Sunday, January 17, 2010

Niyamgiri Solidarity Convention, 10/10/2009, Hindi Bhawan, New Delhi (Notes)

Niyamgiri Solidarity Convention (NSC) began with songs by members of ‘Pratidhwani’ group. These songs, originally sung by local activists, instantly struck a chord with diverse audience, enthusing everybody’s hearts and souls alike. This was followed by a two-minute silence for late activist K Balagopal and victims of Korba Chimney disaster.
Members of Pratidhwani Group struck a chord with one and all
Though the NSC programme had a jam-packed schedule, yet all the speakers were able to succinctly highlight problems faced by people living in Niyamgiri. These were discussed within a larger capitalist overtake of democracy through industrial giants as represented by Vedanta, which is currently attacking both local Dongria Kondhs (DK) and their immediate environment by sucking out natural resources from their sacred mountain Niyamgiri, for extracting aluminium and making obscene amounts of money.

<=Poem Recital by Suhas

Prafulla Samantara first spoke about how Dongria Kondhs are “deprived of their human rights when government imposes ‘development’ on them, killing democracy in the process.” He said that by allowing Vedanta to flourish in Niyamgiri, lives and livelihoods of locals have been snatched away, including their forest, water, land and cultural heritage. DKs are slowly losing everything they ever had to excesses committed by this cruel, giant business venture called Vedanta. An even greater cause of concern is that bauxite mining by this company is further spreading to adjacent hills in that area and blatantly draining them all of rich biodiversity as well. So “these are very sensitive spaces that must be saved.” In last four years, he says, goons sent by Vedanta have continued targeting protestors, violating all their human rights, while the Supreme Court has worsened the situation by not signaling Vedanta to ‘pack it’s bags’ and leave Niyamgiri alone. In fact, Justice Kapadia has violated all moral norms by doing injustice. “We must be clear on this fact that Vedanta has come to India just for profit-making” and so it must be unanimously opposed by people involved in anti-mining movements all over the country.
Giridhari Patra of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti went on to describe instances where they peacefully protested against Vedanta, showed them black flags, once even gheraoning them, leading to unleashing of repression against them by the company, who resorted to lathi charge to suppress their voices. Utilising extra legal powers, police machinery is busy arresting leaders of the movement to diffuse and curb it. He said that grabbing resources of Niyamgiri, including so many precious herbs, will mean eventual death for the locals. So many cases of human and animal deaths have already come to light, with cases of diseases like severe skin and eye infection also being increasingly reported. He says that only when goondas of Vedanta company push them, beat them and forcefully exploit them that they have to get violent too, but in defense and for survival. Not just exploitation by goons, even policemen sometimes bribe them to buy off dissenting voices.
Prof Mohanty brought together five struggles of Orrisa namely Niyamgiri, Kashipur, Kalinganagar, anti-POSCO and anti Vedanta-Sterlite University struggle within an alternative development paradigm as against a current, dominant development paradigm utilised by the state to oppress many, rather than developing them. He said most of these struggles happen where poorest of the poor reside, in places like Kalahandi. With such rampant poverty, the government, instead of relying upon what people want, brings in an economically extractive process in the name of ‘development,’ with state as facilitator and media as an agent of that process. So, the first problem is about how to resolve acute poverty for so many people. Secondly, destruction of Niyamgiri is a question of human rights’ violation of tribal, who live there and are an extremely exploited lot, with a large dalit population. The Forest Rights Act 2006 stipulates rights of people to their land and how no ‘development’ activity on that land can possibly take it away from them. Taking away land also implies taking away their livelihood and culture, which is unconstitutional. Moreover, since last 60 years, an important part of modernisation policies of governments has been, for instance, developing railway lines, but with the real intention of transferring natural resources from one point to another. Any ‘development’ of infrastructure and industry shouldn’t be destroying livelihoods of people, like it’s happening for DKs. Therefore, such policies must be replaced. Finally, locating this issue within a larger global capitalism development paradigm explains why this (negative) economic process has got accentuated. Although most struggles are peaceful struggles to begin with, but when they fail, then there is no option left for affected people but to use violent means to resist onslaught. It is in this post globalization phase that we all must create public opinion for saving rights of people and against such a concept of development.
From L to R: Prof Mohanty, Mamata Dash, Prafulla Samantara, G Patra & Ranjana)
Sayantoni Datta spoke about the spread of Vedanta mining industries to various parts of India while focusing more on the case of Goa. In her slide show, she highlighted resistance offered by members of Goa Federation of Mines Affected People (GOAMAP) to Vedanta’s mining experiments within the state. In maximum experiences of people staying close to mining areas, inhabitable conditions have been created for them as illegally dumped mining waste has entered their homes, besides destroying their paddy fields by added siltation, for instance in Advaipal. Still, the Vedanta Company has blatantly refused to abide by its mining plan and is using policemen and politicians alike for its promoting its expansion.

Sayantoni speaks about spread of Vedanta =>

Describing negative impact of Vedanta’s mining on all aspects of lives of people inhabiting Niyamgiri or ‘Dongria-land’, which is a notified area, addressed as ‘elephant corridor’, is in the fifth schedule, yet, a long list of human rights violations has been drawn by Mamata Dash. She puts onus of first violation of human rights of DKs by Dongria Kondh Development Agency (DKDA), which was formed by the state to increase their economic sustenance by helping them survive better. However, as it turns out, DKDA is more of an agent of state, especially Vedanta, as instead of being of any assistance to DKs, it’s stopping the implementation of Forest Rights Act, while completely violating all its statutory norms. People from about 26-30 villages have been affected by the refinery leading to complete dispossession for them all. The state regularly uses police force to repress protesting voices, many of whom have been silenced forever, while many others have been falsely convicted to curb resistance shown by them against Vedanta’s attack upon their lives. Rivers have been destroyed for instance, Vasundhara River, which is a lifeline for people of Niyamgiri, has been completely polluted with animals dying when coming in contact with it. Even though all this devastation is in public knowledge and Orissa Pollution Control Board has issued notices to Vedanta, the company has obviously not responded or withdrawn its activities.
As far as resettling DKs goes, the resettlement colony comprises about 200-250 households, 8x8 size per house, with families almost trapped inside and not allowed to speak with anyone. In what reminds us of concentration camps of WW II, condition of women particularly has worsened as they go through exploitation at all levels while working as domestic help in houses of mining officials close by. Overall, not more than 10% people have jobs there and even then, there is no social security guaranteed to any of them. There are extensive labour issues with accidents become a regular feature, most of which don’t even get exposed. Workers perform all kinds of hazardous labour in mines without any safety gear or even any identity cards to identify the person in case of a tragedy. For those whose addresses have been entered in records, even they are entered fictitiously, as migrant labour from outside, not as local DKs!

Tea Break

“When state commits excesses, then it’s our duty to show them what we are made of,” said Arundhati Roy at the beginning of her address. She said that we are facing a dangerous situation because the amount of money involved in mining industry is so large, and it’s directly proportional to violence unleashed on locals, who oppose mining. Commenting extensively on current Home Minister P.Chidambaram, who heads all police forces, and his pro-mining stand on the issue, she quoted him saying on an earlier occasion, while he held office as Finance Minister, that 85% of India should live in cities, as opposed to letting people live in their natural habitats. She highlighted the seriousness of the role played by Courts in matters pertaining to interest of mining company vs. human rights of locals, with disappointing performances by judicial system favouring interest of mining companies in the final verdict. Democracy has been completely hollowed out as even major newspapers have mining interests, she said before concluding.
As the last speaker, KB Saxena pointed out various disturbing questions that touch us all, not just DKs, whose land and livelihood is directly threatened by Vedanta Company. First concern is about the apparent futility of constitutional rights local people have, which are getting brutally flouted every day. In such a scenario, “does having legal rights mean anything to depraved sections of society,” he asks. In case of DKs, which is a primitive tribe living in close association with nature, what are the chances of their survival, he questions, when earlier such tribes, for instance the Andaman tribes, got wiped out on getting forcefully separated from their natural habitat. He fears for similar fate for DKs, who have been removed from their natural environment into a drastically different environment, run by forces of globalization. Coming to the failure of the state to preserve even minimum national interest and threatening us all by virtue of that, Saxena points out that it is only Vedanta company that is hugely reaping benefits from its operations in India, while large sections of people represented by Dalits and the marginalized, who are exploited by mining companies, are deprived of their due share in profits made by the Company. This attitude represents the current development paradigm wherein profit-making is the primary goal, even if one were to sell their humanity. Not even a single political party thinks of taking up this issue concerning marginalized people, posing a serious threat to the survival of democracy itself as human rights violations of large populations are being easily tolerated. Our poor governance system is responsible for such a state of affairs and if DKs cannot be saved today, one day, it will be our turn. Therefore, oppression of DKs of Niyamgiri is an issue concerning all of us.
From L to R: Mamata Dash, Prof Mohanty, Arundhati Roy & K B Saxena

Joint Resolution passed at the Solidarity Convention for Anti-Mining and Land Rights Struggle in Niyamgiri
10 October 2009, New Delhi
Demanding immediate scrapping of mining permission and ensure protection of peoples’ rights to land, forests, culture, and livelihoods in Niyamgiri, Orissa, India
As recently as 5 October 2009, more than 3000 adivasis, dalits, and others, gathered in Muniguda town at the foothills of the Niyamgiri Mountains in Orissa, blocking the highway for several hours. Amidst heavy police deployment and Vedanta’s goons, they were thundering with slogans what they have been asserting for more than five years by now: We will not let Niyamgiri – our lifeline and sacred mountain – be mined, come what may!
This was only one of the many expressions of the people to resist Vedanta’s refinery at Lanjigarh and bauxite mining on Niyamgiri. They have been militantly resisting the destruction of their forests, the fragmentation of their community, the decimation of their culture and religious beliefs, the loss of their livelihoods. On 27 January 2009, over 10,000 men, women, and children formed a 17-kilometre-long human chain around the Niyamgiri Mountains, holding placards that said: Niyamgiri is Dongria land! Vedanta cannot come here without our permission. We say NO!
We the undersigned completely endorse the demands of the adivasi, dalit, and other communities who have lived in and of Niyamgiri for generations and extend all-out solidarity to their struggle in protecting the mountains and the forests, which rightfully belong to them. We also support their democratic, militant resistance to forced grabbing of their land and resources and their fight to reclaim the land already grabbed by the Vedanta Alumina Ltd for its refinery plant.
We strongly condemn the ongoing brutal repression people’s resistance in Niyamgiri is facing everyday by company goons, police, and the state administration. The state criminally abdicated from all its democratic responsibilities of protecting rights to life, dignity, and livelihoods. We deplore the government’s coercive tactics to ram its neo-liberal brand of ‘development’ down people’s throats, while decimating in glory a self-reliant economy of the people, a self-sustaining ecology, rich biodiversity, and dense virgin forests in Niyamgiri—only to ensure profits of a company that is already disgraced worldwide for unleashing environmental havoc and direct human-rights abuse wherever they operate.
We have been closely following all that is unfolding around Vedanta’s ambitious plans in Niyamgiri, hand-in-gloves with the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa and the UPA government at the centre—the flouting of rules and norms by both the state government and the MoEF in awarding all the required clearances to the company; the way the Supreme Court of India handled the case against Vedanta; the slavish approach of the pollution control board by blatantly ignoring untold environmental and health hazards Vedanta’s refinery has already caused; the misuse of the entire police force by employing it only for the company’s purpose and for silencing any voice of dissent; and, above all, the utter disregard of the company for the rule of the land that it fearlessly displays by cutting down thousands of trees at will, building roads without permission, releasing toxic effluents to the Vamsadhara river, clamping down people to death at will with its errant vehicles, and terrorizing local people by employing hundreds of goons in and around Lanjigarh.
We condemn the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa, overtly supported by the Union Government from New Delhi, for acting just as an obedient, profit-ensuring ‘agent’ for Vedanta and other mining and metal companies and mindlessly selling the state’s natural resources for a song, and also creating an unprecedented state of terror in the people through brutal repressive measures to the extent of branding democratic voices of dissent as Maoists in several instances.
The ecological significance of the Niyamgiri Mountains – with dense forests, hundreds of perennial water streams, rich biodiversity, and the environmentally responsible economic practices of the Dongria Kondhs and other adivasis and dalit communities – is, in fact, evident in the fact that the whole region falls under a Fifth Scheduled area, which means people’s lives and the ecology of the region should not be tampered with at any cost, let alone using it for the highly environmentally devastating aluminium industry! Moreover, with the impending disaster that is awaiting the planet, in the form of global warming, in which communities that live primarily on nature are the worst affected – and India has a vast population of these categories – India, by sheer commonsense, cannot afford to push further in the name of development such industries that are the primary cause of the impending crisis. And, it cannot even afford to torment and decimate those very people who have kept alive nature’s invaluable resources for ages, thereby keeping alive the planet.
Niyamgiri is the traditional home to the Dongria Kondhs; its foothills are inhabited by other Kondh communities and dalits ...and they all have due rights over the land, forests, and water there. Their lives, livelihoods, and cultures cannot be bartered for corporate profits and a minuscule short-term financial gain for the state.
Therefore, in solidarity with the people’s struggle in Niyamgiri and towards conserving the rich ecological heritage of the area, we demand the following:
1. Immediately scrap the MoU signed by the Government of Orissa and Vedanta/Sterlite for the latter’s mining and refinery projects in Niyamgiri
2. Immediately shut down the refinery at Lanjigarh, and award the local people who have suffered due to the coming-up of the plant and its activities with adequate compensation, in terms of land, money, and all civic amenities
3. Immediately put in place effective and measurable systems of health services in and around Niyamgiri—a constitutional duty the state has so far criminally abdicated from. This is an unconditional duty of the state, and not of any corporation in exchange of people’s livelihoods and cultures.
4. Revoke all the clearances already given to Vedanta/Sterlite for its project in Niyamgiri
5. Stop any processes to clear the pending clearances
6. Declare Niyamgiri a permanent ‘no-mining zone’
7. Drop all legal/criminal cases registered against people of the area for voicing their dissent
8. Investigate cases on attacks against people by the company goons and the police.
9. Allow people of the Niyamgiri area to exercise their rights to choice, livelihoods, and lifestyles
10. Revoke all kinds of forest diversions made so far to make way for mining in Niyamgiri violating the rights of people under PESA and the Forest Rights Act, 2006
[The Convention was organized by: Lok Raj Sangathan, Kashipur Solidarity Group, AIPWA, CPI(ML)–Liberation, PSU, Peoples' Political Front, MKSS, NAPM, NFFPFW, Delhi Platform, Kalpavriksh, AISF, AISA, Other Media, Delhi Forum, Kriti, PUCL, Intercultural Resources, PUDR, Harit Swaraj Abhiyan, Lokayan, Pratidhwani, AAAA—Alliance of Academics, Artists and Activists (JNU), SAHELI, and many other groups and individuals and was attended by more than 200 people, including students, academics, writers, lawyers, activists, journalists, and representatives of several civil-rights groups, organizations, forums, and platforms.]
 This Resolution was drafted by organisers.
For all the photos, click here.

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