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