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Archive for the ‘ORISSA’ Category

Orissa collector kidnap case: Maoist prisoner Srimalu gets bail

Posted by ajadhind on February 22, 2011

source – toi

NEW DELHI: Maoist prisoner Srivinas Srimalu was released from Malkangiri jail on Tuesday. Maoists were demanding Srimalu’s release in exchange for Orissa district collector R V Krishna.

Srimalu had filed a bail application in the district fast track court on February 19. Srimalu was among the seven prisoners the Maoists want released in return for the district collector and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi.

Additional District Judge of the Fast Track Court P K Karna granted bail to Srinivasulu in a case involving criminal conspiracy and sedition charges on a bond of Rs 25,000 and surety of equal amount.

Sriramulu had been lodged in Malkangiri jail since 2007. In the last four years, he had been tried in six cases. All the cases resulted in his acquittal.

“After six successive acquittals, in September 2009, he was implicated in a case dating back to July 2007. The FIR of the incident did not name him. It simply said unnamed Maoists. Our contention is that he has been falsely implicated in this case, and so we are seeking bail,” said Ram Patnaik, Sriramulu’s lawyer.

Meanwhile, Maoist-chosen mediators held discussions with hardcore Naxal leader Ganti Prasadam on the release of the abducted Malkangiri district collector and an engineer and said they were hopeful of resolution of the six-day crisis “very soon, may be today”.

District collector R V Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Manjhi were taken hostage by Maoists while they were inspecting development schemes in Jantapai village last week.

The bail plea of Maoist leader Ganti Prasadam, facing charges in about 100 cases in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, Padma, wife of a senior Maoist leader, and three others would be taken up in the Orissa high court tomorrow.

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Orissa may facilitate release of Maoist leaders

Posted by ajadhind on February 20, 2011

source – sify
Bhubaneshwar: The Orissa government may give in to the Maoists demand of release of their jailed leaders in exchange for abducted Malkangiri collector and an engineer, sources said Sunday.
Sources said the government has also begun process of evaluating charges against some of the rebels lodged in various jails. To facilitate the negotiation process, the government may ask its lawyers not to object bail petitions moved by their lawyers.
R. Vineel Krishna, the district collector of Malkangiri, was abducted along with junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi by Maoists Wednesday evening.
The state government Friday requested two human rights activists and academics G. Haragopal and R. Someswar Rao to mediate after Maoists suggested their names.
Although officials declined to make any comments, sources said efforts are also on for the release of Maoist ideologue Ganti Prasadam after one of the mediators said his release will speed up the process of dialogue.
‘I appeal to the government of Orissa to release Ganti Prasadam,’ Hargopal said in an interview from Delhi to a local television channel Saturday.
‘Most of the cases against him are in Andhra Pradesh and the high court has already granted him bail,’ he said.
‘Once he is out, perhaps I and R.S. Rao (the other mediator) will try to intervene in the situation. Prasadam can speak on behalf of the party (Communist Party of India-Maoist). Perhaps we can find some solution,’ he said.
According to sources, the state police secured a prison transfer warrant from a court and already have brought Prasadam from a jail in Andhra Pradesh Saturday night.
‘He is now in Koraput jail,’ senior state police official told IANS confirming the development.
Prasadam’s lawyer moved a petition in a local court Saturday seeking grant of bail which was rejected. His lawyer may move the bail petition again Monday, he said.
The rebels have also sought release of their colleagues languishing in different jails in the state. At least seven of them are hard core Maoists, he said.

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Condemn the indiscriminate killings and fake encounters by the police and paramilitary forces in Odisha !

Posted by ajadhind on January 27, 2011

Press Release January 12, 2011 Condemn the indiscriminate killings and fake encounters by the police and paramilitary forces in Odisha ! People would surely defeat the conspiracy of Naveen Patnaik to hand over the natural resources of Odisha to the Corporations by decimating the Maoist revolutionary movement ! As part of the massive offensive Operation Green Hunt being conducted in coordination by the central and state governments with the avowed aim of decimating the Maoist revolutionary movement completely, the special police and paramilitary forces have resorted to indiscriminate killings in the past two months in Odisha and have taken nearly 25 lives in cold-blood in various incidents. Of these most of them were fake encounters while others were incidents where hundreds of police and paramilitary were deployed with specific information about the whereabouts of the guerillas and fired indiscriminately on the guerillas and the people with them. Recently on January 12, 2011, in an `encounter’ in a forest area in Keonjhar district two Maoists had died and on January 9, 2011 in an alleged encounter in Bandhkamali mountains which fall under the Niyamgiri area of Rayagadha district, nine comrades were martyred. Ravi, one of the martyred comrades, is an important leader who has been working among the oppressed people of Odisha for the past few years. He hails from East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh. Just one week back, on January 2, 2011 in the encounter which was said to have taken place in the Rayaghati forests under Kalinganagar area in Jajpur district, five Maoists including three women comrades were martyred. One among these martyrs was an Area Committee member of the Kalinganagar area. They were in preparation for some mass activities on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the massacre of Adivasis on January 2 when this incident occurred. On 29 December, 2010, in an alleged encounter in Talpada forest area of Keonjhar district one woman comrade was martyred. Before this in the fourth week of December the police announced that three Maoists had died in an encounter at Adaba forest area in Gajapati district. In the beginning of January, in another alleged encounter in Bargarh district two persons had died but the people had declared that they were ordinary people and that the police had killed them in cold-blood. Some days before this there were news items in the media that even the encounter in Gajapati district was also a fake one and that ordinary people had died in this. Though huge scale protests were staged by people and democrats on these fake encounters, the Naveen government is not caring a damn and is resorting to murders of ordinary people and revolutionaries unscrupulously. Odisha is a state abundantly rich in mineral, water and forest resources but it has become the abode of dire poverty and hunger deaths. Odisha is in the first place in iron reserves and it has many other valuable mineral resources. But all this wealth is filling the coffers of the wealthy while the conditions of the poor people are deteriorating. In the past 63 years of so-called independence, the oppressed people of Odisha, particularly the adivasis are getting crushed under the feudal and imperialist exploitation. The Odisha government led by the Mining Mafia Boss Naveen Patnaik has turned Odisha into the paradise of the mining corporations by signing innumerable MoUs with them. More than 49 MoUs regarding steel plants, more than 20 MoUs regarding thermal power plants, some MoUs for alumina refinery projects and a harbor were signed. The MoU worth 55,000 crores of rupees signed with the MNC Posco belonging to South Korea is the biggest foreign direct investment in India. The Odisha government had shamelessly violated its own laws while granting permissions to Tata in Kalinganagar and Vedanta in Niyamgiri apart from Posco. All these MoUs lead to untold miseries for the Odisha people. These would lead to destruction of the forests, lands, water, ecology and all aspects of their lives. This could be one of the biggest man-made disasters in the world. That is why the people of Odisha are fighting against this atrocity and exploitation. In the recent past, Odisha people agitated and are still agitating against the exploitation and atrocities of the MNCs and big comprador bourgeoisie companies like Tata, Vedanta, Posco etc. and also against the feudal exploitation in the Narayanapatna area of Koraput district. Government used brutal force against these struggles and killed many people. On January 2, 2006, the police fired on the adivasis who refused to hand over their cultivable lands to the Tata Steel company in Kalinganagar and killed at least fourteen of them. In many other instances, people had become injured or have lost their lives in police firings. People launched agitations against bauxite mines of Vedanta company in Niyamgiri area and against Vedanta Alumina refinery in Lanjigarh. Caving in before the people’s agitations, the Central government had cancelled permission to Vedanta with the reason that it had violated rules and regulations. But the people are still continuing their agitation as they feel that as long as the Vedanta refinery exists in Lanjigarh it is detrimental to their very existence and that it would adversely affect their lands and ecology. People of Odisha are fighting against such issues in many places. The Maoist party is leading these agitations in many places and supporting them in others. More important is the fact that people are welcoming the leadership of Maoists and are aspiring for it. The Odisha people have realized that there is no political party other than the Maoist party which could put an end to feudal and imperialist exploitation. The Maoist movement is expanding to many new areas. The Naveen Patnaik government with the full support of the UPA government at the centre is resorting to these massacres precisely because the Maoists constitute the main hurdle to their blanket loot of resources. Particularly, it is obvious to one and all that the callous murder of nine revolutionaries in Niyamgiri area has happened with the aim of facilitating the wholesale loot of Vedanta and under its aegis. Similarly it is also very clear that the fascist massacres resorted to by the government in the Kalinganagar area (in Jajpur and Keonjhar districts) is to facilitate the exploitation of corporations like that of Tata and others waiting in the wings to occupy this whole area. Naveen Patnaik who is gobbling billions of rupees as the stooge of the corporations and his administrative machinery are being threatened seriously by the existence of the Maoist movement. That is why they are resorting to fascist onslaught on the people and the guerilla squads spending billions of rupees on increasing police, commando forces (SOG), SPO and informer network on a huge scale. History has proven many a times that it is impossible to suppress the people’s movements with murders, offensives and suppression campaigns. The comprador Naveen Patnaik, Vedanta ex-director and the CEO of the present Operation Green Hunt Chidambaram, other ruling class oligarchs and their imperialist masters are dreaming that they would be able to put aside all the hurdles in the path of exploitation of the feudal classes and the corporations by crushing the Maoist revolutionary movement. The people are bound to come to the fore more militantly to intensify their struggles. Though the spate of encounters in the past few days indicate the intensity of the offensive on the Maoists this should be seen as part of the overall offensive on all the people’s movements fighting against their loot. We can stop these massacres only by taking up arms and fighting in a united manner against the anti-people, pro-imperialist policies followed by the blood-thirsty Naveen government and against corporate exploitation. The Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) is appealing to all the people of our country and democrats to condemn in severe terms these atrocious massacres and fake encounters. We are appealing to the people to demand independent judicial inquiry into all these incidents of firings and to demand punishment for all the police officials involved in them. We are appealing to all that they should realize that these offensives are not carried on exclusively on the Maoist movement and that they are aimed at all those who are raising their voice or fighting against this corporate loot. Our Central Committee is calling upon all the democratic, progressive and patriotic forces to unite and fight against the corporate exploitation and against the massacres perpetrated by the central and state governments and against the Operation Green Hunt carried on for the incessant loot of our resources. (Abhay) Spokesperson, Central Committee, CPI (Maoist)

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Landmark fiat

Posted by ajadhind on September 9, 2010

V. VENKATESAN
in New Delhi

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests reverses its approach and refuses clearance to the Vedanta mining project.

R.V. MOORTHY

Jairam Ramesh at a press conference in New Delhi on August 24.

ON August 24, Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, uploaded on the Ministry’s website the text of his detailed decision rejecting the application from Vedanta Resources for forest clearance to start bauxite mining in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills. The decision is a rare instance of how the executive can use its powers to correct a perceived injustice resulting from its own earlier decision and directions of the Supreme Court. Jairam Ramesh’s decision reversed the Ministry’s first-stage forest clearance granted to the Orissa government in December 2008 and made inoperative the Supreme Court’s August 8, 2008, clearance to Vedanta’s Indian affiliate, Sterlite, to divert forests for bauxite mining.

The crux of the controversy is the Centre’s powers to stop diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. Ever since the subject of forests was transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List under the Constitution in 1976, the Centre’s powers to act directly in managing the country’s forests have been recognised. The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 conveyed Parliament’s intention to arrest the rapid decline in forest cover which had, until then, averaged one million hectares a year. The Act prevented the cutting of trees in forests without the Central government’s approval. However, interpretation of the Act’s provisions gave rise to legal problems. The meaning of the word ‘forest’ used in the Act was contested, and the need for prior approval of the Central government in all activities in the forest area was questioned before the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court resolved this issue of definition easily in terms of the dictionary meaning of ‘forest’, the cases before it presented an opportunity for it to assume a much more active role than it had been assigned originally. Thus, the Supreme Court began to issue, from December 1996, sweeping directives to oversee the enforcement of forest laws across the country. It aimed to regulate the felling and use of trees and the movement of timber in all States to promote sustainable use of forests. It sought to do this through a Special Bench and a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to examine the technical issues, whose advice has not always been binding on the Bench.

Jairam Ramesh’s decision is significant because for the first time since the Supreme Court began playing an activist role in forest matters the Central government has asserted its powers and felt bold enough to render a Supreme Court decision irrelevant. In this the Minister was helped by legal opinion, tendered by Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati, that the Supreme Court’s direction is not binding on the government if it rejects an application for forest clearance.

How it all started

On February 28, 2005, the Orissa government forwarded a proposal to the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests (MoEF) for the diversion of 660.749 hectares of forest land for mining bauxite in favour of the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in the MoEF recommended “in principle” approval on October 27, 2007, stipulating certain conditions such as concurrent reclamation, minimum tree felling in a phased manner and modified wildlife management plan. Although the August 24 decision does not elaborate, it is relevant to know how the FAC arrived at the decision to recommend “in principle” approval.

In September 2005, the CEC recommended to the Supreme Court that mining should not be permitted on the Niyamgiri hill. The CEC report was a scathing indictment of the project and questioned the integrity of the authorities involved. It also recommended that the environmental clearance granted by the MoEF for the alumina refinery plant on September 22, 2004, be revoked and all work be stopped.

Yet, in February 2006, the court referred the matter to the FAC and sought a report. The FAC requested the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL) to assess the project for soil erosion and impact on water resources. The CMPDIL cleared the project of all water-related concerns. The WII’s report, submitted in June 2006, warned that bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri plateau would destroy a specialised wildlife habitat. However, following a special presentation by Orissa forest officers, the institute, in October 2006, recommended a Rs.42-crore plan for mitigation of impact on wildlife. When the Supreme Court heard the matter on May 16 and 18, 2007, the CEC argued that the FAC had acted irresponsibly and with “undue haste” in granting Vedanta clearances. On December 11, 2008, the MoEF granted in-principle clearance to the State government.

On August 10, 2009, the State government applied to the MoEF for the final clearance. The FAC recommended on November 4, 2009, that the final clearance be considered only after ascertaining the community rights on forest land and after the process of establishing such rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), is completed.

On January 1, 2010, the FAC constituted a three-member expert group to carry out a site inspection. When this group recommended further examination on various grounds, Jairam Ramesh set up a four-member committee of specialists, chaired by Naresh Saxena, former Secretary, Planning Commission, to facilitate a holistic investigation. This committee submitted its report on August 16.

Saxena Committee’s report

Some salient findings of the Saxena Committee, which influenced the MoEF’s decision not to grant the final clearance, are:

The project would severely disturb important wildlife habitat that has been proposed as part of the Niyamgiri Wildlife Sanctuary.

LINGARAJ PANDA

THE CONVEYER BELT to supply bauxite ore to the Vedanta alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Orissa’s Kalahandi district was built without any formal approval.

More than 1.21 lakh trees would need to be cleared for mining besides many more lakh shrubs and herbal flora.

The grasses are breeding and fawning ground for the four-horned antelope ( Tetracerus quadricornis), barking deer ( Muntiacus muntjac) as well as spotted deer ( Axis axis). A rare lizard, golden gecko ( Callodactylodes aureus), is found on the proposed lease area. The populations of all these species will decline if mining is allowed.

Mining on the scale proposed in this habitat would severely disturb elephant habitats and threaten the important task of elephant conservation in south Orissa.

The mining operations involve stripping of more than seven square kilometres of the Niyamgiri hilltop, which would drastically alter the region’s water supply.

The proposed mining lease (PML) area is intimately linked, by way of economic, religious, and cultural ties, to 28 Kondh villages with a total population of 5,148. The affected include 1,453 Dongria Kondhs, who constitute 20 per cent of the total population of this tribe. Loss of forest cover will cause a substantial decline in their economic well-being. Landless Dalits who are dependent on Kondhs will also suffer.

Mining-related activities will deny Dongria Kondh access to their cultivable lands. Mining activities will also adversely affect the surrounding slopes and streams that are crucial for agriculture.

The Orissa government did not follow the Forest Rights Act and disregarded the legitimate and well-established rights of the Kondh Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs).

The Orissa government is not likely to implement the Forest Rights Act in a fair and impartial manner as far as the PML area is concerned.

The MoEF cannot grant the clearance unless the process of recognition of rights under the Forest Rights Act is complete and satisfactory; the consent of the concerned community has been granted; and both points have been certified by the gram sabha of the area concerned. All of these conditions, not any one, must be satisfied.

If mining is permitted on this site, it will not only be illegal, but will also destroy one of the most sacred sites of the Kondh PTGs. It will make the area easily accessible to poachers and timber smugglers, threatening the rich biodiversity of the hills.

The mining activities at the PML site will have limited relevance to the refinery now under a sixfold expansion as the 72 million tonne ore deposit here would last only about four years for the increased needs of the expanded refinery. In balance against this are the adverse consequences on the primitive tribal people, the environment and the wildlife of these forests.

Vedanta Aluminium Limited was accorded clearance under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) on the condition that no forest land would be used for the establishment of the refinery. But now it is clearly established that the company has occupied 26.123 ha of village forest land within the refinery boundary with the active collusion of the officials concerned. Hence, the environment clearance already granted is legally invalid. Allowing mining in the PML area would shake the faith of the tribal people in the laws of the land and have serious consequences for the security and well-being of the entire country.

FAC endorsed the report

The FAC on August 23 endorsed the Saxena Committee report, accepting that there was lack of diligence in safeguarding the rights of the PTGs in the adjoining forest areas, and found it a fit case for applying the precautionary principle to obviate the irreparable damage to the affected people. This principle requires the government authorities to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental pollution. It imposes the onus of proof on the developer or industrialist to show that his or her action is environmentally benign.

The FAC, therefore, recommended temporary withdrawal of the in-principle/stage-1 approval accorded by the MoEF for the diversion of 660.749 ha of forest land in favour of Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd. After giving due opportunity to the State government to present its views on the Saxena Committee report, Jairam Ramesh elaborated on certain factors that he considered while arriving at his decision.

read more at http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/stories/20100924271902200.htm

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Vedanta’s Orissa project nixed

Posted by ajadhind on August 26, 2010

source – livemint

After five long years of court hearings, violent public protests, Centre-state wrangling and media coverage, the government denied permission for bauxite mining at Niyamgiri in Orissa, settling the dispute in favour of the tribe that’s indigenous to the area.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s announcement on Tuesday will mean that an integral part of the Orissa Mining Corp. Ltd-Sterlite Industries India Ltd project will have to be scrapped. Sterlite is a wholly owned subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Plc, a London-listed company, which also owns Vedanta Alumina Ltd, operator of the Lanjigarh alumina refinery, which was to have been fed by bauxite from Niyamgiri.

The Orissa government can move the high court or the yet-to-be-established green tribunal.

In 2005, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Orissa and Vedanta to set up the complex, including the alumina refinery and a captive power plant. It also included the supply of 150 million tonnes (mt) of bauxite for Vedanta’s alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, for which the state had identified the Niyamgiri mine as the initial source of the material’s supply to the extent of 78 mt.

“There have been serious violations of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the Environment Protection Act (EPA) and the Forest Conservation Act (FCA),” Ramesh said. “We have also issued show-cause notices to the company. This is not an emotional decision. There is no prejudice and no politics. This is not because Niyamgiri is sacred (the hill with the bauxite deposits is held sacred by the primitive tribal group known as the Dongria Kondh). This is purely a legal approach.”

According to the firm’s statement released after the decision: “As at 31 March, Vedanta had invested $5.4 billion (`25,272 crore today) in its aluminium projects in Orissa. Around 10,000 people are employed at the Lanjigarh alumina refinery plant. Vedanta is currently operating its alumina refinery with outsourced bauxite.”

The company said the state government is trying to make sure that it can supply bauxite from alternative sources.

“In view of the ongoing delay in approval of the Niyamgiri mining, the government of Orissa is actively considering allocation of alternate source of bauxite to Vedanta’s alumina refinery, from the state of Orissa,” said the statement.

The state government could not be reached.

“In response to the certain allegations raised in the report, Vedanta Resources reconfirms that there has been no regulatory violation of any kind at the alumina refinery,” the statement added.

The company said in a revised statement that it sent out later, “We are not in possession of Niyamgiri mine and no mining activity has been or will be undertaken till all approvals are in place.”

On Tuesday evening, Sterlite lost 3.97% to end at `152.40 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. The key Sensex fell 0.53% to 18,311.59 points. Vedanta closed 7.07% down in London.

The environment ministry has relied on a recent report by former bureaucrat N.C. Saxena, the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and the attorney general’s opinion, according to Ramesh.

The Saxena report, in its investigation of the implementation of FRA, found that the legitimate claims of the Dongria Kondh have been discouraged and denied without the due process of law, which is illegal on part of the district or sub-divisional committees. The report further said that the Orissa government is not likely to implement FRA in a fair and impartial manner since it has gone to the extent of forwarding false certificates.

Under FRA, rights (individual and community) of tribals and forest dwellers have to be recognized and settled, and consent must be taken from the concerned community before any project can go ahead in the area.

Ramesh, however, clarified that the environment ministry was not taking congnizance of this. “The Saxena committee made a number of observations on state officials. I don’t agree with that and believe that they were acting to the best of their ability. There will not be any witch-hunt,” he said.

The committee report also found serious violations by the company’s alumina refinery in its illegal expansion from 1 million tonne per annum (mtpa) capacity to 6 mtpa. The report said that “this amounts to a serious violation of the provisions of EPA” and “is an expression of the contempt with which the company treats the laws of the land”.

The environment ministry has issued two show-cause notices to the company. One asks it to explain why environment clearance for the 1 mtpa alumina refinery should not be revoked. The second asks why the terms of reference (ToR), which are equivalent to approval for a project, for the environment impact assessment report for the expansion should not be withdrawn. Ramesh added that ToR and the appraisal process for the expansion stand suspended.

“This seems like a full stop for this proposal. But the refinery issue still remains,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environment lawyer. “The pollution problem from their operations still needs to be resolved. We’ve stopped something that was about to happen, but haven’t undone the illegalities already done.”

The panel’s conclusions and recommendations, which were accepted by FAC and forwarded for the final decision, also mention instances of violations under FCA. Mint reported this on 24 August.

The ministry’s note on the factors that have dictated its decision said that the Saxena panel went into great detail highlighting various instances of violations under FCA.

“All these violations, coupled with the resultant impact on the ecology and biodiversity of the surrounding area, further condemn the actions of the project proponent. Not only are these violations of a repeating nature, but they are instances of wilful concealment of information by the project proponent,” it said.

The environment ministry is in the process of examining what penal action should be initiated against the project proponents for the violations. Moreover, the Jharkhand mines from where the refiner is sourcing the bauxite do not appear to have the necessary clearances, the ministry said.

Regarding the other high-profile project awaiting the environment ministry’s approval—the Posco integrated steel plant in Orissa—Ramesh said he has asked the Meena Gupta panel to submit its report by September-end, after which he will consider the case.

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Killing Azad: Silencing the Voice of Revolution

Posted by ajadhind on July 26, 2010

By

N Venugopal

In a deliberate attempt to suppress the most powerful and articulate voice of Indian revolutionary movement, the state has indulged in cold-blooded, brutal assassination of Cherukuri Rajkumar, popularly known as Azad, spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), along with freelance journalist Hemchandra Pandey on July 2. Azad was supposed to meet a courier at Sitabardi in Nagpur , Maharashtra at 11 am on July 1, to go to Dandakaranya forest from there. The courier returned back to the forest after missing him at the appointed time and place. Thus Azad might have met Pandey before that and might have been picked up either before they reached the place or at the place before the courier reached there. Dead bodies of both of them were shown on a hillock in the forest between Jogapur and Sarkepalli villages in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh, about 250 kms from Nagpur , with a story of an encounter that took place in the early hours of July 2. Since the “encounter” stories are very common and Azad is a very important functionary in the Maoist movement, this killing raises several questions that remain unanswered.

Andhra Pradesh is a state with about a dozen television news channels and one gets information flashes within minutes of happening. Around 9 in the morning on July 2 the channels started flashing that there was an “encounter” in which two Maoists were killed. Slowly the news developed to identify the dead bodies of two “top leaders” in the beginning and a “top leader” (“because there was one AK-47”) and his courier later. Within the next few hours it was speculated that the deceased were Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and Pulluri Prasada Rao alias Chandranna, secretary of North Telangana Special Zonal Committee. By afternoon Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee came online and told the channels that the second person might be Sahadev, an adivasi courier sent to fetch Azad, after an appointment in Nagpur . By the next day Usendi came again online and told that Sahadev returned back safely after not finding Azad at the rendezvous. Almost at the same time, friends of Hemchandra Pandey recognized the picture of his dead body that appeared in New Delhi edition of Telugu daily Eenadu and Pandey’s wife Babita announced that at a press conference in Delhi . Pandey was not identified for the first two days and passed off as a Maoist and once he was identified, police started denying that he was a journalist, implying that killing a Maoist cannot be an issue.

The official version of the incident goes like this: On the night of July 1 police got information that there was some movement of Maoists in Maharashtra – Andhra Pradesh border forests for the last 10-15 days and a combing party consisting of police from both the states went in search of them. Around 10.30 in the night the police party identified the Maoists and asked them to surrender, but the intransigent Maoists, numbering around 20, started firing at them. In order to defend themselves the police returned the fire and the exchange of fire continued till 2.30 in the morning. The police party could not search the area due to pitch darkness and came back next morning to find out two unidentified dead bodies, along with an AK-47, a 9 mm pistol, two kit bags and revolutionary literature.

However, newspaper readers in Andhra Pradesh are sick of this version that they have been reading the same sentences over and over again for the last forty years with changes in proper nouns alone. That nobody believed the version handed out by police and accepted Usendi’s statement was a commentary on the credibility of state machinery.

There are a number of reasons even usual believers in police stories could not trust this time round: Azad is known for his vigilant and alert attitude so much that police do not even have his recent photograph and content with a 30-year old picture of him. Given the importance of Azad as a member of politbureau and central committee, he would not be alone and would be protected by a well-guarded team if he were in forests. He could have been unarmed and single only if he were in an urban area. Newspersons who visited the site where dead bodies were shown also said that it was difficult terrain and would have been impossible for police coming out without a bruise, if it were a real exchange of fire. More over, there were no tell-tale signs of exchange of fire at the place except two bullets and the nearby villagers did not hear any sounds of gun fire, even as police claim that cross firing lasted for four hours.

The ruling class’ wrath against Rajkumar was so much that even his dead body was not allowed to be accorded due honour. Rajkumar’s mother, an ailing 75-year old Cherukuri Karuna, pleaded with the High Court to direct the government to bring the body from the remote Jogapur forest to Hyderabad , instead of a nearby hospital that does not have necessary equipment to protect the body from decomposition. She told the court that her age and health would not permit her to go all the way to Adilabad district and hence her request should be considered sympathetically. The court directed the police to postpone the post-mortem till the mother sees the dead body of her son, as if it was benevolently granting permission to a mother to see her son’s dead body. Even at the ill-equipped hospital at Mancherial, where hundreds of people gathered to pay their last respects to Azad, heavy police force was deployed and people were dispersed with lathicharge. Finally the police allowed mother and brothers only inside the hospital.

Azad is a very popular leader of the CPI (Maoist) and in his capacity as spokesperson of the central committee of the party he interacted with a number of media organisations, including EPW, as well as with important members of civil society during the lat couple of years. People who know Azad for a long time describe him as the personification of commitment, experience and expertise.

Cherukuri Rajkumar was born into a middle class family of Krishna district in May 1954. His father, an ex-service man, shifted to Hyderabad to run a small restaurant to raise a family of four sons and a daughter, Rajkumar being the second son. Rajkumar had his primary education in Hyderabad and secondary education at Sainik School , Korukonda in Vizianagaram district. He did his graduation in chemical engineering at Regional Engineering College (REC), Warangal and post graduation in marine engineering at Andhra University , Visakhapatnam . He was a brilliant student throughout and his mother remembers: “He suffered from eyesight problem when he was in class X and had to begin using contact lenses. Initially he could not adjust to the lenses and arranged a friend to read out the lessons to him. By just listening, he secured distinction in seven subjects that year.” Even when he was an activist, his teachers and friends say, he was a meritorious student as well as a prize winner in elocution and essay writing contests.

Srikakulam struggle broke out when Rajkumar was in high school and several of his family members were influenced by the struggle. His maternal grandfather’s family settled in Adilabad district and some of them were part of peasant struggles in that area along with Kondapalli Seetaramaiah, one of the founders of the Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh. Rajkumar used to spend his summer vacation in that area and was influenced by the revolutionary environment around.

By the time he joined REC in 1972, it was a hot bed of revolutionary student movement, inspired by peasant movements in Warangal district, and being a very sensitive and sharp person, he became a part of that fervour. He was two years junior to and follower of Surapaneni Janardhan, a very effective radical student leader. Not only the impact of Janardhan, but also the peasant and working class movements in and around Warangal in the pre-Emergency days made a lasting impression on Rajkumar. Students of REC were in the forefront in forming Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union (RSU) at state level in October 1974 and Rajkumar was part of that group. While the RSU held its first conference in February 1975 in Hyderabad , it had to undergo severe repression within three months, with the imposition of Emergency. Several radical students went underground to avoid arrest as well as to organise peasants. Rajkumar was also arrested under the MISA and let off after a couple of months. Janardhan, along with three other student activists, were killed in a fake encounter in July 1975 in Giraipalli forest in Medak district.

Giraipalli killing, along with several other killings, created furore in post-Emergency period. Janardhan, like Rajan, another REC student from Calicut , became a symbol of democratic rights movement then. Jayaprakash Narayan set up a people’s fact finding committee under the leadership of V M Tarkunde to enquire the fake encounters in Andhra Pradesh. It was Rajkumar who helped Tarkunde Committee in gathering the necessary information and protecting the witnesses in Giraipalli forest and surrounding villages. Tarkunde Committee’s report led to the constitution of Justice V Bhargava Commission which held its enquiry during 1977-78. It was again Rajkumar who helped the defence team led by K G Kannabiran in arguing the case before the commission. K G Kannabiran fondly remembered the help and efficient assistance rendered by Rajkumar during those days, in his autobiography 24 Gantalu, published in 2009.

Radical Students Union was revived after Emergency and held its second conference in Warangal in February 1978 and Rajkumar, by that time doing his M Tech in Visakhapatnam , became its state president. It was at this conference, RSU gave the famous call of “Go to Villages” to students. These village campaigns of students brought out a sea change in the outlook of participating students as well as spreading the revolutionary message at the grassroots. The campaign was a prelude to Karminagar – Adilabad peasant struggles and in turn RSU gained strength through the peasant movement.  The ‘Go to Villages’ campaigns directly led to the formation of Radical Youth League in May 1978 and Raithucooli Sangham in 1980. During these historic years, Rajkumar was the president of RSU. He was re-elected twice at the third conference in Anantapur in February 1979 and fourth conference in Guntur in February 1981. However, by the time of Guntur conference he was being hunted by police and he could not even attend the public proceedings.

In the meanwhile, both as the president of RSU and as a student of M Tech at Andhra University he led a number of struggles in Visakhapatnam in particular and throughout the state in general. Struggle against private local transport system in Visakhapatnam , under his leadership, resulted in nationalisation of city buses. He was a powerful public speaker and addressed hundreds of meetings of students and others till 1981. All these activities made him a dangerous person in the eyes of state and he was implicated in a number of cases, beginning from his arrest under the MISA in 1975 till arrest in a case of exceeding permitted time of a public meeting in Narsapur and burning national flag in Visakhapatnam .

During the second half of 1980 itself he chose to become whole timer and began his underground life and there was no looking back. However, even working clandestinely he never lost touch with people and his activity spread far and wide. In August 1981, RSU organised an all India seminar on the nationality question in India in Madras . Rajkumar wrote an introductory pamphlet as well as a paper to be presented at the seminar on behalf of APRSU. This seminar connected various students’ organisations of different nationality struggles as well as radical democratic movements. As a follow up of the seminar, Revolutionary Students’ Organisations Co-ordination Committee (RSOCC) was formed and culminating four years of deliberations, All India Revolutionary Students’ Federation (AIRSF) held its first conference in Hyderabad in 1985. Rajkumar was one of the major forces that coordinated all these efforts.

For the next 25 years, he worked in different areas like Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Dandakaranya, giving theoretical, political and organisational inputs to struggles in all these places. He guided party units and committees in all these states as well as South-western Regional Bureau. He is known to have acquired fluency in at least six languages during this time. It is learnt that he used different names at different points of time for the sake of camouflage or depending on the nature of the job. He was known as Uday, Madhu, Janardhan, Prakash, and Gangadhar at different points of time. Though he was part of a collective decision-making body of the party, his personal contribution in terms of vision, expertise in several fields and a sharp insight into different developing themes helped the movement quite a bit. He was a voracious reader and a prolific writer. Given the nature of his clandestine activity he wrote under different pseudonyms, and more often credited his writings to collective, but one could easily identify his style in numerous writings in Voice of the Vanguard, People’s March, People’s Truth, Maoist Information Bulletin, etc. His hand could be identified in various documents of the party also. It is reported that he began thinking of international activity and solidarity about 15 years ago, demonstrating that he looked much ahead. There is an unconfirmed report that he participated in an international conclave of Maoist parties held in Brazil a few years ago. It is also reported that he was instrumental in setting up Co-ordination Committee of Maoist Parties in South Asia (CCOMPOSA) and addressed its meetings several times.

A couple of instances of his theoretical, political and organisational guidance and coordination are worth mentioning:

When K Balagopal raised some fundamental questions on the relevance of Marxism as an instrument of social transformation, even as accepting it as an efficient tool of analysis, in 1993, a number of revolutionary sympathisers felt disillusioned and a theoretical rebuttal was expected from the party. It was Rajkumar who wrote a critical essay in 1995 and another in 2001 answering all the philosophical questions of Balagopal. Despite being so critical on the questions of perspective, Azad paid rich tributes to Balagopal after the latter’s demise. The condolence statement stands as a model in recording both positive and negative aspects – respecting the significance of Balagopal’s contributions to people’s movements as well as mentioning post-modernist tendencies in him.

Consistently exploring the importance of the nationality question in India , he was again instrumental in holding an international seminar on nationality question, under the auspices of All India People’s Resistance Forum (AIPRF) in February 1996. Participated by scholars like William Hinton, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Luis Jalandoni, Raymond Lotta, Jalil Andrabi, Manoranjan Mohanty, this seminar had more than 30 papers on various nationality movements in India and across the globe. The seminar led to the formation of the Committee for Co-ordination of Nationalities and Democratic Movements (CCNDM), an important milestone in the expansion of revolutionary people’s movement in the country.

In 2002, the government of Andhra Pradesh accepted the proposal of some well-meaning intellectuals and Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) to hold talks with the then CPI (ML) Peoples War to bring about peace. It was Rajkumar who guided the efforts of peace negotiations on the part of the revolutionary party and he wrote a number of statements, gave interviews to newspapers clarifying the party’s position. The talks could not go ahead at that time, except a preliminary round between the emissaries proposed by the party and the government representatives.

Rajkumar was also part of the collective that guided Mumbai Resistance 2004, an event organised parallel to World Social Forum, which attracted quite a few revolutionary organisations from various countries towards the people’s movements in India under the leadership of the CPI (ML) Peoples War.

Again in 2004, in Andhra Pradesh the Congress party made an election promise to hold talks with the revolutionary parties and came to power. This time round the talks moved a little forward till the first round of negotiations between the representatives of CPI (Maoist) and CPI (ML) Janasakthi on one hand and the representatives of the government on the other. Beginning in May 2004 when Congress acquired power till January 2005, when the party withdrew from the process after gross violations of cease-fire agreement and spate of encounters on the part of the government, it was again Rajkumar who guided and prepared a lot of statements and documents for the talks. In fact, the party was so well prepared for the effort that it wrote the agenda, it prepared background papers on the three issues that were discussed and it circulated a number of documents and met with different sections of people to share the party’s point of view, while the government, with its mammoth machinery and all resources at its disposal, could not even prepare a single sheet of information throughout and the government representative did not do any home work.

Then again beginning with 2007 when the Prime Minister described the Maoist movement as the biggest internal threat, Rajkumar consistently exposed the real intentions of mining mafia behind the onslaught, including Operation Greenhunt. Through various writings and interviews in several media, he elaborated the party’s positions on various issues including the peace process. Indeed, a number of statements given by him, an 18-page interview along with audio sent to press in October 2009, his 12,262-word interview given to the Hindu in April 2010 and his letter of May 31, 2010 in response to Home Minister P Chidambaram’s letter of May 10 to Swami Agnivesh are crystal clear expositions of what the CPI (Maoist) thinks and does right now.

Azad’s killing is an integral part of the Operation Greenhunt and by killing him the government wanted to scuttle the voice of resistance and revolution. The Operation Greenhunt is a mission of the Indian ruling classes to surrender rich resources of Indian people to MNCs and their Indian junior partners. Rajkumar was also a great resource of Indian people and the ruling classes have eliminated this resource since he was a powerful expression among those obstructing the outright plunder of people’s natural resources.

nvenugopal61@ gmail.com

N Venugopal is Editor, Veekshanam, Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society.

Posted in ANDHRAPRADESH, Comrades, GREEN HUNT, MADHYAPRADESH, NAXALISM, ORISSA | Leave a Comment »

Orissa HC rejects government’s recommendation on Khandadhar mines to Posco

Posted by ajadhind on July 16, 2010

The Hindu
Correspondent

CUTTACK: In a setback to the Rs.51,000-crore Posco steel plant planned at Paradeep, the Orissa High Court on Wednesday set aside the State government’s recommendation for granting the South Korean steel major a licence for prospecting in the Khandadhar iron ore mines in Sundargarh district.

Allowing a writ petition filed by Geomin Minerals and Marketing (P) Ltd, a Bhubaneswar-based company, a Division Bench of Justices B.P. Das and B.P. Ray directed the State government to take a fresh decision on the licence giving preferential right of consideration to the petitioner. In January 2009, the government recommended that the Centre grant Posco a licence for prospecting on 2,500 hectares of the Khandadhar mines. The recommendation was based on Section 11(5) of the Mining and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act.

Terming the decision “arbitrary” and “illogical,” Geomin Minerals challenged it in the High Court, claiming that it had made the first application for a mining lease in the area way back in August 1991.

The Bench said that the preferential right for consideration was available to the petitioner, and the recommendation made in favour of Posco was not valid.

Urging the court to restrain the government from considering applications for mineral concessions filed by the latter applicants until its application was disposed of, Geomin Minerals also sought an order to dispose of all its applications pending with govt.

Holding that the writ petition was not premature and was maintainable as there was no alternative remedy, the High Court directed the government to dispose of all pending applications of the petitioner in four months.

A dozen other petitions, including an intervention petition filed by Visa Steel Ltd, were tagged to the petition of Geomin Minerals. The Bench, however, rejected Visa Steel’s contention and asked it to file an independent writ petition if it had any cause of action.

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The Real Story of the POSCO Project

Posted by ajadhind on July 16, 2010

source

This is not just a “dispute over land acquisition for development.” The POSCO project is illegal and will not bring any benefits for the local population or the country’s economy. Rather, it is simply plunder of lives and resources:

  • The POSCO project is illegal as it violates the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Under that law, no forest land can be given to anyone until 1) all the rights of the people in the area are recognised and 2) their consent is given to the project. This is the requirement of the law, acknowledged further by an Environment Ministry order of August 3, 2009. This has never been done in the area despite the people demanding it. The Central and State governments have no legal right to hand over this land to POSCO. In law, not just in public view, this is daylight robbery.
  • The project is nothing less than a robbery of the country’s natural resources by a multinational. There is no conflict between people’s rights and “development” here. Despite grand talk of 51,000 crores of foreign investment, what is not mentioned is that POSCO is getting a huge amount of:
    • land: 4,000 acres for the plant, 2,000 acres for a “township”, 25 acres in Bhubaneshwar for their office, plus an unknown amount in the mining and port areas;
    • water: an estimated 12,000 crore liters from the river Mahanadi, threatening the water supply of Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack;
    • iron ore: 600 million tonnes in the form of captive mines, and a further 400 million tonnes will be “allocated’;
  • in exchange for which it will:
    • pay essentially nothing for the water and the land;
    • pay a pittance as royalty, allowing it to make tens of thousands of crores in profits just by the difference between market prices and extraction costs (one 2005 estimate put the net profits at 96,000 crores from extraction alone);
    • practically no income and other direct taxes, as it is seeking SEZ status;
    • provide 13,000 jobs – by their own estimates, which in the case of all industrial projects have proven to be gross overestimates – while displacing around 40,000 people in the plant and port sites alone (not including the mines). More than 20,000 people will lose employment in the plant site alone.

In sum, no tax revenue, net loss of employment, no royalties, loss of 15% of India’s proven ore reserves, environmental devastation and the forced displacement of 40,000 people. This is what our government considers “development.”

Today’s police action shows better than any other that the government is neither concerned about law nor resources nor development – it is interested in daylight robbery. We stand by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, who are among the many unsung heroes of our country today, fighting not only for themselves and their homes but for the idea of true democracy in India.

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Maoists attack Police station in Orissa’s Keonjhar district, abducted cops

Posted by ajadhind on July 8, 2010

Report by Orissadiary bureau; Keonjhar: The Maoists have attacked on Daitari Police station,  and Brahmanipal  forest beat house under Keonjhar district in the late night of Wednesday  and abducted two persons including one police ASI.

As per the information, Around 80 Maoists, including  8 womens armed with automatic weapons, stormed into Daitari town. At that time  a cultural function was  going on in the Community centre. The Maoists locked the  peoples  in a room and told that they will free them after finishing their work.

Then proceeded to the Police Station. One ASI and one Constable were present in the Police Station. They beaten the ASI and Constable. Then started firing on the Police Station  and set fire and set bomb in the police station  and flew away to the Brahmanipal forest beat house.

The ASI Umesh Chandra Marandi and another man has been absconded since Maoist attack  , it is suspected that they might have abducted by the Maoists. Then fled away from the spot. In the way, they have blow down a Mobile Tower. A dead body found in front of the Police Station. The Maoists might have killed him.

Posted in NAXALISM, ORISSA | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Battle for survival

Posted by ajadhind on June 3, 2010

MAHIM PRATAP SINGH
in Kalahandi

The tribal people of Niyamgiri hills in Orissa are determined to prevent Vedanta Aluminium Ltd from mining the area for bauxite.

MAHIM PRATAP SINGH

Nearly 8,000 of the Dongria Kondh Adivasis, who revere the Niyamgiri mountain as their king and god, fear displacement and disruption of their centuries-old culture once the company gets the clearance to mine the hills.

Niyamgiri in Orissa is all set to become a scene of local community resistance to corporate interests. The hills of Niyamgiri, a Fifth Schedule area under the Constitution of India and home to Dongria Kondh Adivasis, are allegedly under threat from the proposed mining activities of the Mumbai-based Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL), a subsidiary of the British mining giant Vedanta Resources Plc, which owns the majority stake in the now privatised BALCO. VAL is awaiting the second stage of clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for its Niyamgiri project. It got the first-stage clearance from the MoEF in September 2004.

The company has already started operations at its refinery in Lanjigarh, a town downhill from the Niyamgiri forest. The bauxite for the refinery is brought chiefly from Vedanta’s mines at Bodai-Daldali in Chhattisgarh. The refinery requires three million tonnes of bauxite a year. Naturally, Niyamgiri is extremely important for Vedanta because getting the required amount of bauxite transported from outside would not be viable for the company.

The clearance granted to the refinery is also fraught with controversy. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court following a complaint of environmental violations against Vedanta, in its report submitted to the court in September 2005, accused Vedanta of deliberate violations. The committee’s member secretary, M.K. Jiwrajka, belongs to the MoEF. The CEC observed that “out of the requirement of 723.343 hectares for the alumina refinery and 721.323 ha for the bauxite mining, 58.943 ha and 672.018 ha, respectively, are forest land” and “since the project involved the use of the forest land for the alumina refinery itself, the environmental clearance could have been granted by the MoEF only after the use of the forest land was permitted under the F.C. [Forest Conservation] Act”.

The CEC concluded that “M/s Vedanta has deliberately and consciously concealed the involvement of the forest land in the project… so that environmental clearance is not kept pending for want of the F.C. Act clearance”. It further stated that in violation of the Act the project was split into alumina refinery and bauxite mining although the latter is an integral part of the project and that although the MoEF was “fully aware that the use of the forest land for the mining at Niyamgiri hills is absolutely necessary if the alumina refinery is to be established at Lanjigarh, the environmental clearance to the alumina refinery has been accorded by the MoEF by overlooking these facts”.

According to information provided by VAL, the mines of Niyamgiri belong to the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC), with which the company has signed a memorandum of understanding for the procurement of bauxite on a long-term basis – 150 million tonnes from the Lanjigarh bauxite deposits and other nearby mines of the OMC. An MoU was signed by the OMC and Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, also a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Plc., in 1997. However, in October 2004, the OMC signed another MoU with VAL for mining bauxite in Lanjigarh and Karlapat. For this mining, the OMC entered into a joint venture with VAL, in which it would hold 26 per cent equity and VAL the rest.

Around 8,000 Dongria Kondh Adivasis, who are a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) notified by the Union government and who revere the Niyamgiri mountain as their king and god, fear displacement and total disruption of their centuries-old culture once the company gets the clearance to mine the hills. However, the company dismisses all such concerns.

“It has already been clarified by the State’s Minister of Steel and Mines in the Assembly that there is no habitation in the mining lease area and as such no displacement is involved there,” VAL’s chief operations officer Mukesh Kumar told Frontline.

Three-member team’s report

The MoEF, in December last year, constituted a team comprising Usha Ramanathan, a law researcher from the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; Vinod Rishi, former Additional Director General of the Wildlife Institute of India; and J.K. Tewari, Chief Conservator of Forests (Central), Bhubaneswar, in view of the allegations regarding the violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and to address concerns regarding tribal rights and wildlife. The team submitted its report to the Ministry on February 25, highlighting, among other things, the gross violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by the “user agency”, VAL. According to Usha Ramanathan’s observations in the report, which has the most scathing indictment of irregularities and violations committed by the company, the Dongria Kondh people feel that although there is no habitation in the mining area, over 200 villages on a hillside will get affected by the road, vehicles, mining activities and the drying up of perennial streams and that the dongar (hill), which they worship as their king and god, will be dug up and blasted.

Concern is also expressed over the disregard for the forest rights of the Adivasis under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. According to section 5(c) of the Act, it is to be ensured that “the habitat of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage”.

“Until these [forest rights] and allied rights are recognised, recorded and settled under the FRA, it would be unconstitutional and in breach of the FRA to disturb their [the Dongria Kondh] habitat,” Usha Ramanathan notes in her report. The report also observes that “disruption of the habitat and the way of life of this PTG cannot be remediated nor compensated, and may lead to the destruction of the Dongria Kondh”.

The report also expresses concern over the receipt of material assistance and benefits by the district administration from VAL. It says that “two rooms have been added to the BDO office [Block Development Office] in Vishwanathpur and furnished by VAL as a resting place for the Collector when he travels on duty”.

J.K. Tewari’s observations point towards violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act by the company in the construction of 47 pillars for its conveyor belt. Tewari has observed that the area calculated by the State government (45.6 square metres) over which the pillars are constructed is faulty and that the actual area of construction and operation would be much larger. He has also observed violations of MoEF guidelines in the construction of an incomplete mine access road. Apart from environmentalists, human rights activists, the CEC and the MoEF’s three-member team, Vedanta has also faced ire from its own shareholders. In February this year, the Church of England withdrew its £3.8-million share from the company citing no “level of respect for human rights and local communities” on the part of the company. Earlier, in 2007, the Norwegian pension fund, the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund, sold off its shares worth $13.2 million owing to alleged environmental and human rights violations by the company’s Indian subsidiaries.

Legal ambiguity

There is also a lot of ambiguity regarding whether VAL or Sterlite Industries is the core representative for the mining activity. The Supreme Court order of August 8, 2008, which allowed the diversion of 660.749 ha of forest land for mining, was “in matter of M/s Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd (SIIL)”.

In an earlier order dated November 23, 2007, the court had expressed doubts over the credibility of VAL and noted that “keeping in mind the totality of the above factors (a series of facts and circumstances in relation to M/s VAL having caused environmental damage and human rights violations), we are not inclined to clear the project”. In this order, the court gave the liberty to SIIL to move the court if it agreed to comply with the modalities suggested by the court and categorically stated that “such an application will not be entertained if made by M/s VAL or by Vedanta Resources”. However, all communications with Usha Ramanathan, as mentioned in the report to the MoEF, were handled by representatives of VAL. This, the report has observed, is a violation of the Supreme Court orders. All communication with this correspondent too was by VAL representatives.

REINHARD KRAUSE/REUTERS

Members of The Dongria Kondh tribe dance in a ceremony on top of the Niyamgiri mountain on February 21 to protest against plans by Vedanta Aluminium Ltd to mine bauxite from the mountain.

The Supreme Court’s decisions too have come in for criticism. The new Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia, has been criticised for hearing cases relating to Vedanta while being a shareholder of its subsidiary, SIIL.

“When I brought up this issue of conflict of interest of Justice Kapadia, I got served with a contempt notice,” says Prashant Bhushan of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms. Justice Kapadia responded by stating that he had declared that he was a shareholder of Sterlite and had invited objections, and when none was raised, he went ahead with the hearing, and thus acted according to the code of conduct.

The forest and its people

Five kilometres on a bicycle, 10 km on foot, and five streams of water to cross along a steep, rocky passage through dense forest in sweltering tropical heat, often 45 {+0} Celsius or more, means that getting to Jarpa, like most villages of Niyamgiri, is not easy. Rajulguda village at the foothills serves as a night halt, from where Lenju, an activist leader of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Committee), leads one to the villages uphill the next morning.

The residents of Rajulguda greet Lenju and this correspondent with a raised fist and a casual ‘Lal Salaam’. That, Lenju explains, is because of the leadership activities of the Lok Sangram Manch, a frontier organisation of the CPI-ML (New Democracy), which supports the movement in principle.

The entire interaction with the Adivasis is extremely secretive, and Lenju constantly cautions against asking the “wrong questions”. Bitter experiences with journalists and other visitors in the past have meant that the Dongria Kondhs do not allow anybody uphill without prior approval from the committee. Taking pictures is prohibited as they believe that several of their photographs clicked earlier have made their way into the market.

On the way up is Serkopadi village, also home to the Dongria Kondh. “Downhill, water- and air-related problems exist because of the company’s presence. Our committee will make sure that the company does not enter the forest or it will be the same here,” says Indra Sikoka of the village.

Another difficult trek of around 10 km takes us to Jarpa, where the Dongria Kondh Adivasis wait for us. “Vedanta is an enemy, a foreign monster that has come here to destroy us,” says Lahadi Sikoka, a villager, sharpening a wooden stick with his axe. Thousands of others of his tribe, spread across over a 100 villages in Niyamgiri, share the same sentiment.

It is common for the Dongria Kondh to carry some weapon or the other at all times to survive against attacks from wild animals, which are aplenty in Niyamgiri. It could be an axe, a bow and arrows or even a crude gun. Niyamgiri means the mount of Niyam Raja, the law god of the Dongria Kondh, whom they also worship as their king and ancestor. While the company maintains that there is no habitation on the mountain top, which is the proposed mining area, the Kondh people believe it to be the abode of Niyam Raja.

According to the residents of Jarpa village, Niyamgiri is a sacred place for them, a bank that provides them with everything they need. Salt and oil are the only things they need to get from outside.

The CEC report to the Supreme Court in 2005 strongly recommended against allowing mining in the Niyamgiri hills. It observed, among other things, that the rich biodiversity of Niyamgiri (which also happens to be an elephant reserve) would be under serious threat from the company’s mining activities. According to the report, the forest “contains sambar, leopard, tiger, barking deer, various species of birds and other endangered species of wildlife…it has more than 300 species of plants and trees, including about 50 species of medicinal plants”.

Nalli, which is the Kuvi (the language spoken by the Kondh) word for bauxite, is a precious resource necessary for the survival of the forest and its 36 perennial water streams because of its water-retaining characteristics.

In late February, the Kondh held an oath-taking ceremony on top of the hill where they resolved not to allow Vedanta to enter the forest even if it gets the clearance, which they fear is imminent. In such an event, says Lenju, the tribal people will run short of options. “Once they get the final clearance and come here for mining, we will have no option but to fight them tooth and nail,” he says. “We have started preparations for the confrontation and that is when the government will declare us Maoists and unleash CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] troops on us. But we have nothing to lose. We will fight it out and die but will not let go of our forest,” he says.

In an exclusive conversation with Frontline, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh said the Ministry was not in any hurry to give the clearance. “The team sent by us found that Vedanta has violated the terms and conditions under which the approval was given to them. The project involves forest and non-forest areas. These guys have already started work in the non-forest areas, which is a violation,” he said. The Minister admitted that mining would spell doom for the mountain and its people and also expressed surprise at the fact that the Supreme Court overlooked the recommendations of the CEC.

“If they manage to get the clearance, Niyamgiri will be destroyed forever. But there is no hurry and we are exploring all options. The Supreme Court has given its approval, but I have to say it seems strange as it is the only case where the Supreme Court has not accepted the recommendations of the CEC,” he said.

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