#India – Grassroots Democracy Gasps as Guns do the Talking


Over 70 local government representatives have quit their posts in Malkangiri, a district long under the Maoist shadow. G Vishnu visits remote villages in Odisha to gauge the despair
G Vishnu

G Vishnu , Tehelka

15-06-2013, Issue 24 Volume 10

Anguished Debe Madhi resigned as the Kalimela block chairperson, protesting government apathyAnguished Debe Madhi resigned as the Kalimela block chairperson, protesting government apathy.
Photo: 

There are no roads here. There is no pond in the village. No wells. No drinking water. What does the government want us to do?” laments Era Madkamy, 37, a small-time farmer who grows paddy, groundnuts and vegetables for a living. His wife Mamata Kobasi, 25, has recently resigned from her post as an elected village head. Kobasi is not alone. In the past two months, frustration over the State’s apathy towards the tribal dominated region has made 72 local body representatives quit their posts in a remote corner of , one of the poorest of the 28 states in India. Though the district collector refused to accept the resignations, the despair runs so deep that no one is willing to relent.

 district, 600 km to the south-west of the state capital Bhubaneswar, has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. This is one of the 60 districts in central and eastern India that the government considers to be ‘most affected’ by the .

Malkangiri hit the headlines in February 2011 when the Maoists abducted the then district collector Vineel Krishna. One of the rebels’ demands was the construction of a canal that would ensure drinking water to people across a large part of the district. Nearly two-and-a-half years following the release of Krishna — who currently works in the Union Ministry of Rural Development — there is no sign of the canal yet.

While pressure from the Maoists may have left little choice for the local body representatives but to follow their diktat, many of them say they are so fed up with the State’s apathy towards the tribals that they decided to quit.

The resignation of local body members at all levels — from wards (a part of a village) to blocks (a bunch of villages) — means more than just stagnancy in the local administration. It almost suggests a rejection of everything that the government has to offer.

People in every village that TEHELKA visited in the district seemed to share this sense of alienation.

Among those who have resigned are the chairperson and 21 village heads of Kalimela block. In Koyimetla, one of the villages in this block, it is a hot Sunday morning and the village head Kobasi tends to her kids while her husband Madkamy has breakfast. With no irrigation facilities, it is a tough task for the household to sustain their crops. Even collecting drinking water is a big problem.

This village was once connected by the main road that passes through Kalimela block. It was a pucca road once, but that is difficult to believe by the look of what remains of it. In fact, pucca roads cannot be seen in most parts of the district.

“What’s the point of being a village head when there is little you can do to improve the lot of the villagers?” asks Madkamy. Village head Kobasi and the other villagers too share the same view. But lest you thought it is a village that has been influenced by Maoists, the villagers are quick to clarify that it is not. No one claimed to support the Maoists in any way.

Indeed, it is difficult to reduce the villagers’ views on the Maoists to a binary of ‘support’ and ‘opposition’. So, at the same time as they insist they have nothing to do with the Maoists, some of them say they agree with a few of the rebels’ demands.

“The Maoists were right when they demanded the canal during the Vineel Krishna kidnapping episode… The government does not seem to understand our appeals,” says a villager on the condition of anonymity. Many villages do not seem to have been particularly shaken by the killing of an SPO by the Maoists in a nearby village just a day earlier, or by the killing of Bhagwan Kirsani, the elected head of Kurmannur village, in the same area a month earlier. However, in hushed voices, many villagers admit that Maoist pressure has worked in several villages. But not theirs, they point out immediately.

In another remote village, Undrukonda, where there is absolutely no support for Maoists, the frustration reaches another decibel. Most residents are Koya tribals, and they suffer from the usual problems of lack of drinking water, electricity and roads, besides little access to education and healthcare.

“Every time we have a medical emergency, it takes nearly four-five hours for the ambulance to reach us. There have been a number of miscarriages because of this,” says 24-year-old Wagi Kartami, the elected village head, who has studied up to Class XII. “How can we develop this village? There is no Primary Health Centre here, no high school, and no roads too.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Debe Madhi, who resigned as head of Kalimela block and is a supporter of the Congress party, articulates the problems of the villagers more vividly. “The nearest hospital is more than 25-30 km away from my village, Murbanpally,” she says. “It’s worse for the people in villages like Manyamkonda, Chintalvada, Bejangiwada and Bodigetta, which are in the hills.”

Madhi also points out that social welfare schemes like the MGNREGS — an ambitious Central government scheme that guarantees 100 days of wage employment to every household in rural India — have not been implemented effectively in the entire region. “Unless the government expedites implementation of the welfare programmes that we have demanded, we will stay away from office,” she says. “Though our resignation has not been accepted, we will not relent.”

Ambivalence in the attitude towards the Maoists is a common feature in several villages that TEHELKA visited. Most residents also shared similar views on the failure of the political parties to deliver good governance.

Many villagers point out that the PDS system in Malkangiri has been of little use to the locals. “The Adivasis here do not consume the rice provided through the PDS as they prefer other locally grown cereals. Also, most of them don’t use sugar and use firewood instead of kerosene,” says a volunteer in one of the biggest NGOs operating in the district. “No political party is keen to pursue the issues that matter, as it is not in their interest.” Among such crucial issues, the volunteer adds, is the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — a key legislation that recognises the Adivasis’ rights to forestland.

“Just two months ago, there was not even a status-quo report on the FRA. Now, perhaps with the 2014 Assembly polls in mind, the officials have suddenly woken up and are handing out pattas (land deeds) to Adivasis,” says an activist. “But there is no effort to recognise community claims over forestland, which would give Adivasi villages complete control over the nearby forests. Nobody wants that.”

This idea of community rights is fuelling the rebellion elsewhere in Malkangiri too. Nilapari village in Kudumulu Gumma block is inhabited by the Didai tribe (classified as a ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’). The elected head, Naka Mamudi, recently managed to stop the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) from setting up a camp in the village. He did this by citing the rules for tribal areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which gives the village council the right to decide how community resources are to be used. He had learnt from the experience of villages like Chitapari-3 of the neighbouring Korukonda block, where the BSF has occupied the panchayat building.

While calls for further militarisation of Maoist-affected regions have become louder following the shocking Naxal attack on a Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh on 25 May, Malkangiri is a case study in why that alone may not end the problem. Unless it comes with a simultaneous campaign to strengthen institutions of local governance, so that local body representatives feel safe and are empowered to address the grievances of villagers.

Else we might end up with more Malkangiri-like situations. Already in neighbouring Koraput district, local body representatives in Narayanpatna block are readying to resign en masse to protest the arrest of over 500 innocent Adivasis.

vishnu@tehelka.com

 

Disinformation and Journalistic Ethics: A Letter from Harsh Mander


June 6, 2013
We are publishing below a communication received from Harsh Mander, a former member of the National Advisory Council, regarding misrepresentation of his position and his politics by no less a person than the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express. The misrepresentation could easily have been corrected, had the mistake been really a mistake but by not publishing the letter or even and editorial correction, newspaper and the editor seem to be acknowledging that the error was in fact, intended. In the language of the Cold War, acts such as these were called ‘disinformation’. 
Response to Mr Shekhar Gupta’s article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013
 

In response to an article by Mr Shekhar Gupta ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013, I sent the letter reproduced below on 3 June 2013, which has not yet been carried by Indian Express. I try not to respond polemically to articles which disagree with my views on public policy or other issues, as these differences are perfectly legitimate in a democracy. And who is to be sure that I am right, and my critics are wrong? But this was different, because it utterly falsely described my ideological position on Maoism as sympathetic, whereas I have always been passionately and publicly opposed to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. Moreover it linked this to my membership in the NAC, and through that by implication to the many pro-poor agendas I sought to bring into and support within the NAC in the two years that I was a member. Finally Indian Express did not check with me the full facts reported in the opinion piece. I therefore felt I should respond formally to the report. But since this response has not been carried, and on the other hand it is being publicly referred to by others as well, I felt it would be best to place this reply in the public domain. – Harsh Mander

———————————————————————————————————-

Dear Shekhar,

Greetings!

This relates to your article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013.

In the article, you have mentioned that Padma, the wife of a leading Maoist Ramakrishna, managed an orphanage run by the NGO Aman Vedika with which I am associated. The facts of the matter are as follows. In several cities, my colleagues and I are helping run 45 residential homes for the education and care of around 4000 homeless street girls and boys. There are about 20 such homes for street boys and girls in Hyderabad. For running these homes, as house mothers and home managers, it is our policy to give preference to single women, women survivors of domestic violence, and homeless and destitute women, so that the children’s home also provides them a place of safety and healing. Under the name of Sirisha, a woman came to my colleagues in Hyderabad in the year 2008 saying she was estranged from her husband and only son and was in severe depression , and that she be given the chance to live among the children so that it would help her to heal. She requested initially for the chance to live in the home and volunteer her services. In time, when a position in the same home fell vacant, she was appointed as one of the home managers, because she performed her duties of child care well. No one had the faintest idea about her true identity. After more than 2 years with us, she applied for 10 days’ long leave for the first time. A few days later, we heard from the newspapers that she was Padma, second wife of a Maoist leader, and she was arrested by the police in Odisha.

On the larger question of ‘Maoist sympathies’, I have absolutely none. I have consistently written and spoken about my unambiguous and resolute opposition to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. I have strongly and consistently disagreed with those, among them my liberal friends, who in any way romanticise or even indirectly rationalise their resort to violence, and those who suggest that their violence is justified because of the structural violence of poverty, exploitation and state violence. I feel that there is no such thing as altruistic violence. Violence, even when deployed in the name of the oppressed, ultimately brutalises all, and the oppressed suffer the most. The only legitimate instruments to fight injustice, in my opinion, are non-violence and democracy.

I would be happy to contribute a longer article to your esteemed newspaper to clarify the facts and my position on Maoist violence. Alternately, I would be grateful if you would kindly at least publish my clarification.

With warm regards,

Harsh Mander

Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies,

 

#India – Tribal affairs ministry `turning tables’ on SC order on Niyamgiri mining rights #WTFnews


English: An ethnic Wife of Dhaneshwaran from t...

 

 

, TNN | Jun 4, 2013,

 

NEW DELHI: Despite the Supreme Court‘s order, the village councils, or gram sabhas of the Dongria Kondh tribals may not be able to decide upon their traditional and religious rights against the mining interests of Vedanta. A narrow interpretation of the SC order by the tribal affairs ministry promises to turn the district administration into the final decision-making body and the village councils of the tribals as only a claimant of their rights.

The move could snatch away the village council’s rights to be final arbiters of their traditional and religious rights over the contentious Niyamgiri hills, and leave it in the hands of the state government to take the final call.

The apex court had ordered that the village councils to decide if mining of bauxite would impact the cultural and religious rights, besides impinging on the tribals’ livelihood. It had ordered the Centre and the Odisha government to facilitate a free and fair decision by the affected village councils.

The tribal affairs ministry moved quickly to ask the state government to ensure all village councils get a chance to vote and decide on the matter. The state government whittled down the list of villages involved to only 12, including five and seven in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, respectively.

Now, the tribal affairs ministry itself has limited the village council’s powers by suggesting that they can only entertain claims from the locals and convey their views, which would then be decided upon by the sub-divisional and district level panels set up under the Forest Rights Act(FRA).

The sub-divisional committee in Odisha consists of sub-collector as chairman, sub-divisional forest officer, three members of panchayat samiti and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary. The district-level committee is headed by district magistrate with divisional forest officer, three zilla parishad members and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary.

The panels are meant to form the three layers that determine the livelihood and land rights of the tribals, but the recent SC order had stated that village councils would decide on their cultural and religious rights and take a call on whether the project would be an impediment towards their privileges.

The subtle alteration in the reading of the order through a ‘training module’, which the tribal affairs ministry has prepared especially for the tribals ahead of crucial village councils’ vote, has vested power in the hands of the Odisha government.

The apex court verdict had given another route for tribals to protect their lands after the Union government shied away from defending the existing norms that require a direct consent from village councils before forestlands can be used by industries. But the precedent-setting verdict of the court could stand substantially diluted in the test case itself.

 

 

 

Odisha Govt tries every trick in the book with SC Niyamgiri verdict #mustshare


This is the latest information on the state’s manipulation of the Supreme Court’s verdict giving the decision on Vedanta‘s mine to the Dongria and Kutia Kond inhabitants of Niyamgiri.

After six weeks delay the process has finally been initiated by the Odisha state govt and we, and all the activists and supporters here are doing our best to keep ahead of their trickeries and document everything as it happens.

When the Supreme Court announced its verdict to hand the decision on Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine back to the Dongria Kond and other affected people via a complex process of legal claim filing, gram sabhas and a final MoEF nod, both Vedanta and their opposition celebrated. The court judges knew what they had done. Rather than giving a yes or no verdict they had taken the path of least resistance and delivered such a loosely worded judgement that it was wide open to interpretation and abuse – pitting the Odisha government and Vedanta, and the affected people and their supporters against each other once again.

 

Now, as the Odisha state finally launches the gram sabha (village council) process after six weeks of deliberation, the weak nature of the Supreme Court’s vaguely worded judgement has become even more evident. This article documents some of the ways in which the judgement, which has been hailed as a precedent bottom-up democratic process, is being manipulated in an attempt to prevent the strong anti-Vedanta opinion on Niyamgiri from being properly heard.

 

 

What part of the mountain is sacred?

 

Reflecting the drawn out Supreme Court hearings on Niyamgiri this year, the court’s final verdict has tactfully focused not on the enormous environmental impact of the proposed mine, nor the company’s despicable track record of illegalities, nor the rights of the Dongria to clean air, water and to collect forest produce, but only on one point: whether the proposed mine would violate the Dongria’s right to worship the God of their sacred mountain – Niyam Raja. The 2006 Forest Rights Act enshrines forest dwellers’ right to cultural and religious practices in law, but what does that mean in reality? The Niyamgiri case has become a test for the interpretation of this law, and the precedent set here will have an impact on industrial developments in tribal areas all over India. So much hangs in the balance. For this reason the Supreme Court hearings dedicated their focus to the question of where the God of Niyamgiri actually resides and whether this God would be affected by the proposed mining. Though it was suggested that it was largely on the peak of the range – Hundujali, 10km away from the proposed mega-mine, the court came to the conclusion that only the Dongria themselves could confirm this. The gram sabha process – initiated by notification to file claims on Saturday 1st June – is essentially to decide this one point. If the tribals agree that their God resides in a particular area, that spot can be preserved, or compensation given, while the mine can still go ahead.

 

At the 5000 strong Padayatra held by the Dongria and Kutia Kond from May 17th – 22nd Dongria leaders like Lodo Sikaka made their views on the Supreme Court’s discussions and final judgement known. Lodo stated:

 

They are saying they would mine 10km away from the peak. We will not allow mining even 100km away from it! For the forestland, for fruits, trees, air and water – for everything adivasis worship the soil. It is our given right.

 

They are saying adivasis have rights up to two feet down the soil, not up to 10 – 20 feet. Government is saying adivasis worship for the forest and not for the soil. What do we worship for? Forest or soil? We of course worship for the soil. Our gods and goddesses are everywhere: here, there, in the trees – everywhere!

 

Such statements have been made by the Dongria repeatedly over the years, but were never fully heard in the court-room, despite attempts to allow the Dongria to testify, and to hand over proof such as Mihir Jena et al’s book Dongaria Kondhs2. The court, sadly, was unable to differentiate between the modern concept of religion being practised in temples or directed at an idol, and the earth-based spirituality of indigenous cultures in which even a whole mountain or forest can be considered sacred.

 

The notification posted in Oriya newspapers on Saturday confuses this point even more. The notification issued for Kalahandi District reads:

 

Letter no 572/2013 of collectors office of Kalahandi.

Under the Supreme Court Judgement writ petition no 180, year 2011, date 18/04/2013; regarding the Palli Sabha – hereby inhabitant villagers of the following panchayats are being notified and invited that, as per the orders of the Supreme Court, tribals and other forest dwellers, regarding their new individuals rights, community rights and cultural and religious rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA) rulings 2006 – after getting this notice they should apply within 6 weeks, and within 3 months Palli Sabha will be called and legal rights of the villagers will be decided. If they have any other demands, they will also be discussed in Palli Sabhas and after justified discussions, observing Forest Rights Act 2006 and its associated rulings their rights will be decided.

Village names

Panchayat

District

Tadijhola

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Palberi

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Phuldemer

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Ijurupa

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Kanakadu

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

2 a) The Palli Sabha will decide about the rights of tribals and other traditional forests dwellers (TFD) like Dongria Kond, Kutia Kond’s religious rights such as the worshipping of Niyamgiri which is situated at Niyamgiri Hundijari and at the top of the mountain known as Niyam Raja.

b) The Palli Sabha will decide the Niyamgiri mining areas’ – Niyam Dongo which is situated at 10km away from the summit, and whether it would impact the Niyam Raja deity can also be investigated.

Signed: Collector Kalahandi.

 

Notification of Palli Sabhas in Kalahandi district

Firstly, it is important to note that the notification does not clearly state that this Palli Sabha (the Odia equivalent of Gram Sabha) and claim filing process will determine whether Vedanta are given permission to mine the mountain but only refers to ‘writ petition 180′ which very few adivasis will understand. Secondly, the whole text is incredibly confusing, and most importantly the last two paragraphs state outrightly that Niyam Raja resides only at Hundijali.

 

Adivasis won’t understand Oriya

 

Following public criticism of it’s past attempts to manipulate public hearing processes, the Odisha government is currently at pains to present itself as making the Palli Sabhas as inclusive as possible. Newspapers are stating how they are pasting notifications of the Palli Sabhas in the affected villages, as well as announcing them with a megaphone around the mountain, while filming it all themselves as evidence of their efforts. So far we know that ads have been placed in Lanjigarh and some of the easier to reach villages, whether they will reach the upper slopes we will see.

 

But there is one fatal flaw to their attempts at inclusivity; all the notifications and megaphone announcements are in Oriya, while Konds only speak Kui, their tribal language. Kui is only an oral language and cannot be written so how will the local government communicate the legal proceedings crucial to the Kond’s survival through posters and newspaper notifications? This is why the role of activists, who are communicating the proceedings to the mountain villages, is so important and must be permitted. Without them there would be no chance of democracy in this important case.

 

 

Odisha government delays til the monsoon

 

The Supreme Court’s judgement gave a strict (if rather ambitious) timescale for the gram sabha process and following MoEF decision to be taken. It states:

 

59. The Gram Sabha is also free to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims, over and above the claims which have already been received from Rayagada and Kalahandi Districts. Any such fresh claims be filed before the Gram Sabha within six weeks from the date of this Judgement. State Government as well as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, would assist the Gram Sabha for settling of individual as well as community claims.

 

60. We are, therefore, inclined to give a direction to the State of Orissa to place these issues before the Gram Sabha with notice to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, and the Gram Sabha would take a decision on them within three months and communicate the same to the MoEF, through the State Government. On the conclusion of the proceeding before the Gram Sabha determining the claims submitted before it, the MoEF shall take a final decision on the grant of Stage II clearance for the Bauxite Mining Project in the light of the decisions of the Gram Sabha within two months thereafter.

 

It is now six weeks since the judgement, and notification to file individual and community claims has only just been given. This six week delay is pivotal as it pushes the Palli Sabha hearings back into late July – the peak of the monsoon, when travelling to meetings becomes difficult and attendance is likely to be much lower. Local social activist Lingaraj Pradhan stated this fact in his speech at Muniguda on 22nd May.

 

 

Hundreds of villages excluded

Map of Niyamgiri showing villages all over the mountain (red dots)

 

The most glaring manipulation in the Odisha government’s interpretation of the judgement is its selection of just twelve villages in which to hold the Palli Sabhas. These are all on the lower slopes of the mountain, far from the alleged home of Niyam Raja, and the proposed mine, and hardest to reach for those living at the top of the mountain where the impact of the mine, and hence also the resistance, is strongest. There are, in fact, 79 Dongria and Kutia Kond villages within 10km of the mining area, and more than 100 adivasi villages directly affected by the mine – most of which were visited by the Padayatra several weeks ago.

 

Records show that there are actually only 186 voters registered in the twelve villages combined according to the old voter lists (five in Kalahandi district and seven in Rayagada), while more than 8000 Dongria Konds live on and worship the mountain, plus many more Kutia Konds living around Niyamgiri. Ijrupa – one of the villages listed, only has one voter according to the old voter lists which are likely to be used. Several of these villages are primarily occupied by Yadav immigrants and not the adivasis whom the judgement is aimed at. This is a blatant attempt to restrict participation in the Palli Sabha process, and make it easier to manipulate and manage by the Odisha State which has worked alongside Vedanta from the start.

 

Anticipating this skullduggery, the Minister of Tribal Affairs wrote to the Governor of Odisha, SC Jamir, on May 15th May stating categorically that the Gram Sabha should be open to all affected villages. He also stated that the MoU with Vedanta for Niyamgiri was ‘illegal’ and unconstitutional since they are a private company and cannot be trusted to safeguard the tribal’s welfare.

 

On 7th June a delegation of Dongria Kond men and women will meet with the Odisha Governor SC Jamir, demanding that all affected villages are consulted in the upcoming gram sabhas and ensuring that voter lists are up to date and all affected people wishing to attend will be allowed to enter.

 

It could also be argued that the Odisha State government should never have been trusted to facilitate another Gram Sabha since their 2009 Gram Sabha on whether Niyamgiri should be mined was exposed as a total sham by video evidence. At the meeting many locals were kept outside and not allowed in, and though almost all present voiced loud opposition to the mine in speeches, thumbprints taken as registration were used to claim that they had agreed to the project. (please see video in footnote)

 

 

MoEF are not the people

At the end of the long process of filing hundreds of community claims, and ensuring that fair Palli Sabhas are held, the final nod on the mine goes back once again to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. This fact alone makes the Supreme Court’s judgement far from the radical democratic precedent it has been hailed as, and gives more scope for Vedanta to influence the Ministry over the many coming months before the decision may be eventually given.

However, the MoEF should remember their clear statement in the 11th January Supreme Court hearing when asked by the bench “Are you completely opposed to mining or under certain conditions you will allow mining?” Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran – acting for the MoEF told the court: “We are completely against the mining operations.”

 

Confusion is in Vedanta’s interests

The confusion over the meaning of the Supreme Court’s verdict and the proceedings now taking place is evident in the vastly varying newspaper reports coming in daily. The Orissa Post for example stated on Saturday 1st June that:

The department had issued a direction to the District Collectors of Rayagada and Kalahandi to invite fresh claims within six weeks from the people of 12 villages where the Gram Sabhas would be held. After collecting the claims from the people, the Government will hold Palli Sabhas within three months and then it will hold Gram Sabhas in these villages. However, the date of holding Gram Sabhas is not yet decided.

 

Palli sabhas are in fact the same as gram sabhas, and these have to be held within three months from Saturday’s announcement. The weak and confusing wording of the verdict has already delayed the process by six weeks while the Odisha Government claimed it was clarifying it’s interpretation, and there is much potential for further delays as either side may file ‘contempt of court’ or other resolution which would send the issue back into the court room.

Meanwhile, with share prices already low, factories and mines shut at Lanjigarh, Tuticorin and Goa, and Niyamgiri looking less and less likely, Vedanta are following their usual method of high debt, high risk buyouts to keep the share prices afloat. They are currently pushing the Central Government to sell them the remaining shares in BALCO and Hindustan Zinc ltd, and delaying tactics on the Niyamgiri case will give them more time to potentially save their skin in case Niyamgiri doesn’t come through.

Dragging out the process is exhausting and resource draining for the Dongria and Kutia Konds and local activists and is often used as a tactic to wear down resistance until people eventually capitulate from sheer exhaustion. However, in Niyamgiri’s case this looks very unlikely. The high turnout and defiant energy of the recent Padayatra shows the great strength of Niyamgiri’s people, who have recently been supporting other movements such as the struggle against the Lower Suktel Dam. Lingaraj Azad’s speech at the Padayatra’s final rally in Muniguda also clearly stated that the fight goes beyond Niyamgiri and beyond Vedanta. They are aware that as long as there is bauxite in their mountain they will always have to remain vigilant and ready to respond to threats.

source- http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/odisha-government-tries-every-trick-in-the-book-with-supreme-court-niyamgiri-verdict/

 

India – Grain bank movement is saving farmers from starvation in Odisha


An Insurance Against Hunger

The grain bank movement is saving farmers from starvation and the cycle of debt and desperation
Baba Umar

BABA UMAR, Tehelka

May 31, 2013

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

NOT MANY summers ago, only tamarind seeds, wild berries and mango kernels stood between the tribals of Ranjagoda village and death by starvation. However, activist Achyut Das found that there were no starvation deaths in the neighbouring villages in ’s Rayagada district, which had set up . “The concept, though, had never reached Ranjagoda,” says Das.

Until recently, Ranjagoda’s tribals had to part with most of their produce to pay back moneylenders. “Debt bondage was the root cause of starvation,” says Das. “With interest rates as high as 200 percent, most villagers lost their mortgaged land and productive assets. Many were forced to work as bonded labour for the moneylender, sometimes over generations.”

To help the villagers break out of the cycle of debt and starvation, Das mobilised them to form self-help groups. A local grain bank was set up with all 50 families of Ranjagoda contributing 9 kg of ragi, the local staple.

“Unlike rice, ragi can be stored for almost three years,” says Das. “So the villagers, who couldn’t afford to buy food in the lean summer months, could now borrow, say, 5 kg of ragi from the grain bank, and put back 25 percent more within five months.” It has been a decade since the initiative took off, and today Ranjagoda is able to loan grain and seeds to other villages.

The grain bank experience has been a boon for India — a food-surplus nation that has, paradoxically, always performed poorly in terms of the  (GHI). It has been placed below Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal in 2012 by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

As a way to battle hunger, the Centre announced plans to set up grain banks for the first time in 1996. So far, 21,751 village grain banks have been sanctioned across 20 states. “These can be set up in drought-prone areas, deserts, tribal areas and inaccessible hilly areas that remain cut off because of natural calamities. Foodgrain will be loaned to BPL families at one quintal per family under the scheme,” said Union Food Minister KV Thomas in October 2012.

In some cases, like at Pyallayaram village in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district, the grain banks also offer seeds and chemical inputs like fertilisers and pesticides to impoverished farmers. “The grain bank has helped the villagers get rid of both moneylenders and seed-sharks,” says Girdhar Babu of Deccan Development Society, one of the NGOs behind the grain bank initiatives in the state.

Poverty and food insecurity caused by prolonged drought and loss of traditional varieties of seeds had broken the back of Pyallayaram’s local economy, forcing many villagers to migrate. Those who stayed back were utterly destitute and malnourished. “That was 20 years ago. Relying solely on government relief schemes had encouraged a culture of dependency,” says Babu. “That changed when 34 women of the village took things into their own hands and started growing their own food.”

Subsequently, the villagers established a grain bank for poor farmers to ensure a steady supply of quality seeds by preserving the traditional varieties and restoring cultivation on marginal lands. “We have repeated the same experiment with self-help groups in 85 other villages,” adds Babu.

 

Odisha opposes construction of Polavaram dam in Andhra Pradesh


Odisha Government asks Planning Commission not to grant revised investment clearance to the controversial multi-purpose project

The site where the proposed dam will be built in Polavaram. File PhotoThe site where the proposed dam will be built in. File Photo

Bhubaneswar, Jun 1 (PTI): Strongly opposing construction of Polavaram dam in neighbouring  government today asked the Planning Commission of India not to grant revised investment clearance to the controversial multi-purpose project.

“As the matter is sub judice in the Apex Court, it will be prudent to wait till the judgement is given as the project parameter and estimates may change,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote to Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Stating that the Odisha government has filed a suit in the Supreme Court challenging the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s environmental clearance, Patnaik pointed out that the state administration also opposed to the R&R (rehabilitation and resettlement) clearance accorded by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MOTA).

“The state government has prayed the apex court to declare both the clearance null and void,” the Chief Minister said.

Patnaik also said that no public hearing was conducted in the affected Malkangiri district of Odisha.

“Instead, the public hearing was conducted in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh,” he said adding that the environmental clearance granted by the MoEF in favour of Polavaram project was set aside by the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA).

The NEAA also directed to conduct public hearing in the affected areas of Odisha and Chhattishgarh, the Chief Minister said in the letter to to Planning Commission.

However, the orders of NEAA were challenged by the government of Andhra Pradesh in the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The AP High Court has issued an interim order on 31 December 2007 suspending the orders of the NEAA until further order.

 

 

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


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

Environment ministry recognises religious rights, pushes ecological concerns behind

image

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

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

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

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

Religious rights v ecological issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody’s deity

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

RELIGION IN LAW BOOK

1949

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

1994

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

1996

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

2006

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

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

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

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

A  
NASA image of Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoalsA NASA image of Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals (source: NASA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/gods-must-be-dazed

 

Bombay High Court- Liability of employee is on principal employer #Goodnews


Employment

A ruling by Bombay High Court that should interest labor activists and leftists in general. The court recently ruled that in case an employee faces an accident, it will be the liability of the principal employer, and not the contract employer. The case involved the Bombay High Court deciding that Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M) would have to pay monetary compensation on the death of a worker who was working for M GM Motors, which in turn was under Mahindra and Mahindra’s contract.

The driver Sureshkumar Parasnath Singh died in accident while working for M G M Motors on behalf of Mahindra. The case, related to the  The Employees’ Compensation Act, should serve as an important milestone for those fighting against the anti worker policies under the neo liberal regime of the Indian state. Recently, there has been a growing trend of hiring contract workers/casual workers, because this allows the corporations to avoid ensuring all worker safety and security regulations. There is a growing buzz that worker laws need to be diluted because it is these “stringent” laws that allegedly are the reason behind India’s lackluster economic performance.

Of course, we cannot forget that despite this Bombay High Court ruling, other courts or even this same court will not think twice about going against this judgment at a later date. That is after all the nature of the sham democracy that corporatized, neo liberal India is. Why, how can we forget that the same Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the gram sabhas (village councils) in their power to decide about mining projects in the Niyamgiri hills region [concerning the preposterous Vedanta project], struck down the opposition voiced against Posco steel project in Odisha?

Even so, the left must use every tool available within the system as long as it is available to increase pressure on corporations like Maruti Suzuki which is going out of its way to penalize workers who were demanding their legitimate right of unionizing and regularization of the large number of casual workers in the Manesar factory. The present ruling may be seen as a milestone in the fight against the dangerous trend of increasing ratio of contract to permanent workers in India.

 

Odisha -Group clashes in Gobindapur over Posco


By Express News Service – PARADIP

31st May 2013 12:13 PM

Despite deployment of one platoon of police force, law and order situation worsened in Gobindapur village due to group clash on Thursday. Betel vine demolition drive for proposed Posco steel plant project was affected as tension gripped the village after clashes between two groups of Harijanshai and two youth groups.

According to sources, last week one Samir Das of the village had handed over his betel vine to the administration despite the opposition of villagers in lieu of Rs 1.13 lakh as compensation. Earlier, Das had borrowed Rs 40,000 from another villager Trinath Bhoi to erect betel vine. After Das violated the villagers’ decision, annoyed Bhoi demanded his money back. When Das refused to return the money, Bhoi forcibly tried to extract money from Das leading to clash between two groups.

Nearly 150 Dalit families of the village have been opposing boundary demarcation and trench cutting work for the project. They alleged that the administration had demolished betel vines of nearly 22 Dalit families on the promise of giving new betel vines but nothing has been given as compensation.

“The administration has forcibly acquired our land without paying any compensation. So, we have sought the intervention of the Orissa High Court and Human Rights Commission,’said the villagers.

 

Activist alleges Odisha govt trying to manipulate SC order on bauxite mining


 

Hindustan Times  Bhubaneswar, May 29, 2013

 
First Published: 18:42 IST(29/5/2013) | Last Updated: 18:45 IST(29/5/2013)
 
 

Lok Shakti Abhiyan president Prafulla Samantara on Wednesday alleged the Odisha government was attempting to subvert the recent order of the Supreme Court relating to holding gram sabhas for a decision on proposed bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hill for Vedanta Group’s plant and sought Odisha governor SC Jamir’s intervention in the matter.

The social activist, an intervener in the Orisha Mining Corporation versus Union ministry of environment and forest case in the apex court, warned: “As the third party in the case we will be forced to move the Supreme Court for initiating contempt proceedings unless the state government stops manipulating and subverting the order of the court.”

On April 18, the Supreme Court in its order asked the state government for holding gram sabha saying that the decision of gram sabhas of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts was crucial on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in the Niyamgiri hill – home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribals, portrayed in western media as Na’vi from Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.

On Monday the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste department of Odisha government issued notice to the district collectors of Kalahandi and Rayagada to hold gram sabhas in 12 villages of both the districts and complete the process within three months as stipulated by the Supreme Court.   

Samantara however said the selection of just 12 villages was in contravention to the judgment of the Supreme Court, while there are more than 42 villages within 10 km range of the proposed bauxite mining project area. He said a letter from the Union ministry of environment and forest on May 2 clearly mentioned that the list of villages as prepared by the state government should be shared with the central ministry and made public through new advertisements for transparency so that corrections can be made in the list if any village was left out. 

“But the list prepared by the state government has not yet been made public and shared with all stake holders as required by the ministry’s direction,” Samantara said.

Odisha government’s MoU with Vedanta group in 2004 includes supply of 78 million tonnes of bauxite from Niyamgiri by the state owned OMC to Vedanta’s alumina refinery adjacent to the hill. OMC has not been able to mine the hill due to stiff protest from the tribals who revere the hill as their god ‘Niyamraja’ and problems in getting clearance from the Union ministry for environment and forest.

Denied clearance by the ministry in 2011, the OMC had moved the Supreme Court, while Vedanta had shut down its refinery on December 6 last year due to lack of bauxite.

 

 

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