“Huge cheers to friends at Barduari Studios for creating these wonderful online action in which several, who for some reason, could not join offline actions were still able to express their solidarity and resolve to right the wrong.”
“Huge cheers to friends at Barduari Studios for creating these wonderful online action in which several, who for some reason, could not join offline actions were still able to express their solidarity and resolve to right the wrong.”
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.
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.
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.
Support for the anti-POSCO resistance:
* Korean Civil and Labour organisations condemn State violence on anti-POSCO villagers
* Support Letter by French Civil Society to Anti-Posco Movement
* An Open Letter from concerned citizens to the Chief Minister of Odisha
* Letter of Concern from Global Forest Coalition at the barbaric action of police proposed POSCO project area in Jagatsingpur district of Orissa
As you may be aware our leader Mr. Abhaya Sahoo had to take the extreme step of sitting on hunger strike till the time withdrawal of armed police force from our area is completed. His fast has been going on at Patna Hat village since the morning of 5th February 2013 though he is not in good health.
While thanking you all for the support and solidarity you have been extending to the movement which certainly keeps our hope alive even when forcible displacement and despair knocks at our door, we do also appeal you on behalf our agitating villagers to please come and join us physically at the site of the Dharana in Govindapur and Patana Hat. You may be a leader/activist of a political party or a social movement or a progressive intellectual, a media person, does [not] matter where you belong to – please come and join us in the peaceful demonstration at Govindpur against the government’s coercive action to forcibly dislodge us from our land and livelihoods.
We have already informed you about the happenings on 3rd February dawn when police force forcefully entered Govindapur village and blocked the area from all sides and started beating our villagers mercilessly. Our women are complaining about torture and sexual atrocities in the hands of the police. [The police] did also pull down trees and betel vines, the major sources of our livelihood.
On 6th of February 2013, the district administration of Odisha was forced to halt the operation at around noon when hundreds of women and children formed a human barricade and told the police : ‘Kill us first before you proceed further,”.
A large number of activists from CPI, CPM, CPI ML, Liberation, Forward Bloc, Samajwadi Party, RJD and members from different social movements also participated in the demonstration. The supporters and activists of opposition Congress and BJP also joined the gherao agitation lead by Com Raja. It seems that the government would resume land acquisition work today.
Social activist Swami Agnivesh was scheduled to visit Gobindpur village today to express solidarity with our villagers.
We don’t understand the Odisha government’s determination to go ahead with the forceful land acquisition process for the steel plant despite the fact that Posco does not have an environmental clearance for the project. The environmental clearance given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on January 31, 2011 was suspended by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on March 30 of 2012.
Posco does not even have a memorandum of understanding with the state government now. The one it had signed on July 22, 2005 lapsed on July 21, 2010 and no fresh MoU has been signed so far. So what is the basis on which the state is acquiring land for the project?
Even the palli sabha meeting of Govindpur, and the gram sabha meeting of Dhinkia panchayat on 18 October, 2012, more than 2000 residents unanimously voted against diversion of land for Posco’s project under provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006. The ongoing land acquisition is a blatant violation of the Forest Rights Act as the rights over forest lands in our area are not being recognized and vested and consent of the Palli Sabhas has not been obtained by the State government.
There is a clear indication that the government is acting at the behest of and for the benefit of the private company and is in a hurry to begin work even when the new land acquisition bill is being considered by the Parliament, which mandates consent of nearly 70% people in a village before acquiring their land for any project. The project is also facing court cases relating to allotment of iron ore mines and water as well.
We have been questioning the project’s potential to generate jobs for the people and the net benefit the country will get after sacrificing land, water and doling out concessions to the foreign company. The government is completely silent on its part to discuss the issues involving the project.
At this juncture, once again, we earnestly appeal you to join us and express your solidarity with villagers of Govindpur.
Attaching herewith the photographs for your information.
Kindly circulate widely.
Hoping for solidarity,
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
E-Mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
This week, India Real Time presents an in-depth look at the country’s prison and custody system.
It is a system that still carries many attributes of its origins in British-run colonial India, and gives a high degree of discretion to how state governments apply the penal code — and who ends up behind bars, whether serving prison sentences, or in temporary army or police custody.
Experts note that the national government, over decades, hasn’t funded the expansion of the prison system to meet the increasing ranks of prisoners. In part, those ranks have increased because India’s court system is backlogged with 65% of India’s 240,000 people in jail yet to face a verdict in court, according to government data. They also point to allegations of abuse in army custody, which the army denies.
In four chapters this week, India Real Time will examine different aspects of life under custody, as well as attempts to improve it. They include the experience of those facing trial as well as efforts being made to promote rehabilitation over punishment.
MUMBAI, India – When Arun Ferreira went to prison in 2007, his son was only two. Today, they are reunited, and a tide of private anguish has at last begun to roll back and wash away.
“My family didn’t tell him that I was in jail, they told him I was away on business for five years,” Mr. Ferreira says.
“Today, my son still doesn’t believe it. Recently, he saw a picture of Nelson Mandela somewhere. I explained who he was, and then I mentioned [what happened to me], and he thought I was fibbing.”
On an unusually sunny afternoon during monsoon season in the residential neighborhood of Bandra, Mr. Ferreira is gracious and funny as we sit in a local coffee shop to discuss his experience in jail. Mr. Ferreira was arrested under the auspices that he was a Maoist rebel, planning to blow up the Deekshabhoomi Complex, a monument in the town of Nagpur, where the Dalit icon Ambedkar is believed to have embraced Buddhism for the first time. Mr. Ferreira spent most of the following roughly four years and a half years in Nagpur’s Central Jail.
The Communist Party of India (Maoist), are also known as Naxalites, a reference to the West Bengal town of Naxalbari, where their movement began. Started as a left wing political group in the 1940s, in the 1960s they launched an armed struggle against the Indian government, which they have been violently opposing ever since.
Their largest support base comes from local tribes who seek to retain their land resisting industrial interests. In 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously described Naxalism as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” Members of the group could not be reached.
Mr. Ferreira was charged with attacking a police station, firing on police, and booked under the Unlawful Activities Act of 2004, a law created to bolster security against possible terrorist attacks.
Mr. Ferreira claims he was held for organizing slum-dwellers to unite in protest against the demolition of their homes. Such demolitions are a frequent source of strife here in Mumbai, often pitting poorer locals against police and property developers. Mr. Ferreira is currently out on bail and contesting two additional charges – allegations that he illicitly possessed arms and fired on police – that were leveled against him by plain-clothes officers during his time of awaiting trial in Nagpur. Mr. Ferreira denies any wrongdoing.
In Sept. 2011, a court ruled that Mr. Ferreira was innocent of all eight of the charges that were placed against him, over four years and eight months after his initial arrest.
Justice Hosbet Suresh, 83, is a former judge of the Mumbai High Court whose experience working inside the system has driven him, during his retirement years, to become an advocate for prisoners’ rights. He says that India’s slow trials are being made even slower by a lack of judicial manpower.
“There are simply not enough judges to handle all of the cases,” says Mr. Suresh. “We just have too few of them relative to the population here.”
According to the Indian Bar Association, as of 2010, there were over 30 million cases pending in courts across India due in large part to a ratio of 11 judges per million people. This leaves India with a persistent backlog of cases waiting to be heard.
As a result, “more than half of the prison population here is under trial,” Mr. Suresh estimates.
It’s a lot more than half: The most recent survey conducted by the National Crimes Record Bureau, a government agency, found that as many as 64.7% of Indian prisoners have not yet been convicted. And while prisoners who are ultimately convicted will see their time spent in jail while waiting for trial reduced from their sentence, such provisions provide very little consolation to the innocent, like Mr. Ferreira.
For some it’s even worse: According to the study, 1,486 under trial prisoners, or 0.6% % of the total, had been jailed for five years without having had a single day in court.
Another reason prisoners sometimes wait years for their trial is that, according to government data, the majority of those arrested are too poor to afford bail and legal counsel.
India lacks a federal department of prisons, like that of the United States. Instead, prisons are a responsibility of individual states, although the ministry of law lays out broad guidelines on how to administer them.
Mr. Ferreira believes his politics may have played a role in his prolonged detention. He says he was shuffled between several different facilities during his time at Nagpur Central. He spent his first year in the high security Anda barrack, and his final two years were spent in what’s known as the Gunah Khana, or punishment cells.
In between that time, Mr. Ferreira says he was placed with convicts in the Phasi yard. The Phasi yard is the gallows; it’s where death row inmates are kept. Mr. Ferreira says that guards told him that he was placed there for being a security threat.
When I reached out to Nagpur Central Jail, a senior official said the prison does not comment on the cases of specific inmates. The official added that it is the policy of the prison to keep convicts and prisoners who are under trials separated in adherence with the law. According to Mr. Ferreira’s account, he found himself rubbing shoulders with those convicted of the 1993 bomb blasts that rocked Mumbai, and with the perpetrators of the Kherlanji massacre of 2006, where Dalit men and women were slaughtered by upper caste Hindus. He had little choice but to remain calm and do his best not to draw attention to himself for that entire year. A spokesman for Nagpur Central Jail declined to comment on Mr. Ferreira’s allegations.
– Vibhuti Agarwal contributed to this post.
Michael Edison Hayden is an American writer currently living in Mumbai.
By Riyan Ramanath V, TNN | Jan 14, 2013,
“We don’t know who Jairam Ramesh is,” said Dadhi Pushika, a local tribal, who couldn’t spell out the name of the minister properly. He said they were asked by some local Congressmen to gather at the venue of the public meeting on Sunday and to perform their traditional music and dance.
The tribals, who were singing and dancing merrily before the minister arrived at the venue, however, stopped doing so as soon as hisentourage arrived. The shy tribals didn’t budge even as the minister urged them to continue singing.
“We were also asked to come with our traditional weapons to brandish during his (minister’s) visit. So I asked some of my friends in the village to come, who asked me if the guest was coming in a helicopter,” smiled another tribal Drenju Wikaka shyly. He said they were asked to sing a pro-Niyamgiri song. But when asked what the words of their songs were, Wikaka said they were singing, “‘Don’t take Niyamgiri o videshi'”.
“Every time a guest comes to our village on Niyamgiri issue, we are invited although after his return things remain the same. He makes some promises, which the local educated people make us understand. But our villagers are being tortured and treated like dogs by the local police on suspicion of being involved in Maoist activities and the leaders are not doing anything,” said Kalia Sikoka. He stressed Niyamgiri is everything for them and they won’t give an inch of it, questioning innocently why is there so much fuss about it.
Abducted Malkangiri collector Vineel Krishna, who is the private secretary to Ramesh at present, was also part of the visit. He said the security system has to improve in Maoist-infested districts to successfully complete developmental projects meant for tribals. “Maoists are instigating the innocent people and taking advantage of underdevelopment. In order to ensure development we need people’s support,” said Krishna. About his release from Maoist abductors in 2011, he said his release was possible only because of the support of local people.
(Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded grassroots effort initiated in November 2009, to challenge the violence being perpetrated upon women’s bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberties, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrator(s). We have conducted fact findings and brought out several reports of cases of sexual violence in conflict areas, notably in Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh; and have collaborated with women’s organizations in Kashmir and the North East in their struggles in such situations. We attempt to support women victims, approach courts and human rights institutions for redressal, and conduct awareness campaigns.)
Representation by “Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression” to the Justice Verma Commission.
(Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded grassroots effort initiated in November 2009, to challenge the violence being perpetrated upon women’s bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberties, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrator(s). We have conducted fact findings and brought out several reports of cases of sexual violence in conflict areas, notably in Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh; and have collaborated with women’s organizations in Kashmir and the North East in their struggles in such situations. We attempt to support women survivors of such violence, approach courts and human rights institutions for redressal, and conduct awareness campaigns.)
WSS notes with concern that the entire public debate arising out of the recent Delhi gang rape incident has centered round the issues of “enacting a strong law” and “prescribing harsher sentences”. It has failed to recognize more basic issues – the enormous social obstacles encountered in registering complaints, in the conduct of thorough investigation, in the protection of witnesses, in fast and efficacious prosecution and in unbiased adjudication – in other words, the issues of implementation of the law, and the functioning of the police and judicial machinery – which necessarily precede sentencing. The debate has also largely failed to take into account the deeply patriarchal character of our social institutions, and law enforcement machinery which render women vulnerable to violence in the family, in the larger community, in their work places and public places.
In particular, in this representation, WSS would like to focus on the even more serious situation that arises when patriarchal attitudes are reinforced by caste, communal and class inequalities or perpetrated by the state, that is, when sexual violence is inflicted as a part of an assault by a dominant community as in a caste attack or communal riot; or when sexual violence is inflicted on women in custody in a police lock-up or jail or state institution; and when sexual violence is perpetrated by the police, security forces or army. Rapes occur daily in this country and adivasi, dalit, working class women, women with disability, hijras, kothis and sex workers are especially targeted based on the knowledge that the system will not support them when they file complaints of rape. We also note with concern that our suggestions are limited to what will affect women and our suggestions on sentencing must be also interpreted to mean that at least equivalent sentences should be imposed on perpetrators of the same crimes upon children. The current sentencing laws on those are woefully inadequate.
However, our reach in terms of getting input directly from these communities is still limited by the people we know and have worked with, and we hope that our submissions do not contribute to limiting the discussion to those groups and people who have access to information via the internet and English newsmedia, and we hope the Justice Verma Commission carries out wide ranging consultations with women in every locality, with dalit groups, rural groups, labor groups, and groups working on communal sexual violence and sexual violence against adivasi women, groups working in areas in conflict with the state, and groups working on disability and transgender issues.
Here are our suggestions:
A. In regard to Sexual Violence by Police and Security Forces
Defining custodial violence: Any incident of sexual assault by police/ security forces or SPOs accompanying them, irrespective of where it occurs, should be treated as custodial violence since the perpetrators exercise power and control over the people of that area owing to their position of authority. Such sexual assault should be considered to be a case of aggravated assault.
Security of women detainees: The lack, especially in remote/ small police stations, of women constables (in whose presence women under-trials and prisoners are more likely to be safe), is a serious issue. If there is no woman constable on duty, that particular police station must not be allowed to detain women. Women constables must be present throughout any interrogation of women detainees. Arbitrary or proxy arrests and illegal detention of women and children during search operations in conflict areas, which render women extremely vulnerable, have to stop.
Rule of law: There must be strict adherence to the procedures and safeguards for protecting women in custody and women should be produced before the court at the earliest opportunity, even before the mandatory 24 hours, to be able to disclose original violations as well as further ill-treatment (if any) while in custody of police or jail authorities. Their families also must be intimated within this time period of their whereabouts.
Detention of women: The rules about arresting and detaining women at night should strictly apply to all women and transgender people, including sex workers. Transgender people must be handled only by women police officers and not male police officers, given the history of custodial violence against them.
Judicial recognition: The judiciary must take suo moto cognizance of any irregularity in the arresting procedure and delays in presenting the accused before the magistrate. Any non-compliance of the D.K. Basu guidelines and other provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code should attract strict action and accountability from the Court. Once the woman has been presented before the magistrate, it is the responsibility of the judiciary, to ensure that her dignity and safety are ensured and her complaints of violations of her rights addressed. If any violation of the rights of a woman takes place in police or judicial custody, the judiciary should take the strictest action against the perpetrators in a time bound manner, and she must immediately be given the option of being transferred to custody outside the state.
Investigation and registration in cases of custodial or state violence: It cannot be expected that an aggrieved person/family who has been violated by personnel of the police station of her/their area, will go back to report the violation to that very same police station. She should have the option of registering cases in another district or state, and the case must be investigated by an authority not involving local police if they are the perpetrators. Special guidelines must be evolved for such cases along the lines of the NHRC guidelines for encounter killings.
Vulnerability in conflict situations: There must be a quick and effective response from the district and state administration when a woman shows the courage to make a complaint of sexual violence. Instead, the rape survivor, her family and other witnesses are only further terrorised by the people in authority. The administration should take suo moto cognisance of such complaints, whether they come directly, through the media or any other source. Third-party complaints of custodial sexual violence should also be allowed to initiate the process of safeguarding the survivor behind bars from further assault in custody.
All state-supported private militias and vigilante groups, such as Salwa Judum and others in the conflict areas of Central India, Manipur and Kashmir must be disbanded. Action must be taken against the members of these groups accused of sexual violence and other human rights violations as it would apply to the police and security forces, i.e., treating their cases as aggravated sexual assault.
Registering cases: The FIR of all victims should be registered, even where the perpetrators are from the Central Armed Police Forces or the Army, and refuge must not be taken under impunity provided under unjust laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In particular if a Superintendent of Police receives a complaint that a particular police station has refused to register an FIR, he must be made personally liable to get the FIR registered immediately and to conduct an enquiry against his erring subordinate, with legally enforceable consequences for not doing so within 48 hours of being informed. .
Criminal prosecution: Sexual assault by the Central Armed Police Forces or the Army must be brought under criminal law. In cases of sexual offences, the law should clearly state that the Army has no jurisdiction to prosecute the accused member of the armed forces. The accused must be handed over and all investigation must be done by the police strictly in accordance with the law, and supervised by a senior police officer. The requirement of sanction for prosecution under Sec. 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code should be done away with in cases of custodial sexual violence and other human rights violations.
Facilitating investigation: Immediate arrest of the accused and suspension of all accused from their posts, once the FIR is registered or suo moto cognizance of the crime is taken, is essential. The accused should not be allowed to exercise any authority in the area where the complaint of sexual violence is made, till the final determination of the complaint. Armed forces personnel and public servants against whom there are serious charges of violence against women, or who have been named in FIRs alleging violence, should not be considered for national awards and military honours or promotions until their names are cleared.
Command responsibility: In cases of sexual assault committed by State personnel, the authorities higher up in the hierarchy (SP and the Collector or any other senior officer in the chain of command of the Central Armed Police Forces) should be held criminally liable for crimes committed by those under their command or within their control. Ignorance or lack of information about sexual violence committed in his/her jurisdiction cannot be an excuse for inaction.
Sentencing: The sentences for custodial rape and sexual assault must be enhanced compared to the sentences for civilian rape and sexual assault, to act as a deterrent for security officers misusing the power they have derived from being officers of the state.
Speedy investigation: The responsibility of a proper investigation falls on the investigating agency. Any delay, shoddiness, partisanship and inefficiency in collection of evidence, and lack or delay in medical examination etc should be seen as a criminal offence and negligence of duty, and the concerned officers or personnel should be penalised for negligence or dereliction of duty and/or charged with complicity in the crime.
Protection of victims and witnesses: Protection of victims and witnesses has to be ensured, from the pre-trial to post-conviction stages, in accordance with the recent jurisprudential developments, the Law Commission’s 198th Report of August 2006, and decisions of the Supreme Court.
Liability and damages: It is the government’s responsibility and duty to protect the rights of women, the responsibility grows manifold when the woman is in the custody of the State. Considering the gravity of the crime, the rape survivor has a right to reparation for all the costs incurred in fighting for justice legally, to recover medically, and to recover loss of livelihood or shelter or even ability to stay in the same area as before, as a consequence of fighting a case against the perpetrator.
Reparative Justice: The State must be obliged by law to make provisions for free and high quality medical treatment, psychological care, shelter and livelihood in order to overcome possible destitution and social ostracism. This should be done through effective implementation and budgetary support of existing legal provisions and schemes for compensation/ rehabilitation for sexual assault. Such compensation should not be linked to the criminal trial and prosecution. Schemes include, but are not limited to, the Victims Compensation Scheme (brought about through a 2008 amendment to section 357A of the Cr PC) as well as the National Commission for Women’s scheme for assistance and support services to victims of rape.
B. In regard to sexual violence against marginalized groups or by dominant groups.
C. In regard to the definition of sexual assault.
Expansion of definition of sexual assault: The expansion of the definition of penetrative sexual assault under Sec. 375 IPC, beyond peno-vaginal penetration (rape) as proposed in the Criminal Law Amendment Act is a step in the right direction. It is imperative that the definition of sexual assault is broad enough to include anal, oral rape, digital rape, rape with objects etc. and also includes sexual assault against transgender people. Section 377 should be repealed as it criminalizes consensual same-sex relations and all its provisions for punishing
Gap in law of sexual offences: However, there continue to be serious gaps in the codification of crimes of non-penetrative sexual assault. The gap between ‘outrage of modesty’ (S. 354 IPC) and ‘penetrative sexual assault’ remains large. We believe that sexual crimes form a continuum, and that the graded nature of sexual assault should be recognized, based on concepts of harm, injury, humiliation and degradation, and by using the well-established categories of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual offences.
‘Outraging modesty of a woman’ to be replaced with ‘violation of bodily integrity: S.354 and S. 509 IPC, which contain archaic notions of ‘outrage of modesty’, ought to be repealed, and a clear gradation of offences and punishment as mentioned above should be inserted. We believe that ‘sexual assault’ should rest firmly on the concept of violation of bodily integrity and dignity, and sexual harassment should be defined as it is in the Vishaka Guidelines.
New sexual offences to be defined: New crimes need to be formulated to punish acts of attempt to rape, stripping, parading naked, groping, tonsuring of hair and mutilation which are intended to sexually assault, degrade or humiliate women who are so targeted. Further stalking, flashing, gesturing, blackmailing as well as sexual harassment must be codified as crimes under the rubric of sexual offences. These should include any electronic and other forms of technology which promote rape as a game, promote electronic stalking or forced viewing of pornography, etc.. We welcome the introduction of a specific offence for acid attack.
Gender neutral sexual assault: The formulation of the crime of sexual assault as gender neutral in all circumstances, as proposed in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, makes the perpetrator/ accused also gender neutral, i.e a woman or man can be accused of sexual assault. We believe that the perpetrator has to remain gender-specific and limited to men as perpetrators, as there is no empirical evidence to support a finding to the contrary, and in light of this gender neutrality of perpetrator can be used to file false cases against women who complain of rape. Hence we strongly oppose the gender-neutrality clause in relation to perpetrators under Sec. 375 IPC.
Gender neutrality of the victim: The survivor of sexual assault should be treated as gender neutral with respect to the law, even if the perpetrator is still defined as male. With respect to all forms of violence, the victims/survivors should not be described just as women, but as ‘person’, as transgender people face immense targeted sexual assault and in some cases of state and custodial violence the victims can also include men. In cases of abuse of children also children of all genders are targeted.
“Purpose”: We also express a deep problem with the expression ‘penetrate for a sexual purpose’ in Sec 375(a) of the proposed Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012. We maintain that any contact without consent is what must be punished and the intent of the perpetrator is both irrelevant, and impossible to prove.
Consent: Consent must be clearly defined as verbal agreement which can be withdrawn at any point during sexual activity. Initiation of sexual activity or sex work is not an invitation to rape or sexual assault and battery. The lack of marks on the body can not be used as evidence of consent (as in the Suryanelli case) because sedation, rape based on threats of retaliatory violence, and rape where the perpetrator holds economic, caste, communal, custodial or state power over the survivor can all be perpetrated without leaving signs of force.
No exception to consent rule for marital Rape: Rape within marriage should be recognized and should be strictly penalized. The punishment for rape should be the same irrespective of whether the perpetrator is married to the survivor of rape or not.
No exception to consent during medical procedures: Consent should be required even when penetration/genital exam of a patient by a doctor occurs for “proper hygienic or medical purposes” which is currently a defined exception for rape under the Criminal Amendment Bill 2012. Unless the patient is unconscious, doctors must have the consent of a patient for any form of penetrative or genital physical exam, and punishment for doctors abusing their privilege as doctors should be higher than for civilians.
No exclusion of prosecution of Public Servants: We suggest an exclusion of the application of S. 45 and S. 197 Cr PC to the provisions of sexual assault, in order that the existing widespread impunity for sexual assault where it is committed by public servants, is ended. We believe that no sexual assault can ever be construed as being perpetrated “in discharge of official duty” and therefore the statutory requirement of prior sanction from the government for prosecution of public servants ought not to be extended to the crime of sexual assault;
Age of consent: The age of consent should be kept at 16 years of age since the reality of caste, communal and moral policing particularly when it comes to young people from different religions and castes falling in love and running away, makes misuse of the age of consent law possible to prosecute young lovers who go against parental dictates of ‘arranged marriage within the fold of one caste/religion’.
Consent during sex work: Rape during sex work must be recognized explicitly as a sexual offence. Sex work should be decriminalized so that what takes place without consent can be clearly distinguished from the specific acts the sex worker is paid for and has consented to.
Inclusion of women in drafting process: Local womens’ groups in India, including those of adivasi, dalit, religious minority women, transgender women, self help groups and woman panchayat representatives must be consulted in drafting laws upholding women’s rights at home and in public.
D. In regard to pre-trial, trial and evidence procedures.
E. In regard to punishment for rape.
In cases of aggravated sexual assault, punishment should be for life imprisonment with no remission or parole.
Sentences should run consecutively instead of concurrently in sexual crimes.
Sentencing should be spelt out as much as possible for different extents of punishment, degradation, harm and repetition of the act of sexual violation, so that judicial discretion is limited to small difference in the nature of the crime rather than focusing on the socioeconomic standing of the survivor and perpetrator.
WSS does not support death penalty or chemical castration as a punishment for rape. We need to evolve punishments that act as true deterrents to the very large number of men who commit these crimes. Cases of rape have a conviction rate of as low as 26% showing that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy a high degree of impunity, including being freed of charges. Our vision of justice does not include death penalty, which is neither a deterrent nor an effective or ethical response to acts of sexual violence. We are opposed to it for the following reasons:
Chemical castration is also a problematic sentence since
1. It violates the fundamental right to bodily integrity and this can not be violated by the State.
2. It misrecognises much of the violence in rape. Assault and battery are carried out with fists/rods/acid and other weapons and chemical castration may not prevent a perpetrator from using these
3. We feel that this penalty would also, like death penalty, not be awarded equally to all perpetrators irrespective of class, caste, religion and socioeconomic background, but be used selectively in some cases.
F. In regard to the urgent need for making workplaces and homes of women more safe.
G. In regard to Discouraging Patriarchal Culture.
In a written reply to Congress member Mohammed Akbar in the state assembly, Public Works Department (PWD) Minister Brijmohan Agrawal, who holds the tourism and culture portfolios as well, said that 245 artistes performed during the weeklong (November 1-7) state foundation anniversary – Rajayotasava 2012- celebrations held in various districts and the government paid over Rs 5 crore to them.
The total expenditure as honorarium to 245 artistes, that included 42 artistes from outside the state, during Rajayotasava 2012 was Rs 5,21,22,500, the minister said. He also listed details of per person honorarium paid out by the government, with Kareena Kapoor topping the list at Rs 1,40,71,000. Kareena performed at main Rajayotasava venue at Naya Raipur on November 1 and her show was hardly for eight minutes.
The government also paid heavy amount to other artistes such as Sonu Nigam (Rs 36,50,000), Sunidhi Chauhan (Rs 32,00,000), Dia Mirza (Rs 25,00,000), Himesh Reshamia (Rs 24,00,000) and Pankaj Udhas (Rs 90,000).
The minister also informed the house that his department spent Rs 54,62,461 on inviting the artistes and their travel expenditure while the bill for artistes’ lodging and food was put at Rs 11,67,956.
Declare solidarity with grassroots movements fighting Vedanta in India, Africa and elsewhere!
Kick Vedanta out of London for it’s corporate crimes, murder and destruction.
Noise demonstration and picket at Vedanta headquarters, 16 Berkeley Street.
Mayfair, W1J 8DZ . Green Park tube.
1 – 3pm. Friday 11th January., 2013
On Friday 11th January the Supreme Court will finally announce its historical decision on whether to allow the mining of the threatened Niyamgiri mountain in Odisha, India(1). Simultaneously tribals and farmers from a number of grassroots organisations(2) will hold a rally of defiance in Bhawanipatna, near the mountain. They will call for closure of the sinking Lanjigarh refinery and an absolute ban on the so-far-unsuccessful attempt to mine bauxite on their sacred hills(3).
On 10th of January activists in New York will rally outside the United Nations Headquarters pointing out Vedanta’s clear violations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including right to participate in decision making, right to water and cultural and religious rights. They will call for the Indian Government to put a final stop to this contested project, and for the state owned Orissa Mining Corporation to be pulled out of dodgy deals it has made with Vedanta in an attempt to force the mine through the courts on Vedanta’s behalf.
Here in London we will draw attention to Vedanta’s nominal Mayfair headquarters from which they gain a cloak of respectability and easy access to capital. We will call for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange and thrown out of its cosy position in the London corporate elite for proven human rights and environmental abuses, corruption and poor corporate governance(4).
Please join us and bring drums, pots and pans and anything that makes noise!
Our solidarity demo on 6th Dec was covered in all the Indian papers and our solidarity was felt directly. Let us do it again!
See you there! More information below.
(1) The Supreme Court is due to make a final decision on the challenge posed to the Environment Ministry’s stop to the Niyamgiri mine on 11th January. In its December 6th hearing the Supreme Court concluded that the case rested on whether the rights of the indigenous Dongia Kond’s – who live exclusively on that mountain – could be considered ‘inalienable or compensatory’. The previous ruling by Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh in August 2010 prevented Vedanta from mining the mountain due to violations of environment and forestry acts. The challenge to this ruling has been mounted by the Orissa Mining Corporation, a state owned company with 24% shares in the joint venture to mine Niyamgiri with Vedanta, begging questions about why a state company is lobbying so hard for a British mining company in whom it has only minority shares in this small project. (see http://infochangeindia.org/environment/features/niyamgiri-a-temporary-reprieve.html)
On 6th December, in anticipation of a final Supreme Court ruling, more than 5000 tribals and farmers rallied on the Niyamgiri mountain and around the Lanjigarh refinery sending a message that they would not tolerate the mine or the refinery. In London Foil Vedanta held a noise demo outside the Indian High Commission in which a pile of mud was dumped in the entrance. This news was carried all over India by major papers and TV and had a significant impact (see London protesters join 5000 in India to stop mine).
(2) Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, Sachetana Nagarika Mancha, Loka Sangram Mancha, Communist Party of India and Samajwadi Jan Parishad will coordinate the rally in Odisha on the 11th Jan.
(3) The Lanjigargh refinery was built at the base of Niyamgiri and assessed for environmental and social impact without taking into account the intention to mine the hill above for bauxite to run the plant. However, obtaining permission to mine the mountain has been much more difficult than Vedanta supposed and has left them running Lanjigarh at a loss, leaving Vedanta Aluminium with accumulated debt of $3.65 billion. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-27/vedanta-awaits-bauxite-to-revive-9-billion-aluminum-project.html)
(4) Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights’ . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…’. Similarly City of London researchers from ‘Trusted Sources’ have noted Vedanta’s reasons for registering in London:
“A London listing allows access to an enormous pool of capital. If you are in the FTSE Index, tracker funds have got to own you and others will follow.” Both Vedanta Resources and Essar Energy are members of the FTSE 100. London’s reputation as a market with high standards of transparency and corporate governance is another draw for Indian companies. Both Vedanta and Essar have faced criticism on corporate governance grounds in India, and a foreign listing is seen as one way to signal to investors that the company does maintain high standards.
We are joining the calls of parliamentarians and financiers in pointing out how the London listing is used for legal immunity and to hide Vedanta’s corporate crimes. We are calling for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange and taken to court for Human Rights abuses here in London.
Posted: December 14th, 2012 , http://www.foilvedanta.org/
Bhubaneswar – Hundreds of tribals and farmers belonging to several villages and a spectrum of grassroots movements across Odisha on Thursday demonstrated at Lanjigarh, demanding the expulsion of an aluminium refinery owned by British mining giant Vedanta, located at the foot of Niyamgiri Mountain.
Vedanta, a company which by its name symbolizes the sacred texts of Hindu mythology, has been accused of showing complete disregard and disrespect to the sentiments of Dongria Kondh tribesmen who dwell below the Niyamgiri Mountain and consider it as sacrosanct by associating their livelihood to the blessings received from the sacred forest housed by this mountain.
Located at a distance of 600 kms from the state capital Bhubaneswar, Niyamgiri is a place of quiet beauty as the lush green forest which grows on its bed only echoes the sound of chirping birds, winds that blow across the hills and the sound that originates from the Aluminium factory at Lanjigarh.
However, the sound from the Vedanta Alumina refinery (VAL) at Lanjigarh completely subsided on Wednesday as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) announced its closure citing lack of raw material availability.
Lanjigarh refinery shut-down on Wednesday, but tribals demand complete eviction
“We have already started the process of shutting down the alumina plant from the morning. By evening, the one million tonne per annum alumina refinery would completely come to standstill,” Mukesh Kumar, COO of VAL, told reporters on Wednesday.
The plant’s shutdown comes following a three-month closure notice which it had given to the Labour Department of Odisha government on September 5. The notice was served on the grounds of non-availability of raw materials. The refinery needs at least 10,000 tonnes of bauxite everyday to keep the plant operational.
The plant had already witnessed a temporary shutdown in the last three months but was reopened again after a few days, following the availability of bauxite from states like Jharkhand and Gujarat.
Nonetheless, hundreds of villagers from 17 hamlets around the Niyamgiri who marched from their homes towards Lanjigarh on Wednesday to join the demonstration against VAL, demanded the complete eviction of the refinery.
“We are demanding that the refinery must be dismantled completely. It should be locked up and shifted to any other place. Even if the Apex Court delivers a judgment against the mining of Bauxite at Niyamgiri, we doubt that the plant will be shifted” activist Prafulla Samantara from National Alliance of People’s Movements told Newzfirst.
“They will continue their operations by getting raw materials from other states. We cannot allow this. The waters, the forest which is considered sacred by the Dongria and the biodiversity of Niyamgiri are all being affected. They will soon be finished if the plant stays here,” he added.
Tribals and farmers of grassroots organizations such as Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, Loka Sangram Mancha, Samajwadi Jan Parishad, and Sachetana Nagarika Mancha were part of this demonstration.
We are hopeful that SC will not allow mining here
In anticipation of the final Supreme Court decision which will decide the fate of the contest between the Aluminium refinery and the locals over the authorization to mine for bauxite in the hills, the ten thousand people who gathered at Lanjigarh to demand the lock-up of VAL, said “We are hopeful”.
The Apex Court’s decision on this ruling was repeatedly postponed and the final hearing took place on 3 December. The protestors were awaiting the decision, which they said would come out any time soon.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will give a judgment in people’s favor. The plan to mine bauxite on the Niyamgiri Mountain will not succeed. At least we won’t let it succeed” Prafulla said.
The tale of Lanjigarh refinery
The Lanjigargh refinery was built at the base of Niyamgiri and assessed for environmental and social impact without taking into account the intention to mine the hill above for bauxite required to run the plant.
The mineral wealth lying beneath the slopes of the mountain had drawn Vedanta to Niyamgiri. Now, it wants to turn the hillside into a giant bauxite mine to feed its refinery.
However, obtaining permission to mine the mountain has been very difficult for the British giant Vedanta.
The previous ruling by Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh in August 2010 prevented Vedanta from mining the mountain due to violations of environment and forestry acts.
The challenge to this ruling was mounted by the Orissa Mining Corporation, a state owned company with 24% shares in the joint venture to mine Niyamgiri with Vedanta.
Now, the Supreme Court decision which will decide if mining can be done on the Niyamgiri, is awaited.