#India – Env Ministry recognises religious rights, pushes ecological concerns behind


Author(s):
Kumar Sambhav S…
Anupam Chakravartty
Issue Date:
2013-6-15

Environment ministry recognises religious rights, pushes ecological concerns behind

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/20130515_10(2).jpg” width=”457″ height=”304″ border=”0″ />

IN FEBRUARY, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) took many by surprise when it opposed a mining project in Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills in the Supreme Court solely on the ground of violation of tribals’ religious rights. Extracting bauxite from the region would violate the fundamental right of a particularly vulnerable tribe, Dongria Kondh, who consider the Niyamgiri as the abode of their deity Niyam Raja, MoEF said. Till then MoEF had maintained violation of environmental laws as the reason for cancelling clearance of the project by Vedanta in 2010.

Three months later, MoEF served another shocker. On May 6, it told the apex court the ancient Dhari Devi temple in Uttarakhand, which was at risk of being submerged by a hydroelectric power project along the Alaknanda river, should not be relocated because it would affect people’s right to worship. In an affidavit to the court, MoEF drew parallel to the Niyamgiri case and said the present position and the right to worship at the Dhari Devi temple cannot be compromised. It also named leaders of political parties, including opposition BJP’s L K Advani, Uma Bharati, Arun Jaitley and then BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who have been opposing the temple’s relocation citing religious sentiments.

In the Vedanta case, the court left it to the gram sabhas (village councils) of the villages likely to be affected in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts to decide whether mining will affect religious rights of the tribals. It asked MoEF to take a final call based on the decision of the gram sabhas. In the Dhari Devi temple case the court expressed displeasure over difference in opinion of MoEF and its own committee that had said the temple could be raised to a higher level to avoid submergence. The court has reserved its decision on the case.

Though MoEF now has little say in the two projects, the eagerness with which it has argued for religious rights has stunned many. “Religious issues have been the bone of contention in many projects, but for the first time MoEF has argued its cases on religious grounds,” says a former member of the Forest Advisory Committee who does not wish to be named.

Religious rights v ecological issues

Many have hailed the Vedanta court judgement because it reaffirms the gram sabha’s authority in deciding matters related to tribal rights. The court said the gram sabha has a role to play in safeguarding religious rights of forest dwellers under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

image[1]FRA recognises traditional rights of forest dwellers over forest resources, including their way to worship. Analysts believe the judgement will come in handy for communities fighting for their sacred groves from development projects (see map [1]).

The way MoEF argued the case, however, has not gone down well with tribal rights activists. They say the ministry has reduced the larger issue of compliance with FRA to violation of religious rights. Ecological issues were also not properly argued for, add analysts.

In February MoEF was in a tricky situation. It had to defend its decision of rejecting the Vedanta project for violating FRA in the court. At the same time, there was pressure from industry and the Prime Minister’s Office to dilute powers of the gram sabha to veto a project using FRA. A 2009 MoEF order had made it mandatory for projects that require forestland diversion to obtain consent of the affected gram sabhas—something Vedanta failed to do. It was then that MoEF argued for religious rights.

The ministry told the court that people’s consent is required only in cases where a “large number of people are displaced” and “which affect their quality of life”. But in case of Vedanta, said MoEF, the project should not be allowed solely because it will affect the fundamental right of the 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs to worship. “In a way, MoEF restricted the scope of FRA to religious rights.

What about areas where a project will affect other rights of forest dwellers?” asks environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta, adding, “besides, MoEF did not define the large number of people and quality of life.” R Sreedhar, a litigant in the case, complains MoEF did not argue strongly on the violations of the Environment Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. “The ministry’s own committees had pointed that several conditions of in-principle forest and environment clearances were not met by the developer,” he says. Even in its judgement the court said it did not intend to pronounce on any issue except those on violation of FRA. It explicitly said that right to worship will have to be protected—and made no mention of how mining will affect other rights.

Perhaps excited by the success of its argument in the Vedanta case, MoEF issued a stop work notice to Alaknanda Hydro Power Co Ltd, which was trying to relocate the Dhari Devi temple despite the court reserving its judgement on the matter. Six days later on May 16, the ministry had to revoke the notice after the court’s intervention.

Analysts say the arguments of MoEF may lead to a situation where religious rights take precedence over ecological concerns in governance. “MoEF might be looking for an easy way out; religious arguments do evoke strong sentiments both in court and in public domain,” says Ashish Kothari of NGO Kalpvriksh, adding, “the government might be trying to gain political mileage with elections round the corner.”

amita
MoEF has deliberately entered into a minefield. It seems the ministry did not have any option but to become a part of the exclusive and communal politics
— AMITA BAVISKAR, FORMER MEMBER OF FOREST ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Cultural claims can be dangerous, warns Amita Baviskar, sociologist at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi and former member of the Forest Advisory Committee. “It seems MoEF did not have any option but to become a part of the exclusive and communal politics.

Documentation of the environmental impact assessment was tailored to suit Vedanta’s case, while the impacts on local hydrology were ignored,” she says. At MoEF, there is no system to study the forest quality or understand geomorphology, claims Baviskar.

“In the Vedanta case, MoEF should have done a comprehensive mapping of the ecological landscape. The ministry should commission more studies on the ecological impacts of mining.”

Everybody’s deity

The trend of religious rights pushing ecological concerns behind is reflecting on the ground as well. Barely a month after MoEF came out in support of sacred rights, a faith-based turf war erupted in the forests of central India.

RELIGION IN LAW BOOK

1949

Constitution: Article 25, 26 guarantee people the right to practise and propagate matters of faith

1994

Environmental Impact Assessment Notification: Impact on religious places and structures is one of the parameters on which a project will be assessed before it is granted environmental clearance under the Environment Protection Act

1996

Panchayat Extention to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act: The law to extend the Panchayati Raj system to Scheduled Areas recognises communities’ customary laws, religious practices and management practices of community resources

2006

Forest Rights Act (FRA): Religious rights are not explicitly mentioned. They are recognised as part of the traditional rights customarily enjoyed by forest dwellers and Scheduled Tribes, along with an individual’s right to cultivate forestland or community’s right to manage and protect community forests

On March 22, Amelia village in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli district performed a pooja to Dih Baba, deity and protector of Mahan forests. The residents worship Dih Baba every year before collecting forest produce. This March there was another reason for the pooja: people were claiming their land and religious rights over forests which were at risk because of a mining project, jointly proposed by Essar and Hindalco, in the Mahan Forest Range. Amelia has 200 families which rely on the forest for livelihood. The project falls in a dense forest which former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had declared a no-go area for mining because of its biodiversity. Yet, the project was given in-principle forest clearance last year.

To campaign against the project, the people at risk of being displaced formed the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS). They filed claims for community forest rights under FRA but they were rejected by the gram sabha. MSS alleges the sarpanch (village head) and patwari who control the gram sabha are in collusion with the developers and secretly passed the gram sabha resolution to allow the project. When nothing worked, people resorted to religious rights. “The only way now left for us to assert our rights is through Dih Baba,” says MSS member Bechau Lal. Religious sentiments can be a powerful tool to protect environment but they might not always guarantee security from development projects, cautions Shankar Gopalakrishnan of NGO Campaign for Survival and Dignity. “The religious argument is a double-edged sword. If the gram sabha is the deciding forum it is likely that people’s concerns will be addressed, but if the state gets to decide there is going to be scope for manipulation,” he explains.

The Vedanta judgement addresses Gopalakrishnan’s fear. The court maintained the gram sabha has the power to decide matters in Scheduled Areas and in areas where FRA is applicable. Outside such areas, religious or political groups can manipulate ecological concerns for vested interests. One such case is that of the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project in Tamil Nadu. The project, which aims to ease goods movement around the Indian peninsula, proposes to link the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar through the sea Setu Samudram and a chain of limestone shoals known as Ram Setu, a religious site. In March, AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government, which is against the project, filed an affidavit in the apex court pushing the case for making Ram Setu a national monument. Aligning with the Centre’s position, AIADMK’s arch rival, DMK, said there was no archaeological basis of the formation of Ram Setu. The case is pending in the court.

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/20130515_14(1).jpg” width=”457″ height=”284″ border=”0″ />A NASA image of Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals (source: NASA)

Some 1,500,000 fisherfolk around the project site, who are at risk of being displaced, say the religious card is being used for political opportunism, while ecological concerns are being ignored. “If the Centre goes ahead with the project, the fisherfolk will be displaced, and if Ram Setu is declared a national monument, fisherfolk will not be allowed to fish in the area. Who will address their concerns?” asks T Peter, secretary, National Fishworkers’ Forum.

RITWICK DUTTa
Every religious structure cannot be a case to oppose clearances. If a religious structure is connected to natural resources, the faith attached to it stands a chance of being argued for
— RITWICK DUTTA, ENVIRONMENT LAWYER

An apex court-appointed committee had concluded that even if an alternative route is constructed to avoid using Ram Setu it would damage the Gulf of Munnar Biosphere Reserve, home to endangered marine flora and fauna.

While religious rights are being politicised, the channel through which they should be addressed is being ignnored. “Impact on religious aspects of the lives of affected people is part of the cultural impact assessment.

This is an important part of environment impact assessment under the Environment Protection Act. Unfortunately, this is hardly done,” says lawyer Dutta.

Environmental economist Aseem Shrivastava puts the debate in the context of a larger issue of development versus environment.

“Given the current model of globalised development, every project needs to be assessed on stronger parameters for socio-economic and ecological implications. The religious sentiments being evoked in this debate are in a narrow sense,” he says. Dongria Kondhs’ relationship with the Niyamgiri has a strong ecological and livelihood link.

The hill is made of bauxite which holds water. “One should ask MoEF and BJP to explain the ecological and economic worth of sinking the Dhari Devi temple. One wonders why BJP failed to oppose the Narmada project in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat which drowned many temples.”


 

Anti-Vedanta campaign gathers steam


TNN May 28, 2013, 12.17AM IST

KORAPUT: With the Supreme Court leaving it to villagers to decide the fate of Vedanta‘s mining plan at Niyamgiri hills at gram sabhas, the anti-mining campaign at villages situated in and around Niyamgiri hills has gained momentum.

Hundreds of tribals, including Dongria Kondhs, assembled at Rayagada‘s Parsali village on Sunday and vowed not to allow an inch of Niyamgiri for bauxite mining.

“Niyamgiri is a source of livelihood for thousands of tribals of around 120 villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts. Once mining starts, the tribals will lose their livelihood and scores of perennial sources of water will dry up. We will fight tooth and nail against mining at Niyamgiri,” said sarpanch of Parsali Butu Khora.

According to the apex court’s April 18 order, the gram sabhas will also examine the cultural and religious claims of Dongria Kondhs over the hills.

The tribals, who had assembled under the banner CPI (ML), also decided to organize similar anti-mining meetings at all panchayats, which will be affected by the mining, and urge villagers to participate in large number at gram sabhas to oppose mining at Niyamgiri hills

 

Inside report from the Supreme Court Niyamgiri case against #Vedanta #mustread #mustshare


Dongria demonstrate at Lanjigarh, 6th Dec 2012

This report comes from Foil Vedanta’s friend in the court room as the Niyamgiri case continues…

19th February 2013, foilvedanta.com

Last week, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in the ongoing Vedanta case, saying the government and not the tribals and forest dwellers will have the final say in diversion of forestland for mining projects. FRA states that forest dwellers cannot be resettled from forestland unless their traditional rights over such land are recognised, and a 2009 order of MoEF had made it mandatory for all the projects which require forestland diversion to obtain consent of the affected gram sabhas (village councils). In December last year, the ministry stated in the court that the forest dwellers protected by FRA cannot be displaced except for protection of wildlife. However, in a change of stance on February 15, the ministry said in the court that consent of the people will be required only in cases where displacement of large number of people is involved and which affect the quality of life of the people. While the ministry did not even mention its 2009 order in the affidavit, it said the mining proposal should not be allowed because Dongria Kondh tribals have been protecting and worshipping Niyamgiri hills for centuries as their sacred deity. Mining on that land will undermine the customary rights of Dongria Kondhs to manage their own affairs in the matter of religion and fundamental right to conserve their culture. This stance provided the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries (the Indian arm of Vedanta) fodder and weakened the case against Vedanta. Clearly, the ministry has backtracked when asked to take a stand on the issue by the court.

The day started with Mr.Sundaram laying arguments for Orissa Mining Corporation (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries, and making a desperate case for why mining should be allowed in the Niyamgiri hills. He stated that the question of ecology and environment had already been tackled in previous judgements in November, 2007 and August, 2008 which had considered all the alleged violations under the EPA and FCA. Hence, this need not be discussed further and the only thing that the counsel needs to counter is the accusation of violation of FRA. Mr.Sundaram stated that there are no individual claims under FRA remaining and all claims had been settled — except 185 pending cases, which however, are not under the ambit of the proposed mining area. At this point, Justice Aftab Alam interjected to say, “Mr.Sundaram, this statement of yours that there is no claim remaining in the mining area is rather suspicious”. To this, Mr.Sundaram went on to rapidly quote a whole string of data about claims which have been settled and about land allocated. Then he said that 6 community claims were made to the Gram Sabha. Out of the 6 cases, 3 cases were claims on “pinpointed” areas and those claims had been settled and 16055 acres were allotted. However, the remaining three claims are for the whole mountain as a sacred hill, which Mr.Sundaram tried to say is not valid, and he went on to make a whole host of ridiculous arguments to prove it. The fact that FRA mandates that forest dwellers cannot be evicted from the land under their occupation till the recognition and vesting of rights under the Act is complete applies to the land under occupation only and not to the undefined territories used by the communities, he said.“Recognition of community rights can be a continuous process”, screamed Mr.Sundaram, “besides, the project is not evicting the tribals from the land under their occupation; the vesting of individual rights is already complete”. He went on to explain how the meaning of “habitat” under the FRA should be read only as occupational right, and not as usage rights to a whole area, in this case, the whole mountain. Territorial right under the FRA, Sundaram claimed, has to be with “holding the land of occupation”, and community right as the “right to specific identified areas”, as in the case of the 3 community claims that have been settled. He further argued that only in the case of occupation, forest rights need to be recognised at the advent. Hence, according to the counsel, the 3 community claims to the whole mountain, “have no merit”. To this, Justice Aftab Alam said that this decision had to be made by the concerned gram sabha. Sundaram vehemently replied, “one gram sabha cannot hold state to ransom” —– “I am the State government, it is my mine and my minerals, my usage cannot be prevented by one gram sabha!” he asserted.

Even more ridiculous than the above arguments was when Mr.Sundaram sought to put forward the case for why the community claim to the mountain as a place of worship is not valid. Mr. Sundaram claimed that the FRA nowhere talks about religion, and hence sacred rights cannot be interpreted into the Act. He said that the FRA is not where scared rights come from, but from Article 25 and other provisions of the Constitution. At this, Justice Aftab Alam asked, “Why are you trying to split up rights? Sacred rights are as much part of identity as any right, which makes it a question of survival. You cannot tell the tribals take your God to another place.” Mr.Sundaram went on trying to desperately prove his point with statements such as this, “Religious right is different. Does your right to believe in all pervasive lord be taken to imply that even the building that we are arguing at this moment is an intrusion into God’s space?”; “Religious right gives you the right to worship, but not the right to property”; “there needs to be atleast a shrine or something, when one’s belief is so intangible and nebulous as in the case of the Dongria Kond, one cannot take it to the extreme in the forms of rights”; “there is anomaly, when you say this mountain is my God and then also graze cattle there”; “these community claims to the whole mountain were instigated by NGOs, it never came from the people”; “the question is how far we can stretch religious rights? Does FRA prevent development?”. This line of argument was also made possible by the weakened stand taken my MoEF in its affidavit in the court, which basically reduced the whole issue of compliance with FRA to the violation of sacred rights of Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs).

After arguing that religious rights do not include rights to property and that there needs to be tangible limitations to what right to worship encompasses, Mr.Sundaram very cunningly tried to make the case for how the “wrong hilltop” was being talked about. Presenting a map to the judges, he showed to the them how the highest peak of the mountain is not Niyamgiri, but Nimagiri, which is not under the proposed mining area —- “Nimagiri is the abode of their god and there is also some sort of concrete structure of worship at that peak”, he claimed. He talked about how the Saxena committee report had got it all wrong because it says that the Dongria Kond worship the highest peak, which in their report is Niyamgiri, which is factually incorrect. Mr.Sundaram thus, made the submission that the mining site is not the abode of God for the Dongria Kond, as it is not the highest peak. At this point, the bench asked, “So since Nimagiri is the highest point, are you trying to infer that it is the sacred peak and abode?” Mr.Sundaram also gave the judges copies of a 1986 publication by the Socio-cultural Research Institute in Bhuwaneshwar. He read out various passages from this book by ‘experts’, to show that “Niyam Raja is obsolete”, and since there are small structures dedicated to Niyamraja outside every village hut of the tribals, “it is in their houses that the gods are”. Here, Justice Aftab Alam made a very pertinent point, when he said, “Mr.Sundaram, it has happened so many times in history that some learned persons have told people – this is your religion, this is what your belief should be. We have to clarify what the tribals see as their belief.”. It is important to mention here, an exchange that took place in court during this conversation. Mr. Sundaram proclaimed, “Belief is not sacrosanct”. At this Justice Aftab Alam asked, “Bauxite is sacrosanct then, is it?”, to which Mr.Sundaram replied, “No, but Economic Development is sacrosanct. We are talking about one of the most backward districts in the country here.”

During this hearing, Mr.Sundaram also again reiterated the Orissa state government’s grievances on the Saxena Committee report. He mentioned how one hour after the state government had met with Jairam Ramesh raising objections to the report, Mr. Ramesh had gone on to announce the cancellation of mining based on the report. Mr.Sundaram complained that the report was biased, “I only had one meeting with NC Saxena, where he appreciated the implementation of FRA in Orissa as the minutes show”. The counsel also challenged the CEC’s calculation that with expansion of the refinery, bauxite from the mountain will run out in 4years — instead, they argued that it would last for the next 25years. The counsel also brought up the issue of the Mines and Minerals Act, and said how the FRA cannot neutralise the provisions of this Act, as the FRA itself states that it is in addition to, and not in derogation of other Acts. They also argued that the issue of expansion of the refinery is not relevant, as it is a separate matter from mining. The case was also made for rehabilitation and compensation, and about how the mining process will and has already generated employment in the area, while bringing in development and infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals, roads etc.

20th February

The hearing started with the Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran laying down his case. He stressed how the compliance with FRA needs to be “independently” acknowledged, and final clearance cannot be considered only after community rights have been secured. He also stated that Vedanta was guilty of not only non-compliance, but also of violation of numerous conditions. On being asked by the bench, the Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran listed in a detailed manner a series of 13 violations by Vedanta. Mr. Parasaran said that the court by its Aug 8, 2008, order had granted the clearance only for stage one of the project and the automatic clearance for stage two did not flow from that and it could not be reduced to a mere formality. Mr. Parasaran said the court by its order had itself said that the Ministry of Environment and Forest would decide clearing the stage two of the project in “accordance with law.”

Mr.Parasaran argued that since the meaning of habitat is ambiguous under the FRA, “it should be given the widest possible meaning, so as not to restrict the scope of the right, especially when it is a remedial right. He then elaborated on the ‘integrated’ way of life of the Dongria Kond, and the forms of their livelihood which included grazing, horticulture etc. — making the case for why access and usage rights to the mountain range is important to the tribals in numerous ways. Territorial rights under the FRA thereby, needs to be interpreted “beyond just village boundaries”. During this argument, Justice Aftab Alam asked, “But will tribals continue to be tribals all life? If offered the benefits of the modern age, will they not accept it? Will they live for ages and ages on grazing for their livelihood?”. Here, the Solicitor General, pointed out how the FRA provides for infrastructure and amenities such as schools, hospitals, roads, aaganwadis, drinking water, minor irrigation facilities, tanks, fair-price shops etc. Justice Alam was not convinced, and commented, “These amenities are beneficiary in nature to be provided by the state, what about generation of employment?”. There were other statements such as there from the bench “What if the tribals don’t want to continue how they are living and they want modern facilities?; If 5000 of the 7000 Dongria Kond say that they want development, you cannot tell them that – no you cannot have these modern amenities, as that is not what the FRA expects you to do.; What is it that the tribals really want?”. The bench also commented that it will have to be ascertained how much of the infrastructure and development espoused by Vedanta is actually there on the ground. They acknowledged the possibility that the tribals may want these developmental benefits, but still not want the company Vedanta to be there. To this, Mr.Sundaram from the company’s side interjected saying, “There is NO objection from tribals, my Lord”.

The Solicitor General also read out various sections from the NC Saxena Committee report, which included testimonials from individuals of the Dongria Kond who would be affected by the mining. When one of the testimonial was being read out, Justice Alam expressed confusion saying, “Why are people saying ‘we cannot leave our land’? Why this apprehension that they are going to be displaced, when the company says that there would be no displacement for mining? If the consequence of mining operation is that it will displace the tribals, that is a very serious matter and it demolishes Mr.Sundaram’s arguments from yesterday”. Mr.Parasan responded that even if mining might not be directly displacing the people, it has a severe impact on their lives. To this, Justice Radhakrishnan remarked, “By that logic, we would have to stop all mining in the country”. The Solicitor General argued that it does not always have to be the case, but sought to explain how with respect to Vedanta the consequences of mining would be disastrous on the Dongria Kond. He further read out the section on “Impact of Mining” from the NC Saxena Committee Report to support his argument.

Mohan Parasaran then went on to make the case for how religious and sacred rights come under the ambit of the FRA. He pointed out to clause 3.1.(j) which states “rights….which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State” and to clause 3.1.(l) which states “any other traditional right customarily enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers……….”. He reasoned that religious right in the form of right to their sacred mountain for the Dongria Kond has to be read as a customary and traditional right, which falls under the jurisdiction of the FRA. To this, Justice Radhakrishan enquired, “But the clauses you mention are under the heading of Forest Rights, why include religious right in an Act such as this?”. The Solicitor General responded saying that, “The FRA should not exclude any right for a forest-dweller.” He also referred to a previous court judgement with regard to a case involving Shias and Shunnis, that mentions “customary right to perform religious practice”.

The afternoon session of the hearing started with the Mr.Parasaran reading out the summary of the NC Saxena report, on request by the bench. When he was reading out the paragraph in the report that talks about how no consultations where conducted with the gram sabhas about this project, Justice Alam remarked how it was “a completely opposite picture” to what Mr.Sundaram had presented the day before. When the question about the the fact that the process of determination of rights under FRA had not been completed at the level of the gram sabha, the bench enquired if “the union can vest gram sabhas with such powers that the powers of the State government is nullified”. To this, the Solicitor General pointed to specific articles in the Constitution that empowered gram sabhas in this manner. He also mentioned that given that the mining area is notified as a Scheduled area, gram sabhas here especially have a strong mandate. Vedanta was hence, also guilty of non-implementation of PESA. Also he clarified that MoEF cannot grant clearance unless FRA procedure is fully complete, irrespective of the fact if people have filed claims or not.

The next submission of the day was by Advocate Sanjay Parekh who is representing the tribals in the case. He first expressed his grievance that he had not yet been allowed to present his case, given that the tribals ought to be the main affected party in this case. Mr.Parekh began his submission by quoting a paragraph from the book “Out of This Earth” by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, where to the question of “What is your religion?”, the Dongria Kond tribal replies, “Mountains”. In fact, the OMC lawyer objected to the reference from this book, saying that it was written by academics and activists who are politically motivated and have led a campaign against Vedanta. Mr.Parekh used this instance to illustrate how we have to understand and be sensitive to the culture and beliefs of the Dongria Kond, as it is very different from the mainstream perceptions of our society. He argued that the determination of the rights vested in this context has to be done by the gram sabha. Just a few minutes after Mr.Parekh had started his submission, the bench bombadred him with a whole host of questions that were steeped in a very poor understanding of tribal issues and values, and also displayed a highly patronising narrative. Some of those questions were – “Have the tribals been made aware of the material benefits that will come to them under the orders of this court? Only once they are aware of this, can they give conscious and informed consent!; Can you read out any section in the NC Saxena Committee report where they have specifically rejected the modern benefits?; The tribals have been living this way of life for hundreds of years, you want them to do that for hundred more years? They cannot remain primitive forever; Are you Mr.Parekh, of all people, trying to say that they are destined to live in poverty for the next hundred years also?; They are being told all negative impacts of mining, the FRA does not ban them from choosing modernity, if they see it as better for them”; As long as this court is there, how can their land be taken away? By an order of this court guaranteeing the benefits of modernity, wouldn’t we undo some of the historical injustice you refer to Mr. Parekh?”. Justice Aftab Alam emphasised that “this court will take utmost cognisance of the wish of tribals, but the wish must be conscious after being made aware of the good and bad impacts of mining”, although he said that “it will not be determinative”. To these various statements, Mr.Parekh tried to make the case for how the bench is using the wrong lens to look at the matter. “If we ask critically, development benefit has gone to whom, My Lord?”, asked Mr.Parekh. He argued how we cannot use the same parameters used for mainstream society to decide on what the tribals want – for instance, for most tribal communities, happiness is not derived from material wants, but from a sustainable way of life that lives in harmony with nature. “This integrated way of living should be protected”, said Mr.Parekh. Mr.Parekh also presented some individual tales of Dongria Kond tribals and their opinions about the adverse effect that the proposed mining will bring to their way of life. At this, the bench interjected to say, “I am sure the other side can present 15 affidavits from members of the Dongria Kond, along with photos, stating how the mining activity will change their lives for the better. One or two incidents cannot demonstrate the larger picture – which is what we are interested in”. Here, Mr.Parekh talked about the pollution of ground water caused by the refinery, and as well as how if the mining started, the source of the rivers at the top of the mountain, which allows for their livelihood and survival will be destroyed. These he claimed are gross and large scale violations of rights which has and will put the survival of the Dongria Kond at stake, and also provides us with a larger picture. Given the unethical practices of Vedanta so far, the Dongria Kond cannot trust the company at all. Mr. Parekh pointed out that “it is the responsibility of the state to provide and facilitate for development. The state has not been doing that, and how can we expect a private company to come in now and do this?”. He also mentioned that even in the case of the Jarava tribes of the Andamans, it was the same debate with regard to development through tourism. In this case, the court decided in favour of protection of the tribals.

The session ended with a short submission by the representative of CEC, Mr. Raj Pajwani, who argued that once mining starts, there might not be physical displacement, but the habitat of the Dongria Kond will be destroyed – “once you cut off the source, then what happens to rivers and agriculture?”, he said. The CEC’s submission also reiterated the various violations of procedure committed by Vedanta.

21st February

I was not present in Court this day. The day started with Mr.Parekh finishing his case on behalf of the tribals from the day before. The CEC also made another submission. It ended with OMC and Vedanta side presenting a response. The final arguments for the case have been laid down now. The bench has reserved judgement on the matter.

 

Forest land cannot be diverted for #Vedanta project, says India #goodnews


New Delhi, February 16, 2013

 

English: Dongri Kondh Dance from Kalahandi

English: Dongri Kondh Dance from Kalahandi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

J. Venkatesan, The Hindu

Justifying the cancellation of the environmental clearance granted to Vedanta for the Lanjigarh Bauxite mining project in Odisha, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on Friday said that forest land cannot be diverted under the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

In its affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the MoEF said: “The diversion of forest land on the proposed mining site of the Lanjigarh bauxite mining lease is violative of the fundamental rights of the Dongria Kondh tribals as well as the spirit of Forest Rights Act especially for the vulnerable tribal groups such as the Dongria Kondh and thus cannot be allowed for this reason alone.”

It said: “More than 7 sq. km. of the sacred undisturbed forests on top of the mountain, where the proposed mining lease area of the Lanjigarh bauxite mining lease is located has been protected for centuries by the Dongria Kondh, a primitive tribal group [now termed as particularly vulnerable tribe] as sacred to their deity. Diversion of these sacred areas for mining will undermine the customary rights of the Dongria Kondhs to protect their sacred places of worship and thereby amount to a violation of their fundamental right to manage their own affairs in the matter of religion and fundamental right to conserve the culture of their own. It was also in direct violation further of the specific provisions of the Forest Rights Act.”

According to the Orissa Mining Corporation, which filed the writ petition, the then Minister of State for MoEF, Jairam Ramesh, passed an order, withdrawing the environmental clearance just a day before the Council of Ministers was reshuffled. It said that no mandatory notice was given before such withdrawal. The then Minister withdrew the clearance despite knowing that the matter was sub judice and that the Supreme Court issued notice three months ago on a writ petition. It sought quashing of the order. The Centre filed its response on this petition.

The Centre said: “The Lanjigarh bauxite mining lease is located in Scheduled Areas as referred to in Clause (1) of Article 244 of the Constitution. Circumscribing or extinguishing of forest rights in such areas shall be in conformity with the provisions of the clause-5 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.

“Section 5 of the 2006 Act inter alia provides that the holders of the forest right, Gram Sabha and village level institutions in areas, where there are holders of any forest rights under this Act, are empowered to ensure that 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.”

 

 

#India-SC to seal fate of Vedanta Group’s Lanjigarh refinery on December 3


must warn readers that the scribe has given half the facts. no mention of notices from state pollution control board, complaints to nhrc, nc saxena, etc. rather makes the case for val . the times of india of course.

By , TNN | Nov 27, 2012, 04.49 AM IST

BHUBANESWAR: The Supreme Court on Monday fixed December 3 as the final date of hearing in the Niyamgiri bauxite mining case. The verdict will seal the fate of Vedanta Group’s Lanjigarh refinery in Kalahandi district.

The Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) went to the Supreme Court in March 2011 after the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) rejected stage-2 forest diversion proposal for the Niyamgiri bauxite mine, having an estimated deposit of 78 million tons, from where the state government had promised raw materials to Vedanta’s refinery.

The Vedanta group is the only private industrial house having done tangible investments in the state during the present Naveen Patnaikregime.

The one mtpa capacity refinery, however, has been embroiled in a series of controversies ranging from environmental activists protesting that it would jeopardise the fragile ecosystem of the region to political parties, particularly the Congress, clamouring that mining on Niyamgiri hill would spell doom for the endangered Dongria Kondh tribes.

OMC had got the lease in 2004. But mining became impossible in the area in the face of PILs that raised questions on the future of biodiversity, water bodies and Dongria Kondhs.

The court battle went on for several years, during which at least three major agencies like the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, Central Mines Planning and Design Institute, Ranchi, and the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) examined the charges made by the petitioners.

The Supreme Court cleared the project in August 2008 followed by the MoEF issuing environment clearance and Stage-1 green signal for diversion of about 660 hectares of forest proposed by the state government for the mining project. The MoEF while issuing the stage-1 clearance had put 21 conditions which included deposit of Rs 125 crore for development of wildlife and the tribals.

But the refinery’s problem though was far from over. This time it was the Central government that put blocks on the project. As the time came for the MoEF to issue the stage-2 forest clearance, it started dithering.

MoEF soon appointed an expert committee to study the fulfillment of conditions it had imposed earlier. The state government on its part placed its view before the MoEF that the conditions had been fulfilled, but things still were not going the refinery’s way.

As the MoEF constituted more expert groups to examine the charges against the project, it withdrew the stage-1 forest clearance as well. By August-end the signal was loud and clear that the project was heading to face a raw deal in the hands of the MoEF. And it happened.

MoEF rejected the stage-2 forest diversion proposal for the mining project sent by the state government. As the Centre refused to budge from its stand despite repeated persuasions by the state government, the OMC went to the apex court challenging the MoEF order.

Amid this the net loser has since been the refinery, which has in the meanwhile completed nearly 70% works, though allegedly illegally, for increasing the refinery’s capacity from one mtpa to 6 mtpa.

“We put up the plant believing the state government. Little did we know that the investment would take us running from pillar to post. We have no raw material in hand. We have already lost over Rs 2500 crore,” said a senior Vedanta official.

 

Indian tribe’s Avatar-like battle against mining firm reaches supreme court


Dongri Kondh Dance from Kalahandi

Dongri Kondh Dance from Kalahandi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday April 8,  The Guardian
Dongria Kondh people pledge to carry on fight to prevent Vedanta Resources from mining bauxite in Niyamgiri hills

The leaders of thousands of forest-dwelling tribesmen who have fought for years to preserve their ancestral lands from exploitation by an international mining corporation have promised to continue their struggle whatever the decision in a key hearing before India’s supreme court on Monday.

Dubbed the “real-life Avatar” after the Hollywood blockbuster, the battle of the Dongria Kondh people to stop the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources from mining bauxite from a hillside they consider sacred has attracted international support. Celebrities backing the campaign include James Cameron, the director of Avatar, Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author, as well as the British actors Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin.

On Monday the court will decide on an appeal by Vedanta against a ministerial decision in 2010 that stopped work at the site in the Niyamgiri hills of India’s eastern Orissa state.

Lingaraj Azad, a leader of the Save Niyamgiri Committee, said the Dongria Kondh’s campaign was “not just that of an isolated tribe for its customary rights over its traditional lands and habitats, but that of the entire world over protecting our natural heritage”.

An alliance of local tribes has now formed to defend the Dongria Khondh. Kumity Majhi, a leader of the Majhi Kondh adivasi (indigenous people), said local communities would stop the mining “whether or not the supreme court favour us”.

“We, the Majhi Kondh adivasis, will help our Dongria Kondh brothers in protecting the mountains,” he said.

India’s rapid economic growth has generated huge demand for raw materials. Weak law enforcement has allowed massive environmental damage from mining and other extractive industries, according to campaigners.

Vedanta, which wants the bauxite for an alumina refinery it has built near the hills, requires clearance under the country’s forest and environmental laws. But though it had obtained provisional permission, it failed to satisfy laws protecting the forests and granting rights to local tribal groups.

A government report accused the firm of violations of forest conservation, tribal rights and environmental protection laws in Orissa, a charge subsequently repeated by a panel of forestry experts.

Jairam Ramesh, the then environment minister, decided that Vedanta would not be allowed to mine the bauxite because “laws [were] being violated”.

At the time, a spokesman denied the company had failed to obtain the consent of the tribal groups. “Our effort is to bring the poor tribal people into the mainstream,” Vedanta Aluminium‘s chief operating officer, Mukesh Kumar, said shortly before the 2010 decision.

Since then the company has made efforts to win over local and international opinion. This weekend Vedanta, contacted through their London-based public relations firm, declined to comment.

Many Indian businessmen say economic growth must be prioritised even at the expense of the environment or the country’s most marginalised communities. They argue these are the inevitable costs of development.

Ramesh was considered the first environment minister to take on major corporate interests after decades where legal constraints on business were routinely ignored. But his stance caused a rift within the government and he was moved to a different ministry.

Chandra Bhushan, of the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, said the outcome of the court case would either be “very encouraging for business or very encouraging for civil society”.

“There are so many reasons not to mine there [in the Niyamgiri hills], the court could only overturn it on procedural grounds. Otherwise it will send a signal of total political paralysis,” he told the Guardian.

The supreme court may decide to send the case to the newly constituted national green tribunal, a body of legal and technical experts, to consider once more.

Last week the tribunal suspended the environmental permits for the massive Posco iron and steel refinery, also in Orissa. The project would see an £8bn investment from a South Korean firm, and would significantly enhance India’s industrial capacity as well as generating hundreds of jobs. The tribunal decided however that studies on its environmental impact had been based on a smaller venture and were thus invalid.

Elsewhere in India, power plants, dams, factories, roads and other infrastructure projects are stalled pending environmental clearance. There are frequent reports of clashes over land throughout the country. In February, Survival International, a UK-based campaign group, said it received reports of arrests and beatings apparently aimed at stopping a major religious festival in the Niyamgiri hills where Vedanta’s bauxite mine is planned.

Faking Happiness- Vedanta- The Avataar of India

Profiteer Vedanta will destroy tribals and spawn Maoists


Kondh Lady

Kondh Lady (Photo credit: ramesh_lalwani)

ETHICS & POWER
RAM JETHMALANI- in Sunday Guardian

A woman from the Dongria Kondh tribe watches a gathering near the Niyamgiri hills to protest against plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from that mountain near Lanjigarh in Orissa on 23 February 2010. (REUTERS)

he low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria-Kondh tribe before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The Kondh worshipped and watched over the hills as living deities; the hills made their life possible. The Niyamgiri hills are covered by cool forests which induce moderate rainfall, and provide water for the rivers and rivulets that flow from them and irrigate the lands below. The hills, ancient and only home of the Kondh, have been sold to a company, called Vedanta, British, but owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran.

Vedanta is after the tribes of Orissa, their hearth and home and their pots and pans. The destruction of ecology, disturbance of environmental harmony and the death and destitution of lakhs of Dongra-Kondh are imminent.

Vedanta’s response is cruel: Why not? It is only the price of progress. America, Europe and Australia have a history of killing indigenous populations: why not India?

The Niyamgiri hills have been sold for their bauxite while Government has announced an Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the Maoist terrorists headquartered in the jungles of Central India. In reality, it is a cruel, avaricious and corrupt war against the landless, the Dalits, workers, peasants and weavers of the region. These weak, downtrodden, almost-forgotten people are pitted against a juggernaut of injustice by a cruel society and corrupt politicians. I regret that even the Supreme Court, presided over by a Dalit Chief Justice is unwittingly supportive of a policy which involves wholesale corporate takeover of these people’s land and resources.{ Maoists draw their power from the atrocities perpetrated on the poor. Corrupt Governments are not the solution. They are the problem. Society has to reform itself and eliminate insane, caste-ridden cruelty.

ear what Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has had to say. Two and half years ago he said, “Maoists are the single largest internal security threat to the country.” On 6 January 2009 he thought that Maoists had only modest capabilities. On 18 June 2009, at a meeting of state Chief Ministers and in Parliament he was more forthright about what he really felt: “If left wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected.” Does it not sound like a sell-out to crony capitalism?

Of course one condemns the  violence of the Maoists. The recent atrocity which killed more than 70 of our guardians of law and order must be condemned. But let us not forget that in 2004, when the ban on the Peoples’ War Group (the earlier incarnation of Maoists) was lifted in Andhra Pradesh, their rally was attended in Warangal by 15 lakh Indian citizens. Maoists draw their power from the atrocities perpetrated on the poor who, decimated by overwhelming force, have been forced to flee into the jungles of Chhattisgarh and join the comrades already working there.

Read more here

Open letter to Shyam Benegal on Vedanta’s Creating Happiness


Dear Mr Shyam Benegal

Greetings !

I met you  first on a flight from  Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai in 2008 , and   I  considered myself to be lucky to meet you and used the  opportunity to talk to you for Dr Binayak Sen’s Release, the video     I was so delighted to find a voice in you for human rights and a voice for the voiceless- the tribals, who have been suppressed and have been the victims of the so called development model aggressively supported by the Government and our middle class for whom infrastructure amounts to development of the nation and will make india the super power at the expense of displacing the tribals.

Today I am aghast to know that you are in the jury of Vedanta’s “Creating Happiness Film Competition” , a short film contest for India‘s student film makers by Vedanta.

The claim by Vedanta on their  website http://www.creatinghappiness.in/about_us.html is the biggest  scam  of the century.

Do you know ?

Corporate mining giant  Vedanta has been violating the human rights of tribals in Odisha for  many  years now. The Dongria Kondhs, a primitive tribe, has been forced to relinquish their rights over their homeland, and cultural and livelihood resources to accommodate the company’s refinery and mines complex. The company’s mines, no matter how benign, will rip through a hill that is the sacred deity of the tribe that has lived in these hills for centuries without leaving a trace on the sensitive ecosystem of the biodiverse watershed forests. The hills that are slotted for mining are home to the Golden Gecko, a species that figures in IUCN’s Red List of endangered species. The Niyamgiri Mountains are the primary source of drinking water for the entire area, apart from being the source of two important rivers of Orissa Nagabali and Vamsadhara which are the lifeline of at least 50000 people downstream.

Zambia’s biggest mining company, Konkola Copper Mine (KCM), owned by Vendanta, in 2007  caused widespread water pollution when its acidic effluent entered the Kafue River, the main source of water of about 2 million people in the area. In Armenia it underwent a criminal investigation into its unlawful gold operations and was disallowed from any further activity in the country. In November 2007 the government of Norway withdrew all investments in Vedanta after its Ethical Council concluded the company ‘has caused serious damage to people and to the environment as a result of its economic activities’

A special monitoring body set up by the Supreme Court of India, the Central Empowered Committee, has submitted several reports highlighting the irregularities and corruption and recommended that the permission to mine the rich forests of the area should not be granted to the company. This report was also important in the decision of the Norwegian Council of Ethics ( See:  CENTRAL%20EMPOWERED%20COMMITTEE%20report.doc for this report).

Research by Amnesty International and other local and international groups documents the serious and continuing pollution caused by the refinery’s operations. Despite the string of decisions against Vedanta, the company has failed to remedy the pollution.

The 2010  Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF) report  says govt-panel-says-vedanta-violating-guidelines_446875.html

“That displacement, loss of livelihood, pollution, non-payment of compensation of land and objections to the project and its effects are some of the causes for discontent and protest” & “That these are aspects that are integral to the lives of the Dongria Kondh (local tribes people) and do not appear to have been considered while deciding to open up the mountain top for mining,”

The latest high court verdict states that Vedanta cannot circumvent conditions issued by India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), stipulating that plans for expansion of the refinery should go through a fresh environmental and social impact assessment and a public hearing process. Residents of 12 villages who live in the shadow of the massive refinery – mostly Majhi Kondh Adivasi (Indigenous) and Dalit communities who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods – have long campaigned against the expansion.

India’s great land grab continues, with police forcibly evicting tribal villagers in Orissa from land sold to UK-based Vedanta Resources to use as a toxic waste dump . Activist Satyabadi Naik’s shocking video of police crackdown on a peaceful protest by women of Rengopalli and other villages against Vedanta’s toxic Red Mud Pond in Lanjigarh. This video was recorded on 23 Jan 2012. Watch the Video  urgent-villagers-protest-against-vedanta-red-mud-pond

Vedanta is not creating happiness but it is faking happiness, and  in the short films below you will see the REAL FACE OF VEDANTA

The Real Face of Vedanta

Niyamgiri – The Mountain of Law

iii. The Protector of the Streams

iv. Controversy over best environmental management award to vedanta

I hope after reading my letter and seeing the videos you will also pull out from the Jury of Vedanta like Gul Panag did, when she became aware of the various human rights violations by Vedanta. The  film competition ends on March 20, 2012  and I hope you will  truly stand for human rights of the people of Odisha.

Infact, I would like to invite you to be  on  the jury of an independent film competition  on human rights violations by corporates “ Faking Happiness “, I will send you the details soon.

Regards

Adv Kamayani Bali Mahabal

Mumbai

Feb , 20, 2012

Related Links

http://kractivist.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/open-letter-to-piyush-pandey-on-vedantas-creating-happiness/