odisha and northeast Andhra Pradesh. "One of these planned bauxite mines, in the Niyamgiri range of Odisha, promoted by the London-based Vedanta group of companies, has come into prominent international view, due to strong opposition to mining by Niyamgiri’s indigenous inhabitants, the Dongria Konds", the scholars say.
"After complex legal wrangles from 2003, the Ministry of Environment and Forests refused clearance to Vedanta’s mining plans in August 2011,on the basis of illegal felling of trees by the company, misleading de-linking between its Lanjigarh refinery and planned bauxite mine,and failure to consult the Dongria. An appeal against this decision at India’s Supreme Court by the Orissa Mining Corporation ended in a landmark judgement on April 18, 2013 that called for the Dongria to decide whether they want mines in Niyamgiri through a number of gramsabhas", the scholars emphasise.
"The case hinges on traditional rights applications under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), and restricts the question to one of religion andthe cultural and land rights of tribal people over a mountain they regard as sacred. Proper implementation remains in question as we write, following serious police repression that has been reported pressurizing Dongria villagers to give their ‘consent’ for Vedanta’s mine. This has involved anti-Maoist ‘combing operations’ by the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), in which shots have even been fired at children bathing in a waterfall", the scholars recall.
The scholars quote the minister as saying that the main threat today is the mining in Schedule V areas which has shaken "the confidence and faith of the people in the region in our democratic system. In many cases powerful lobbies are trying to encourage mining themselves in flagrant violation of constitutionalprovisions and safeguards guaranteed by our founding fathers and alsoin utter contempt of land transfer regulations which have been enacted by various State Governments and without any regard to other prevailing laws of the land."
---
Senior Gujarat-based activist

Comments

TRENDING

Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was a 'frustrated' reformer who turned into a conservative

By Bhaskar Sur "If someone says the Manusamhita was written by all wise Manu and the principal scripture of the land and if he asks me to throw it away, I'll say it is nothing short of atrocious audacity." -- Iswarchandra Vidyasagar

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

2002 riots: Gujarat assembly 'misinformed' about dereliction of duty, says ex-DGP

By Rajiv Shah  Former Gujarat topcop RB Sreekumar, an IPS officer of the 1971 batch, has alleged that the Gujarat government gave “totally false information” on the floor of the State Assembly regarding the appeal he made to the Gujarat governor for the “initiation of departmental action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of public order and investigation of genocidal crimes” during the 2002 riots.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Odisha bauxite mining project to 'devastate' life of 2,500 Adivasi, Dalit farmers: NAPM

Counterview Desk  While the public hearing on mining in Mali hills has been cancelled due to protests by Adivasi and Dalit farmers of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, Odisha, who have been protesting against the proposed bauxite mining project, India’s top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said it is “deeply concerned” at the decision of the Government of Odisha to push the project in a Schedule-V Adivasi-belt Koraput district against the interests of the people and environment.

Economy in tatters, labour codes 'take away' workers' safety, benefits, right to form TU

By Our Representative  The four new labour codes promulgated by the Government of India came in for sharp criticism from several labour unions and civil rights groups at one-day discussion meeting organised in Ranchi (Jharkhand) on the issue of ‘changes in labour laws. Participants in the meeting asserted that under these new codes, many of the benefits and safeties accorded to labourers have been "taken away", while the right of labourers to create trade unions has been attacked.

'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk  A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

Politically-motivated: Global NGO network on ED 'harassment' of Harsh Mander

Counterview Desk  CIVICUS , a top global alliance of civil society organisations seeking to strengthen citizen action and civil society around the world with a claimed membership of more than 10,000, objecting to the alleged harassment of IAS bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander by the Government in India, has said that the the the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raid on his house and office highlights “an ongoing pattern of baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges brought by the authorities against activists across India”.