Indian Court lashes out against Indigenous People, Farmers

Indian Court lashes out against Indigenous People, Farmers

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John Ahni Schertow
August 15, 2008
 

Last Friday, the Indian Supreme Court issued two rulings against Indigenous People and rural farmers in the eastern state of Orissa. Favoring development over the people’s rights and livelihoods, the court gave the go-ahead to Vedanta Resources and their bauxite mine on the Nyamgiri Hills, as well as to the South Korean steel-maker Posco’s massive steel project in the same state.

“The announcements were hardly surprising, though they still had the power to shock,” notes a recent report by London Calling. “The court seemed determined to display its pro-industry credentials on both sleeves – perhaps (more cynically) also to divide the opposition by throwing it two challenges at once. And challenges there will be. Further legal recourse now seems heavily circumscribed.”

In the case of Nyamgiri, the court barred the threatened Dongria Kondh from appealing the decision to let Vedanta rip through their Sacred mountain. However, “they plan to submit another petition to the Court focusing on the ways in which the mine will violate their cultural and religious rights,” writes Survival International.

The Dongria Kondh have also made it clear that they have no intention of giving Vedanta the right of way, stating on many occasions that they’ll do everything in their power to stop the mine. A Dongria spokesperson reaffirmed this shortly after the court ruling, saying, “We will become beggars if the company destroys our mountain and our forest so that they can make money. We will give our lives for our mountain.”

Meanwhile, the promising words of Anil Agarwal, Vedanta’s CEO, continue to hover in the distance. At the company’s annual general meeting Agarwal said his company will not go ahead with the mining operation without the Dongria’s consent… It’s a hope that few put any real stock into.

As for Posco, with the court’s new favour they plan to move ahead with their multi-billion dollar project as quickly as possible. Consisting of a massive steel plant and a dedicated port, the project threatens to displace 22,000 farmers and tribal peoples from three villages. There have been numerous protests and a violent government repression, since the project was first approved three years ago.

Following the court decision, one of the villages passed a resolution declaring its forest as protected under the recent Forest Rights Act (FRA). The Times of India explains that,”under the FRA, even the government cannot acquire such declared forest land without the consent of the gram sabha [All men and women in the village who are above 18 years of age]. In a precedent-setting move, that sources say, powerful tribal groups are thinking of replicating, Dhinkia villagers have also passed a resolution demanding that any land taken over be stopped till their rights are settled under the Act.”

“With tribal groups, which have found greater political support to tie-up with the implementation of FRA, keen to file similar petitions in other controversial mining projects [like in the case of Vedanta], the tribal displacement issue could take a new turn, this time in favour of the forest dwellers.”

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