August 21, 2010

the Niyamgiri loot

It was suspected from the very beginning that the state administration in Orissa had favored Vedanta’s mining project in Niyamgiri forest ranges by ignoring the protests of tribals. When the tribal protest became strong, supported by the civil society and the media, the union environment & forests ministry set up a committee under NC Saxena. The committee’s report is out and it is scathing in more ways than one.

What we now know that the administrations of the districts in the forest ranges of Niyamgiri blatantly ignored and bypassed not only the regulatory laws but also the sacrosanct constitutional provisions relating to tribal rights. For them, the mining project became a sort of personal commitment – a commitment of an unethical type, a commitment that put their private good much above the environment and tribal rights.

Now the state government has come out with a point-by-point rebuttal of the Saxena report. It says, no tribal inhabits the forests being given to Vedanta, no land within these forests has been cultivated for three generations or 75 years, people with vested interests have forged papers to prove their ownership of land inside these forests, some interested groups with ulterior motives are bent on undoing the project, Saxena et al have been biased against the project and they have prepared the report in a way that it proves their point, and so on.

When the report and the state’s counterpoints get more public scrutiny and more details come to light, the protesting parties are likely to have some mud sticking to their clothes. The NGOs and self proclaimed saviors of tribals and forests are not always clean. State government’s point that it needs to bring about economic development in the state and for that it must harness its resources, and that the economic development will also be beneficial to the locals too have their merit.

But the larger point remains, why should the governments bend rules to favor a private company? Even if the government is serious about the state’s development and if the environmental and tribal concerns are exaggerated, is favoritism of this kind justified?

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