Press Release – Koodankulam Is Not Russian?


PMANE

Idinthakarai 627 104
Tirunelveli District
Mobile: 9842154073, 9865683735
For Immediate Release
May 10, 2013
Koodankulam Is Not Russian?
Indian Nukedom Tries to Free up Russia from Liability, Theft and Project Failure!
In an interview to rediff.com, Mr. R. S. Sundar, the site director of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), has claimed that the KKNPP is not a Russian turnkey project. Here is Mr. Sundar’s categorical answer to Mr. A. Ganesh Nadar’s specific question:
Is this a Russian turn-key project?
“Absolutely not! This is not a Russian turn-key project. This is one misconception many people have. This is not a turn-key project. The technology — that is the design, the drawings, the equipment — has been supplied by the Russian Federation. But the entire construction, starting from the civil construction, the mechanical component, the electrical component, the instrumentation component, erection, has been done by Indian engineers and Indian contractors. BHEL, Larsen & Toubro, the Electronic Corporation of India among others have done all the work. The commissioning has also been done by Indian engineers.”
But on November 20, 1988, Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed an agreement and it clearly pointed out that the Soviet vendor Atomenergoexport would supply the reactors “constructed on a turnkey basis.” On February 29, 1989, V.S.G. Rao, project director of the Koodankulam Project, said that “the USSR will use Indian contractors and laborers even though the reactors will be supplied on a turnkey basis.” On October 12, 1989, Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) M. R. Srinivasan said that the signing of the contract for turnkey execution of the project would come only after the design study was completed.
In December 1995, India no longer wanted a turnkey operation, as was originally agreed. Instead, India wished to obtain pressurized water reactor technology that would allow it to build its own plant “like China.” On February 15, 1997, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin affirmed Moscow’s intention to build two 1,000 MW LWRs in India and said that construction was a “bilateral issue.”
A supplementary agreement to the IGA was signed in New Delhi on June 21, 1998, by the Russian Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov and the AEC Chairman and DAE Secretary Dr. R. Chidambaram. Under this agreement, the Russians were to provide the reactor designs and supply the equipment and NPCIL would build the reactors. But “a team of Russian specialists would stay at the site to render technical assistance at all stages of construction, in the installation of reactor equipment and in the commissioning and operation of the reactors until the final takeover by NPCIL’s operators” (emphasis added; Frontline 2004).
In January 1995, a Rossiiskaya Gazeta article quoted Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Viktor Mikhailov as saying that some 1,000 Russian nuclear experts would work on the Koodankulam project. The NPCIL has confirmed officially (in its letter No. NPCIL/VSB/CPIO/2574/KKNPP/2013/737 dated April 29, 2013) now: “As on 31.03.2013 there were around 110 no.s of Russian specialists working in KKNPP. NPCIL has no information regarding their pay scales etc.”
In the light of the above, how does Mr. Sundar question the turnkey nature of the project now? By insisting that the KKNPP is not a Russian turnkey project, and is actually built with components from South Korea, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and other countries, is the Indian nuclear establishment trying to set Russia free from supplier liability, enormous amount of theft and the abject failure of the KKNPP Unit 1?
If the Russians supplied only the technology and the Indian companies such as BHEL, Larsen & Toubro, Electronic Corporation of India, Hindustan Construction Company, Simplex Concrete Piles (India) etc. did the construction, instrumentation and erection, are they responsible for any accidents and liable in any way? While the Russian and the Indian companies make huge profits and engage in financial improprieties, why should the Indian public bear the cost of supplier and operator liability?
The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) thinks that the Indian nuclear establishment, especially the NPCIL, is bending backwards with hidden and hideous intentions of freeing up the Russians from liability commitments, and rampant corruption and theft in the totally failed Koodankulam project.
The Struggle Committee
PMANE
Sources:
[] R. Adam Moody, “The Indian-Russian Light Water Reactor Deal,” The Nonproliferation Review/Fall 1997.
[] T. S. Subramanian, “Setting standards,” Frontline, 21/8 (April 10, 2004)

 

Mobile Phone of RSS Leader used to trigger Bangalore blast


Thursday, 9 May 2013
May 09:

The investigation into the April 17 bomb blast near the BJP office in Bangalore has now taken a new turn with police finding that a stole SIM card and phone of a prominent RSS leader was used to trigger the blast which left 11 policemen and five civilians wounded. The police sources have told The New Indian Express that the mobile phone of the RSS leader was stolen just a day before the blast.

“We did a technical investigation of what triggered the improvised explosive device (IED) that injured 11 policemen and five civilians. Through a mobile tower near the bomb blast area we traced a number, which was registered in the name of a prominent RSS leader from Karnataka. We found out that the cellphone was stolen from him just a day before the blast,’’ the English daily has quoted a top police source as saying.

The probe team has collected all relevant material, including CCTV footage of the person who parked the motorbike prior to the blast. The footage is said to have showed that the suspect tried to park it in front of the BJP office gate twice, but security personnel stopped him. “The footage clearly shows him parking the mobike, with the front facing the road. His face is not clear in any of the shots as he is wearing a helmet,’’ the source said.

So far, nine suspects – all Muslims — have been arrested in the case from different parts of Tamil Nadu and some of them from jail. However, the latest finding of the police about the SIM card may point to another culprit group. It is most possible the phone of RSS leader was stole by people around him. And as the police said it was stolen just a day before the blast, then it is most likely that the culprits planned and executed the act while being in Bangalore itself.

Meanwhile, the Bangalore Police on Tuesday produced blast suspects Rehamathulla (29), Asgar Ali (29), Hakeem (31) and Tenkasi Suleman (24), arrested from Salem jail, and Suleman (31), who was arrested in Coimbatore, before the ACCMM I court. The five were remanded in police custody till May 18, along with Kichan Buhari and Basheer, the other suspects.

 

Indore woman professor terminated for lodging Sexual Harrassment complaint #Vaw #WTFnews


TNN | May 10, 2013, 03.18 AM IST

INDORE: The complainant of alleged sexual harassment reported in the Indian Institute of Management, Indore (IIM-I) has been terminated from the post. The decision was taken after the report was tabled by the gender sensitivity committee recently.

Sources said, the woman professor was terminated on the grounds of administrative action. However, various people have raised fingers over the quick termination of the faculty member. “The woman was terminated without being served any notice or charge-sheet. How can a complainant in such a serious case sacked?” quipped a source.

On the other hand, the institute authorities, like in the past, are tightlipped over the issue. The institute has not revealed the finding of the newly established gender sensitivity committee. IIM-I, director, N Ravichandran refused to comment on the issue. “No comments,” he said.

The lady professor of the marketing department had lodged a complaint in February last week with the gender sensitivity committee. She had also expressed her mistrust on the committee to the IIM-I board chairman K V Kamath. Later, a fresh committee was constituted, which had tabled its report recently.

 

Chhattisgarh – Bastar tribals demand CBI probe #indigenous


Rashmi Drolia, TNN May 9, 2013

RAIPUR: Enraged tribals of Maoist hotbed Narayanpur district in tribal Bastar region of Chhattisgarh are demanding a CBI probe into the alleged police encounter of two villagers in Maronaar village near ChoteDongar on April 30.

A joint team of COBRA battalion, CRPF and district force claimed to have gunned down Maoist cadres of Duala Dalam Phool Singh and Jai Singh. Since then police have been facing severe protest from 84 villages in the vicinity against the killing.

Talking to TOI, Panniram Wadde, president of tribal Gond community in Bastar said, “On the night of April 30, town inspector Vijay Chelak and sun-divisional officer of police B N Baghel dragged three brothers of the family to the police station and after brief interrogation, police relieved Ram Singh, keeping Jai Singh and Phool Singh in the custody. Next morning their mutilated body was found in the jungles of Maronaar, few kilometre from the police station. Aged between 30 and 35 years, both the villagers were involved in farming.”

Wadde said, the police had also claimed to have found four muzzle loading guns, one USA made pistol, one country-made pistol, couple of grenades and tiffin bombs, detonators and Naxal literature in their camps, but the fact was that they were dragged empty-handed from their homes. Panniram alleged that the police had fabricated the encounter by beating them and made them wear Maoists uniforms, killing them in the forests.

More than 10,000 agitated villagers from 84 nearby villages gheraod the police station in protest demanding CBI probe in the case. “Not only did the police kill them, they also buried both the bodies in the same ditch after conducting post mortem,” Panniram said adding that the body was not handed over to the family.

Comrade Niti, commander south Bastar CPI (Maoist) called up newsmen at midnight, to point out that it was not the first time that police victimized innocent villagers. “When they fail to trace Maoists they assault villagers and kill them fabricating the incident as an encounter. This time too the police have killed two innocents. CPI (Maoist) strongly condemns the incident,” she said.

In another incident, a member of Gond community, Pramod Potai, said that more than 30 villagers of Kukrajor region, 10 km from Narayanpur, were admitted to a hospital after being brutally beaten up by the police. “The CRPF base camp was attacked by Maoists on the intervening night of Tuesday opening firing at policemen. Though there were no casualties, soon after the incident police came to the village thrashing them for not passing them information about planned firing,” said Potai. Condition of five villagers is said to be critical.

 

 

Maharashtra to re-examine claims rejected under forest rights Act


Mumbai, May 10, 2013

Alok Deshpande, The Hindu 

Decision by Chavan comes after agitations by CPI(M), Kisan Sabha

Responding to the agitations by the CPI(M) and the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the Maharashtra government has agreed to re-examine around two-lakh rejected claims of land rights made under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

The re-evaluation will be first carried out in Thane and Nashik districts, which have the highest number of claims.

The decision was taken at a meeting held on April 17 in the office of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

According to government figures, till February 2013, 3,44,148 claims were received. Of these, 1,43,577 claims have been approved, while 1,97,600 requests have been rejected and 2,971 are still pending.

According to the minutes of the meeting available with The Hindu, Mr. Chavan has asked the organisations spearheading the agitation to prepare a list of applicants denied of land rights despite their having submitted two proofs mentioned under the Act.

“The list should be submitted to the District Collectors of Thane and Nashik, along with the copies of proofs. The Collectors should revaluate all these cases and take decision as per the rules,” directed Mr. Chavan. Which means, the government will now re-evaluate 1,97,600 rejected claims.

The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities. Those who are cultivating the land prior to December 13, 2005 but do not have documents can claim the land. The upper limit of the claim has been set as four hectares.

Interestingly, of the total rejected claims, only 50,466 have been dismissed at the gram sabha level, while 1,76,456 have been rejected at the sub-divisional committee level.

“This is where the problem lies. The gram sabhas’ decision becomes meaningless when the Act has clearly given them the authority of receiving claims, consolidating and verifying them. The upper committees are clearly violating the gram sabhas’ rights,” said Ashok Dhawale, secretary, Maharashtra CPI(M) State Committee. Last month, the party launched an agitation in Thane and Nashik districts by blocking the highways, demanding re-evaluation.

Dr. Dhawale said: “The claims are getting rejected because the government officer, instead of going on a field survey, sits in the office and decides. The claims are being transferred to the Forest department for approval, which is not permitted as per the Act.”

Despite the Act clearly stating that there should be no direct involvement of the Forest department in granting or rejecting the claims, a letter from the Chief Forest Conservator, dated July 18, 2008, was used to supervise the entire procedure of claims. The letter now stands cancelled after the meeting at the CMO.

Taking a note of allegations, the government has made it clear that apart from the gram sabha, the sub-divisional committee and the district-level committee no other committee should interfere in the matter.

 

India – Ignoring Custodial Deaths #Prisons


political-prisoner

Vol – XLVIII No. 19, May 11, 2013 | Rebecca Gonsalvez and Vijay Hiremath
EPW

There is justifiable anguish over the killing of Sarabjit Singh in a Pakistani jail but what about the thousands of deaths in police and judicial custody in India? Torture is common and rampant in police custody and deaths in so-called police encounters are routinely reported. Politicians and the media are demanding justice for Sarabjit. When will the Indian government hold the police and jail officials responsible for custodial deaths accountable and compensate the next of kin?

 

Rebecca Gonsalvez (rebecca.gonsalvez@gmail.com) and Vijay Hiremath (vijayhiremath@gmail.com) are human rights lawyers practising in the Bombay High Court.

The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” (Article 14 of the Constitution of India)

Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner on death row in the Kot Lakhpat jail in Pakistan died on 2 May, 2013, after being assaulted in custody making it a custodial death. Sarabjit has been proclaimed a martyr in India, his body was cremated with full state honours, a three-day state mourning was announced and the Punjab government as well as the government of India announced compensation amounts (Rs 1 crore and 25 lakhs respectively) to the next of kin. Political leaders demanded that those responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack be brought to justice. All this is commendable, of course. One only wishes that the Indian government would act just as swiftly in every case of custodial death in our country.

According to the report of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), “Torture in India 2011”, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded a total of 14,231 deaths in custody in India between 2001 and 2010, which includes about 1,504 deaths in police custody and about 12,727 deaths in judicial custody. The ACHR report observes that these are only the cases reported to the NHRC, and do not include all cases of custodial deaths. The report attributes the deaths in custody to torture, denial of medical facilities and inhuman prison conditions. Once a person is taken into custody, the responsibility for his/her life, health and safety rests with the authorities in whose custody he or she is, be it the police or the jail authorities.

However, so far, the government has hardly ever immediately accepted responsibility for the deaths in custody, nor has it announced compensation in such cases particularly of such large amounts as promised to Sarabjit’s kin, or taken measures to speedily prosecute the officials responsible for the deaths. Yet the very same politicians are demanding on Sarabjit’s behalf what they do not willingly give to their own citizens. Nor has the government or the opposition ever expressed any kind of outrage for the deaths of the 14,231 people in custody in India between 2001 and 2010. The media, especially television channels, termed the custodial death of Sarabjit an act of butchery, referring to his assailants as “Pak butchers”, but do not show the same passion for justice when it comes to Indian custodial deaths.

Roll Call of Dishonour

What about the police officials in whose custody arrestees die in India? What about the people regularly killed in “encounters” with the police or the army? What about Sohrabuddin, Kauserbi and Ishrat Jehan? When will those responsible for their deaths be held accountable and punished for these reprehensible acts? When will their families be compensated for their losses? Their families are regularly denied basic documents relating to their deaths, such as the post-mortem report. Most of these cases are deemed suicides. In the case of encounters, it is alleged that the deceased shot at the police/army officials involved, who somehow miraculously escape unscathed. The accused in custodial death and encounter cases are rarely prosecuted, and cases of murder are almost never registered against them. The government seldom grants sanction to prosecute the officials involved. Sarabjit is supposed to have been assaulted by fellow prisoners. What makes the cases mentioned above far worse is that they are perpetrated by the police and the army, whose responsibility it is to protect the citizens of this country from crime.

Take the case of Khwaja Yunus. The young software engineer was arrested in December 2002 by the Mumbai Crime Branch in what is commonly known as the Ghatkopar bomb blast case. He was tortured and killed in police custody, and his body was never found. Instead the police indulged in an elaborate cover-up and attempted to show that Khwaja Yunus had escaped from their custody. It was only after his father filed a petition in the Bombay High Court that the government ultimately admitted that he had died in custody and paid his family Rs three lakhs as compensation. However, though the Maharashtra State CID (Crime Investigation Department) chargesheeted 14 police officials, the government sanctioned the prosecution of only four of them. The High Court in 2011 directed the state to pay Yunus’s family Rs 20 lakhs as compensation, but did not direct the prosecution of the remaining 10 accused who had been chargesheeted. This amount was paid to his mother almost 10 years after his death. The offenders are yet to be tried and punished. Ram Singh, the bus driver, and one of the accused in the recent Delhi 16 December, 2012, gangrape case died in Tihar jail in mysterious circumstances on 11 March. Some of the media reports indicated that Ram Singh was assaulted in the jail and succumbed to the injuries. No action has been taken so far against any officials or inmates for his death. Sanaullah Ranjay, a Pakistani national was assaulted with a brick by a fellow inmate in the Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu & Kashmir on 3 May. He sustained severe head injuries, and is presently on the ventilator in the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh. What did the authorities do to protect him? What is the government doing to protect people in custody? What are the preventive measures taken? Are there medical facilities and staff in every jail in the country to provide services in emergency situations?

Sarabjit was convicted in October 1991 of espionage and for carrying out a series of bomb blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad in 1990 that killed 14 persons, and was sentenced to death. A man who in India would be termed a “terrorist” along the lines of Ajmal Kasab the Pakistani national who was convicted in the terror attack which occurred in Mumbai on 26 November, 2008, and was executed on 21 November, 2012, or Afzal Guru the Kashmiri who was convicted in the Parliament attack case and was executed on 9 Februrary, 2013. Both Kasab and Guru were executed in secrecy, and not permitted to meet their families prior to execution. Their bodies were not returned to their families for the last rites/funeral. However, elaborate measures were taken by the government of India to ensure the speedy and safe return of Sarabjit’s remains. He was given a funeral with state honours! Why the discrimination? Why the double standards?

Torture in Police Custody

India signed the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1997 but is yet to ratify it. A toothless Prevention of Torture Bill is pending before the Parliament, and there is very little hope that it will be passed within the tenure of this government. While there are jail manuals in many states, (besides the model jail manual) which state how prisoners are to be treated and what they are entitled to in prisons, there are absolutely no rules regarding the treatment of inmates in police custody and they remain totally at the mercy of the police. Torture in various forms is rampant in police custody with the degree differing according to the crime for which the person has been arrested, his/her economic condition and social status and whether he/she has legal representation. Scientific and non-violent methods of interrogation are alien to our law enforcement agencies. The most common form of torture is depriving a person of sleep for days together. Assault is equally common, so is the threat to rape and torture the female relatives of the arrestees and use of torture to extract confessions is routine. Recent laws have made such confessions to the police admissible, making the job of the police easier. Some Supreme Court and High Court judgements, most importantly the D K Basu guidelines on arrest laid down by the Supreme Court in 1997, and now incorporated by recent amendments in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), have created a few safeguards. However, there is need for vigilant judges to ensure the strict implementation of these guidelines and provisions. It is important to note here that the Right to Life is a fundamental right in this country, guaranteed to both foreigners and Indians alike by the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court of India held in 1974 in the case of D Bhuvan Mohan Patnaik vs State of Andhra Pradesh that prisoners are not denuded of their fundamental rights including their right to life, by mere reason of their incarceration.

Make Equal Justice a Reality

While discussing the plight of Indian prisoners in foreign jails and campaigning for better conditionsis important, there is urgent need to look at the conditions of prisoners in our own jails. While the assault on Sarabjit Singh in the Kot Lakhpat jail that ultimately resulted in his death deserves to be condemned strongly and acted upon, the same must be done in every case of custodial death and extra-judicial killing in India. Our Constitution guarantees equality andequal justice to all. That guarantee must not remain only on paper. It must become a reality.

 

Supreme Court tells Centre to decide on POSCO’s mining license


Fri, 10 May 2013

By Newzfirst 5/10/13

New Delhi – The Supreme Court on Friday set aside the Orissa high court order which had quashed state government‘s petition to allot iron ore license to South Korean steel major POSCO in Khandadhar hills in Sundergarh district for a multi-crore steel plant.

A bench headed by Justice R M Lodha asked the Centre to consider all the objections raised by various parties pertaining to the mega steel plant and take a decision.

The court was hearing cross appeals filed by the state government and a mine and mineral company challenging the Orissa high court’s order on the issue of iron ore mines.

The state government of Orissa and Geomin Minerals & Marketing Limited had challenged the orders of the Orissa high court which had quashed the notification issuing iron ore mining in over 2,500 hectares in the Khandadhar hills in Sundergarh district to POSCO.

The high court, on July 14, 2010 on the petition of Geomin Minerals, had set aside the state government’s decision.

Geomin Minerals had contended before the high court that it had applied for the prospective licence for Khandadhar iron ore mines much before POSCO.

The High Court had set aside the notification issued by state government in 1962 reserving all mineral bearing land for exploitation within Orissa and take a fresh decision on it.

The high court had further said that all mineral bearing land reserved by the state government prior to 1987, without the approval of the central government would not be deemed to have never been reserved.

The Orissa government, which had moved the apex court, on October 29, 2010 on this issue, had contended that the high court could not have quashed the state government’s grant of licence to POSCO as it was under section 11 (5) of Mines And Minerals (Development And Regulation) Act, 1957.

The Orissa government had further contended that Section 11 (5) gives power to the state government to “grant a reconnaissance permit, prospecting license or mining lease, as the case may be, to an applicant whose application was received later in preference to an application whose application was received earlier”.

The state government in January 2009 had recommended POSCO to the central government for granting prospective licence for Khandadhar iron ore reserves.

This was challenged by Geomin and later 16 other firms who have also applied for mining leases also intervened.

Geomin, in its petition, had submitted before the apex court that the high court “does not take into account the pleading made by it” and “has traversed beyond the pleadings and prayer made by it”.

(PTI)

 

Nuclear fears in Europe after unshielded radioactive material is found


 

Nuclear fears in Europe after unshielded radioactive material is found

CALLS are growing for more routine radioactive screening at borders after a second lorry containing unshielded radioactive material was stopped on a European road.

Published: Thu, May 9, 2013

-The-vehicle-was-contained-for-exceeding-the-legal-radioactive-emission-limits-europics- The vehicle was contained for exceeding the legal radioactive emission limits/ europics

The startling discovery in Switzerland came only five days after a group of Romanians carrying unshielded nuclear material were stopped in neighbouring Austria.

The vehicle was contained after it was discovered to be exceeding the legal radioactive emission limits.

Shockingly, the men had even stored their sandwiches and drinking water in with the radioactive material.

In Austria the men admitted they had made the journey from Germany to Romania carrying similar radioactive loads dozens of times and had not realised how dangerous it was.

 Calls are growing for more routine radioactive screening at borders/ europics

It is clearly a growing problem

Wolfgang Mueller

Now, a lorry from Lithuania on its way to Italy has been found to contain dangerous levels of radioactivity by customs officials.

The lorry was cordoned off, while the surrounding 300 feet around the vehicle was evacuated and the Customs border crossing point was closed.

A specialist team from the Bellinzona fire service and specially trained police officers were called in to investigate further, discovering that the radioactivity was from a package being transported in the lorry which was confiscated and secured.

Davide Bassi, from the Swiss Border Control Office said: “It is not unusual that lorry’s have a low level of radiation, and we do carry out controls to check that this limit is not exceeded.”

They were currently examining the package to find out why it was irradiated and what it contained, he said speaking to the Austrian Times.

Wolfgang Mueller from Greenpeace Germany said: “It is clearly a growing problem and about time that tougher action was made to cut down on the number of dangerous nuclear transports that seem to be taking place on our streets.”

 

Villagers’ bid to decide Vedanta project fate puts Niyamgiri hills on radar


By Nitin Sethi, TNN | 10 May, 2013
NEW DELHI: The villages of DongriyaKondhtribals around Odisha‘sNiyamgiri hills are set to become a flash point again, with the Centre and the state government along with civil society groups planning to converge on the site of the proposed Vedanta bauxite mine. Emboldened by the Supreme Court order, the villagers are to decide the fate of the Vedanta project and take a call whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.

The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order Odisha to ensure the tribal group can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.

Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified and well policed zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.

Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order has started in earnest within various quarters of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.

Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled at a higher level, where the state bureaucracy wields power and influence.

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas that do get to vote is expected to be as critical as the freedom with which the village councils do get to meet finally amid heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.

The extra-ordinary promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — something the environment ministry had used to finally step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to prove its credentials.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored a point or two with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the rather innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the regulations that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government that has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.

The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA, a UPA pro-tribal promise he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.

 

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