Global protests against Vedanta continue as verdict deferred again

By OrissaMatters Bureau

People across the globe have registered their protests against Vedanta once again. On January 11, parallel demonstrations took place in Orissa, London and New York where activists in hundreds raised slogans and upheld placards to denounce the corporate annexations of indigenous peoples’ lands.

Orissa

From Niyamgiri hills, more than 500 people turned up at a rally which covered about two kilometers in the Bhawanipatna town. Resistance movements in Lanjigarh have also inspired tribal representatives of Karlapat region whose mountains are now being targeted by the mining companies. In this rally, several people who were cheated of their lands narrated the atrocities and tortures they faced from Vedanta highhandedness in Lanjigarh. They also gave an account of how the company goons and the local police routinely harass the women in the afflicted areas.

London
In solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Orissa, a loud group of protesters from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups mobbed the company’s Mayfair headquarters in London the same day. Holding a banner that read “FCA: de-list Vedanta”, the demonstrators called for the Financial Conduct Authority to remove Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.

New York

Likewise, in New York City, protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters to highlight the company’s human rights crimes, displaying placards that read: “Our Mountain! Our Rights! Vedanta: Give Up!” and “Dongria Kond’s Niyamgiri: Hands Off!”

Simultaneously, the Supreme Court of India has deferred its final verdict on Vedanta’s planned mega-mine until 21st January. If permission to mine is denied Vedanta is likely to close its Lanjigarh refinery due to lack of bauxite costing them billions. On Sunday the Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh plans to visit the threatened mountain to visit the Dongria Kond.

Various grassroots groups including Phulbari Solidarity Group, Japan Against Nuclear, Tamil Solidarity and London Mining Network, along with Foil Vedanta gathered at Vedanta’s London headquarters to add their voice to recent pressure for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations. They shouted ‘Vedanta out of London’ and blew horns and whistles. Several parliamentarians and the former CBI Director Richard LambertLondon have highlighted how Vedanta’s listing is used for legal immunity to hide their corporate crimes.

At the Supreme Court in Delhi today lawyers for Vedanta dwelled on the ongoing demonstrations in London, asking why people are protesting there, and claiming that India is suffering because of this. Judges noted that this is not relevant to the case and pointed out that people have a right to protest. Foil Vedanta’s spokesperson reacted:

“Vedanta is a London listed company and profits from this affiliation. It is typical of Vedanta to assume they are above the law and above public accountability. We will continue to draw attention to their corporate crimes here in London”.

Activists at the rally in Bhawanipatna chanted “Vedanta go back: water, land and forest ours. We are Supreme people of the supreme court” while dalit leader Surendra Nag spoke about the loss of land and livelihood for local people, some of whom have ended up as beggars. One man spoke of how his whole family had been tortured by company goons and they had lost 6 acres of land to the company without compensation.

The project has been racked with controversy from the start, as a spate of recent coverage points out: The Lanjigarh refinery built to process the bauxite from the hills was illegally constructed, the court case presided over by a judge with shares in the company, and the refinery should never have been given permission without including the associated mega mine in impact assessments. The Delhi High Court is also currently investigating the large donations from Vedanta to India’s two main political parties which could be deemed illegal as Vedanta is a foreign (British) company.

A cover story in “Open Magazine” in December details evidence of corruption and collusion between Vedanta and the Orissa state government, local officials, judges and the police to force the project through. Meanwhile Vedanta’s chairman and 56.7% owner Anil Agarwal has launched a rare PR crusade claiming that Vedanta ‘have not cut one tree’ and respects and preserves the rights of the protesting indigenous tribe living on the threatened mountain. He sets out his extractive philosophy for India – suggesting that exploration should be drastically increased and regulation decreased to provide for the domestic market for metals and oil.

If Vedanta loses the case to allow state owned company Orissa Mining Corporation to mine the mountain on their behalf they may have to close the dependent Lanjigarh refinery costing them billions. Under enormous pressure from Vedanta the Orissa government has suggested alternative bauxite supplies from a deposit located in a major wildlife sanctuary and tribal area at Karlapat arousing anger and opposition from grassroots groups.

The court’s decision rests on whether the Green Bench of India’s Supreme Court rules rules the rights of forest dwellers to be ‘inalienable or compensatory’. In view of this, India’s Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has asked the Environment Minister to ensure the rights of forest dwellers is protected in the spirit of the Forest Dwellers Act.

Speaking about the verdict, Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states: “We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last month they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.”

Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says: “Vedanta is not the only mining company that should be de-listed for their corporate crimes. Infamous London listed offenders Lonmin in South Africa, Monterrico in Peru, GCM in Phulbari and Bumi in Indonesia should also be investigated for extensive human rights atrocities.”

Alumina Refinery at Lanjigarh a Possible Epitome of Foreign Conspiracy against India

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Time must come after a decade or two, when India will have to develop her own industries to manufacture aircrafts for civilian as well as military purpose and then she would need enough bauxite ore to get the required metal for the purpose. But by then she might have been denuded of her bauxite deposits if the Vedanta type of extraction is encouraged, fears eminent economist Prof. Nilakanth Rath in a mail to Sachi Satpathy, a known facilitator of conversations on Orissa’s development.

“I have read the Vedanta Committee report. It is well drafted”, says Prof. Rath. To him, “it is sad” that the government of Orissa “quite clearly” has “failed to carry out its statutory duties and the company and the government have given false reports to the centre”.

“What surprised me is that all this falsehood was indulged in to ensure the supply of ore from the Niyamgiri hills, which will supply seven per cent of the total ore to the mill from Orissa, and with the illegally expanded production capacity of the mill to 6 mt of aluminium, i.e., 18 mt of ore, the Niyamgiri hills will be exhausted in just four years.”

He wonders, “It is difficult to understand why the company and the state government had to indulge in so much of falsehood and court cases for so little.”

Prof. Rath, presently Hon. Fellow, Indian Institute of Political Economy, Pune, leads us into “a different and wider question” that needs deep cogitation.

Taking into accounts the international data on bauxite ore deposits, he notes that the biggest deposit of bauxite at places like Australia and Niger, which are much larger than India’s, are marked for quite low exploitation. “I guess …..India’s comparatively smaller deposits will be exhausted in about a couple of decades if the proposed expansion by Vedanta and some others is added to the current rate of exploitation……..If my rough impression from some data I had seen is correct, such rapid exploitation of our very limited ore will leave the country at the mercy of the MNCs that will control the large resources in Australia and Niger, by the time India will begin to develop industries, like aircraft manufacture for civilian as well as military purpose in the next couple of decades” says Prof. Rath.

He suggests that India’s known bauxite deposits should be studied in the context of the current rate of extraction of the ore and Vedanta type of added extraction plans and handled with foresightedness if long-term national interest is to be prioritized over instant private interest.

Lanjigarh Bleeds Under Police Brutality: An Instance of Vedanta Brand of Development

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

As many as five thousand workers have been arbitrarily retrenched by the employer in Vedanta’s refinery site at Lanjigarh in blatant contravention of Labour Laws including the Minimum Wages Act and Industrial Disputes Act. Their earned back wages are not paid. But they are not retrenched by the real employer Vedanta Aluminum. They are retrenched by L&T, its construction contractor after the alleged illegal construction has been halted under union Government orders.

When the exploited workers harped on payment of their unpaid earned wages, they were on 31 August subjected to brutal beating by Orissa police. More than hundred workers are injured with bleeding heads, broken limbs, and internal injuries. Hundreds of workers have been arrested and, as reports coming from Lanjigarh this morning suggests, are being further beaten up in the police station.

In an interview taken on Camera last February, more than two dozens of workers had said that not a single worker is given an identity card; even many of them did not possess any entry slip (roll card). The original addresses of most of the workers were distorted on record so that in case of any accident or retrenchment or any other eventuality, the company could prove that such persons did not exist at all and the labor Law machinery would fail to help the aggrieved worker. Most of them in the interview had complained that the payment was much less than promised/stipulated amount of minimum wages besides being blatantly irregular. But they were unable to leave as their backlog dues were huge and they were tortured like bonded labors. There had been many deaths inside the plant in accidents, which were not reported outside. But the Labor authorities had never intervened, even if safety measures were almost non-existent and the workers being forced to do their jobs at great risks to their lives. .

This is an instance of Vedanta brand of development that Chief Minister Navin Patnaik has ushered into Orissa!

Orissa: Throttled Dissent, Overstepped Laws, Displaced Peoples

Saswat Pattanayak

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Here is a classic case of manufactured consent.

News is agog that India will have its Harvard University in next two years. Even Forbes Magazine testifies to that. The corporate media hails a proposed university in India to be the greatest hope of reified vision where huge mass of people will be educated for betterment of India’s economy; and, its poor state Orissa’s. It is being hailed as the institute that’s receiving the single largest donation ever worldwide: $1 billion, and yes its going to be the university with largest real estate holdings ever. So welcome to capitalism that apparently does good, through capitalists that claim to be philanthropists of great cause.

Are there any protests against the university? Hardly any. Who would protest establishment of a first world standard university in a third world standard country? Instead, there is huge celebration of this proposal, of a one billion dollar charity. Its a poor peoples’ world, and free money counts. The donor, Anil Agarwal is being hailed as a messiah of sort whose generosity is redefining cannons of capitalism. ‘Let them eat cake’ is after all being replaced by ‘Let us serve them’!

The esteemed Chronicle of Higher Education has been publishing features to highlight Vedanta, and last week, it has advertised the vacancy positions, including that of a Provost and Chief Academic Officer. US-based Ayers/Saint/Gross Architects have been hired to design the Harvard clone. 8,000-acres of land are being earmarked for this gigantic project (Harvard has only 4,938 acres). In other words, the largest ever education project in the world is underway already.

Why?

The Corporate Charity for Profits Syndrome:
Last week, a LA Times investigation excavated how the richest man in the world Bill Gates evades taxes through his philanthropies. In fact, worse, his Gates Foundation invests 95% of its worth on industries that defeat the purpose of its 5% charity causes.

How much does Anil Agarwal, the 245th richest person in the world emulate the club chair? Totally. It appears, he fails to escape the capitalistic dictums: the crude greed in sophisticated pill. Proponent of the later stage of feudalism, landgrabbing capitalists have been targeting Africa and Asia for their wealth accumulation. And ironically, they have been employing causes such as AIDS and education as excuses to divert the public attention from the real issues: exploitation of resources, harassment of indigenous peoples, and murders of activists.

Behind the euphoria that outlines a $1-billion charity of Agarwal for the proposed university, lies the three years of vehement protests of thousands of indigenous/tribal people who are being inhumanly displaced a little distant away for a much larger corporate project that shall hamper the ecology and destroy livelihoods of local poor for the profits of the same bunch of profit mongers living in Britain.

The man who has promised to donate for university to educate people also happen to be the one who has been investing in nearby landmines to displace people and stake private ownership over public resources through suspect means. Only that, the dreams of furthering his landmining business would not advance if attempts are not made to eliminate the long prevailing popular resentments. And for that, the corporate house has taken shelter in some upper class intelligentsia that profits directly from a world-class educational institute in bargain. And this group of abettors comprises some high-profile educators inside India and outside of it, who have been impressing upon the media agencies to glorify this business house that funds their future abode.

The nexus between profiteering capitalists and kingpin professors also has complete consent from some political bigwigs and media business houses. All of them stand to benefit from a university that’s advertised as catering to upper class, upper caste youths of India who have had a remarkable private school education already, considering that the Vedanta University is to be based on ‘need-blind admissions’. So yes, in the most backward of states in India, only students with so-called ‘merit’ (implying most filtered students from urban school education) will benefit.

The Casualties of University:

I recently spoke with some activists participating in protests movements in Orissa against the Sterlite business expansions. The resentments are taking place at both the urban hotspots like Puri (near which the university is proposed) as well as in rural heartlands of Lanjigarh, Kalahandi (where the alumina project is underway).

Activists told me that at the university site, at least 20,000 people are affected by the project, whereas nearly a thousand are getting evicted. And yet, the business house is conducting press meets to send falsified numbers that the media are readily savoring. As per Ajit Kumar Samal, vice-president of the project, rehab packages are assured for all those going to be displaced. “The willing and educated persons of about 80 families, likely to be displaced, would be imparted capacity building training to absorb them in the project. We are ready to provide compensation amount as soon as the Government appoints a committee to fix the quantum” (The Pioneer, January 6, 2007). So, the number estimated by the Vedanta University stands at 80, from whom chosen few will be given compensation only after bureaucratic clearance. Of course, when it comes to affected people, the industries face bureaucratic hassles as well.

Adding more to the irony is the fact that with such billion-dollar promise quotes, the industry/government has succeeded in diverting the center of focus from Lanjigarh land scams to Puri as education site.

Smooth Operation:

For a business baron who, according to Forbes Magazine, “built his London-listed Vedanta Resources by acquiring state-owned mining and metal assets in India where main operations are located”, it was imperative that the protests of environmentalists and other activists be dismissed as routine hindrances in ‘developmental’ path whereas the mass looting of home country resources for individual profit accumulation is planned out. Its as though, the onus on protecting the mother nature lies only with some professional environmentalists who need to be chided for receiving money from non-governmental organizations, whereas the greedy corporate houses’ demands be hailed all the while, for their skillful trampling down of peoples’ aspirations to hold onto their forest lands for their meager livelihood!

Vedanta Resources has already completed its 1.4 million tonne alumina project in Orissa’s Kalahandi district despite resistance. But the protest movements against its further plans to take siege of Niyamgiri Hill is continuing without much support of media or political outfits. Following the West Bengal model, even the state’s official communist parties have not reacted much apart from scantily registering protests against governmental repression. Only the Marxist-Leninist front of the left wing have come out to support the peoples’ causes. Lanjigarh at the first stage has already witnessed the $874 million project, but is unwilling to part with more of its sacred hills.

What’s shocking in the entire process is that in spite of mammoth popular opposition to the mining projects in Orissa, Agarwal’s Sterlite has managed to sign an agreement with the state Government under Naveen Patnaik to set up both the alumina refinery in Kalahandi as well as aluminum smelter and power plant in Jharsuguda. Subsequently it reached agreement with the Orissa Mining Corporation to jointly operate the Niyamgiri bauxite mines. The refinery is almost completed and the importing of bauxite through Vizag port has already started.

Not just that the majority people have no say in a plutocracy such as India, where the rich landgrabbers still rule the destiny of its poor, the private corporate houses also flout the laws of the lands to go to such extremes as displacing people and terming them as encroachers on their own lands. Not just the fact that such lands are illegal to be sold to non-tribals, but also the fact that Supreme Court appointed environment-empowered-committee has strongly disapproved of the project location, has not dissuaded the state government from its unholy alliance with the foreign firm.

Apart from its obvious anti-people repercussions leading to displacement of tribal groups, Lanjigarh has attracted ire of the Supreme Court of India and subsequently many environmentalists. As a result, Ministry of Environment & Forest has also recently issued directives to the Wildlife Institute of India to undertake studies related to the impacts of mining on biodiversity including wildlife and its habitat in the proposed Bauxite Mining area at Lanjigarh, Kalahandi as per the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee.

The findings, among other things suggested the following:

A) Bauxite from the Niyamgiri plateaus is proposed to be extracted through open cast operations. Various kinds environmental degradations and impacts are associated with this kind of mining. These are : geomorphologic changes, landscape changes, loss of forests; land degradation; loss of flora and fauna; loss of habitat; geo-hydrological and drainage changes; land vibration, shocks, blasting and noise; air quality reduction, water quality reduction; disruption of socio-economic dependencies and public health hazards etc.

B) Bauxite mining at Niyamgiri will bring several changes due to blasting and disturbances to the forested habitat over a period of 25 years. The mining plan proposes to have 3 working shifts of 8 h3rs each per day and 6 days per week. Working of the mine during night shifts would induce disturbances due to illumination of the Niyamgiri plateau area and pose disturbance to wildlife species more specifically the nocturnal animal. The illumination may restrict movement and habitat use and reduce occupancy and utilization by several species. This situation eventually will reduce elephant movements across Niyamgiri massif to Karlapath and Kotagarh Wildlife Sanctuaries and ultimately effect the population structure and there by its genetic diversity. Exodus of human population to mining site will enhance conflict with wildlife so to their losses in long run. Bauxite mining in Niyamgiri plateau will destroy a specialized kind of wildlife habitat, dominated by grasslands and sparse tree communities. These kinds of sites are breeding habitat of many herbivores such as barking deer and four horned antelopes.

The manufactured euphoria over the richest proposed university in the world is as illusive as the concept itself. A business house employing power tactics, first tries to set up an ecologically disastrous mining project to exploit Orissa’s indigenous areas for private gains. Facing stiff opposition from people and environmentalists alike, it struggles to gain a foothold for almost three years. And finally, wins the corridors of powers as predicted, with a side dish, a dream university: one that has allured the intelligentsia and educated section of the state, to create a normalization that can facilitate corporate hegemony over a lands soul: its peoples.


People’s Movements in Orissa face Political Repression

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One year ago, on January 2, 2006, I was in Orissa covering the most barbaric and shameful epoch in the aftermath of Kalinga Nagar incidents. 12 tribals were murdered by the Orissa state police, because they were protesting against the illegal, and inhuman encroachment of their sweet little homes by a profit-mongering private industry giant. As many as 13 industrial plants had been declared to be set up in Kalinga Nagar itself, resulting in evacuation of thousands of indigenous people from their own lands, sans adequate compensations, relocation benefits, education or healthcare assurances, let alone alternative residences. Countless people were left in the lurch because one private company got greedier and bought the conscience of few dozens of political opportunists. And when the people were told that their villages were going to be leveled –meaning, their carefully worshiped houses were to be razed off the grounds without seeking any of their approvals, some tribals thought they should protest.

After all, it was through constant revolutionary struggles of the common masses, that Orissa had been wrested from its kings and the colonialists to emerge as the first independent province formed on linguistic basis in modern India’s history.

Right to self-determination has been inherent in Orissa’s history–from the ages of the Kalinga War to the days of Kalinga Nagar. Just the way, the Kalinga War was fought with bloodbath, Kalinga Nagar met the similar fate. Entirely innocent people, yet valiant and brave, unarmed to fight the ancient and modern emperors, protested for sure, and paid the price.

It has been an annual ritual in Orissa, economically one of the poorest states of India. Its working class people doubly oppressed – by the military-industrial nexus of the government in power, and by the educated and elite section of its own population that dance to the tunes of opportunism and betray the poor people’s causes.

Despite the odds, when tribals staged a non-violent protest, the police state, under obligation from industry pimps, opened fire and murdered them mercilessly. And this, despite the very fresh memories of killings of tribals in Rayagada done under the same BJP-BJD regime led by Naveen Patnaik.

Sitting pretty on his father and Orissa’s ex-Chief Minister Biju Patnaik’s land-grabbing anti-people legacies, Naveen has been the most ruthless curse on a peaceful people. Enacting personality politics to project Biju as a savior, the current CM has been turning massive onslaughts on every form of criticism that exists in the state today, with an inherited arrogance that has rare parallel. He completes his troika of misfortunes, after Kashipur and Kalinga Nagar, with his approval of Vedanta Alumina Project at Lanjigarh.

Troika of exploitations and how they happened:

Kashipur, Kalinga Nagar and Lanjigarh

When Naveen regime sold off Kashipur to their friends in the Aditya Birla Group and Canadian ALCAN, they had to struggle quite a bit. Months of endured protests by thousands of people organized under different banners were not an easy task to encounter. Along with several activist comrades, I was involved in raising consciousness about Kashipur and found many people showing solidarity with the displaced. In late 2000, the protest movements against Birla Group was gaining consensus among the larger progressive circles. However, the government committed its first blunder by ordering to shoot the completely unarmed tribals Abhilas Jhodia, Raghu Jhodia and Damodar Jhodia in December of that year. Dozens of tribals were critically injured and shot at. Hundreds were arrested illegally.

Arun Shourie, the infamous disinvestment minister had set the trend on behalf of BJP to legalize the most shameful of trades: selling off people’s lands to land-grabbers. Orissa government, the ally of BJP, went one step further. It sold them at dirt cheap prices so that the kickbacks would at least be good. As a result, Kashipur project displaced more than 20,000 people with immediate effect, whereas making mere promises to secure jobs for 1000 people for 20 years. All bauxite resources were put on ransom in this 4,500-cr project that involved few top bureaucrats, politicians and the private industries. They had round tables at Orissa Secretariat and had a feast on the murdered tribals.

This project, part of Utkal Alumina International Limited, forced its way in, despite protests, and widespread discontentment. It even violated the law of land that denied sale of tribal lands to non-tribals for mining purpose. However, the project is on, and the lawmakers and their judiciary colleagues are bedfellows. And unitedly, the ruling class of Orissa bribed by the industrial houses has conveniently shoved aside the people’s demands, and when needed have shot some commoners to silence.

When it came to Kalinga Nagar, the government thought better than to tolerate any flak. No demonstrations, no protests, no opposition – the government decided – it won’t accept any remaining cannons of political democracy. Shoot on sight, Naveen’s style of functioning worked with even greater vigor this time. If democracy meant people’s mandate, the politicians thought they had got the mandate to kill the people. In the most shocking case of mass murder in the recent history of world, Kalinga Nagar resulted in deaths of 12 tribals (and subsequent mutilation of their bodies inside the police station to obstruct post-mortem/identification). All along, in place of health centers and schools – the most needed facilities in the tribal districts, the Orissa government had been building police stations since last four years. Of course the police stations were being constructed near the project sites, so as to provide protection to the business barons, while killing some locales here and there.

Beyond descriptions and doubts, Kalinga Nagar incident was smartly buried. In a plutocracy, the government works for the rich, and so, Orissa government this time too, made all paths clear for its partner in crime: TISCO. The Tata venture in Kalinga Nagar, was done in collaboration with the Orissa Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO). Of course this deal was as corrupt and backhanded as possible.

Biju Patnaik was the epitome of corruption in the post-independent India, and during his last tenure at office, he had acquired the lands of Kalinga Nagar at the cost of Rs 35,000 per acre. His son amassed even larger profits by making a business out of this. He sold the public property to TISCO at Rs 3,50,000 per acre. In return, he paid the people: zilch. Ooops, with some bullets. But to be fair, the families of those who were killed were offered Rs 50,000 as price of the human life. And the compensation for building houses: 10 decimal of land!

Of course, the benevolent Tata loves the power tactics of letting its compliances kill off people when they protest, and it suits its inroads to further the business. Same goes with other steel companies that have been also setting up their firms in the tribal heartlands by evicting the people out, including Neelachal Ispat Nigam Ltd, Jindal Steels, Mesco Steels etc. All of them together have been keeping the political circle happy, and vice versa, in a tradition of tragedies.

The tradition has now extended to an aluminum refinery near our most current focus, Lanjigarh. Very similar to Kashipur developments, the Lanjigarh project has already launched its thumping notes of oppression. The UK-based Sterlite Industries has been excitedly razing off adivasi villages, including Borobhota, Kinari, Kothduar, Sindhabahili, and their agricultural fields in Kalahandi district. In the process, thousands of villagers have been forced to leave their lands.

But this time, the tactics of the government – already being heavily criticized for its high-handedness – are slightly different. It has adopted a two-pronged approach to gain consensus for the Lanjigarh project. Before we go there, let’s assess what’s the worth of this project.

Vedanta and Capitalistic Expansions:

Vedanta which sounds Indian, even Brahminical, is meant to be so. Although based in England, the company has its eyes set only on former British colony India. Not just on a country that was being ripped off by the Empire until few decades back, but also on the poorest state of India. Again, not just on Orissa, but on the poorest district of Orissa.

Gandhi once said in his Talisman about how before we take a step, we should think of the welfare of the poorest of the poor. Now his country has another policy in power: before you take a step, make sure to trample the poorest of the poor to oblivion.

BJP, the party of domestic business houses and NRI investors, had this brilliant idea of disinvesting the existing industries of India which would render millions jobless, and without backbone to protest the injustices. Worse, they had Lord Ram legends to divert the people into becoming communalist monsters. And during those times of Vajpayee, they put BALCO (Bharat Aluminum) on sale. Sterlite comfortably offered a meager $121 million for it. Even Balco labor union had no clue that the company was sold out for this cheap. The union declared strike. Supreme Court of India in its worst of wisdom had declared strikes as illegal (in a country that gained independence through strikes of workers as a major force) and Anil Agarwal got the approval. Again easy. He went ahead and cut off 30% of jobs. Of course without a problem. One of the largest public trusts was now his mansion.

BJP, a party that surprised us all when it splashed every newspaper with full page ads on the very first term of its election campaign, was always funded by Hindu extremists living abroad. The proverbial NRIs always looked forward to their bastion of moneymaking once the command/mixed economy of India took a beating. And for this, they needed the right wing in India to come to power. Even for just one term. Because all one needs to sell the country is a seal.

During Vajpayee’s regime, people like Agarwal made fortunes. Not just Balco. Sterlite got its sweet deals in Hindustan Zinc too – three lead-zinc mines and three smelters! More job cuts, pay cuts. Less labor force, more work, more profits. In business texts, they call it efficiency. To us, possibly it sounds draconic.

Gradually after stabilizing the sale process of India, Agarwal aimed at Vedanta’s mining operations. His stake in Vedanta being $1 billion, it attracted attention of London Stock Exchange, since it happened to be the first Indian mining operation to be listed there. Not to be outwitted, Agarwal had the face of Australian mining magnate Brian Gilbertson to certify the resources of Orissa were good enough. Gilbertson, one of the wealthiest miners in the world, absolutely amazed by the resources said they were heavily undervalued. He said they were way better than any international standard and did not resemble any third world produce.

And so the deal was approved. It had been already struck. Now, everybody’s a winner. Except those that rightfully deserved to win. Those that love their little thatched roofs as much as the bigwigs love their palaces. Those poor that refuse to give up their collective lands and community rivers as much as the rich that would guard to their life their safeguarded mansions and exclusive swimming pools.

Originally published:
Radical Notes: Orissa: Throttled Dissent, Overstepped Laws, Displaced People

Radical Notes: People’s Movements in Orissa face Political Repression

CounterCurrents: People’s Movements in Orissa face Political Repression