Bauxite mining activities of Sterlite, which were obstructed by local communities in the Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi district of Orissa, have now got the go-ahead from the Supreme Court but petitioners say that popular protests will continue and there is no hope for mining in the hills.
The court has asked the company to pay five per cent of their profit or Rs 10 crore for community development annually to be eligible to mine in the hills. However, petitioners Loka Shakti Abhiyan and Wildlife Society of Orissa say that money cannot be a substitute for the rivers and other wealth of the hills, which will be lost forever by mining.
Says Prafulla Mahantara of Loka Shakti Abhiyan, a petitioner in the case: “People never asked for anything. So they don’t want anything in return for their hills and rivers. They were against any mining in Niyamgiri and will not allow it.”
He says popular protests will continue and ultimately it is the people who are supreme, not the court. Sanjay Parikh, a lawyer, says the judgment will, for the first time, fix a price that a company will have to spend on the community. He adds that money cannot be a substitute for the land or river taken away from the people and the court will have to restore the lands of the people.
Sterlite wants to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri hill area for its proposed Rs 4,000-crore aluminium project.
Whether it is Sterlite or Posco, no order can change the things on the ground till the people want it, says Mahantara, citing the case of a stalled mining project sanctioned to the Aditya Birla group. It is yet to take off despite over two years of approval by the Orissa High Court, he points out.
Utkal Alumina's proposed Rs 4000-crore aluminum refinery plant in Rayagada district has not made much progress despite the green signal from the Orissa High Court, thanks to local protests over rehabilitation and environmental safety.
The Supreme Court order today has come against the advice of its own Court Empowered Committee, which said in 2005 that mining should not be done on the Niyamagiri hills (see box). The mining activities may pollute or even dry up the sources of the rivers which flow from them, thus ruining the cultivation and livelihoods of the people living downhill.
The area is also the habitat of tribal groups like Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondha and Jharania ondha, who regard the hills as sacred.
In the case of Posco, which also won a positive ruling from the Supreme Court today, work on its project has not progressed because of local opposition. About 25 people were arrested recently after the death of a protester.
Arcelor Mittal, which has recently announced the successful completion of a gram sabha in Keonjhar district of Orissa, unanimously favouring its going ahead with the acquisition of 8,000 acres of land for mining, is also facing tough times despite its claims.
The company says it got unanimous approval from the people at the gram sabhas held in Bhrungarajposi while villagers raised questions at Raikela, both in Keonjhar district. In fact, local groups say that the gram sabha was held under police protection and supervision of the district collector. Hence, it was more of bureaucratic arm twisting.