Urgent Action: Support Tribal People in India Confronting Alcan Investment

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

On December 16, 2000, conflict over the development of a bauxite mine and alumina plant in the Kashipur region of Orissa in India turned violent with the killing of three innocent tribal people (Adivasis). During a meeting of villagers opposed to the mine, armed police entered Maikanch village and opened fire. Abhilas Jhodia (25 years of age), Raghu Jodhis (18) and Jamudhar Jhodia (43) died, and 8 others sustained serious injury.

The tribal people of the area have been worried about displacement and loss of livelihood ever since the entry of multinational companies exploring for bauxite and intending to process alumina for export. At the forefront is Utkal Alumina — owned 35% by Canada's Alcan and 20% by its subsidiary Indal. The other partner is Norsk Hydro. Alcan anticipates that a decision to go ahead with the project will be made in mid 2001.

Orissa (on India's east coast) is known for its rich mineral deposits. By 1994, there were 172 mines in Orissa. Just over 100 kms from the Utkal site is the mammoth NALCO aluminum plant. At the time this plant was built, it made promises of jobs for land that were never kept, and has since polluted the Bramhani River with flouride and other toxins. Recently the NALCO ask pond dam collapsed causing a flash flood. According to the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (in Pune), Orissa already has 40,000 people who have been made environmental refugees by mining activity.

It is estimated that the Utkal project will require 1,750 hectares of land for mining, the plant site, a town-site and dumping. It will also require a stretch of land approximately 20 km long and 50 meters wide for conveyor and corridor maintenance. The ore will be mined from plateau tops in the Baphimali Hills and will be transported 20 km by conveyor belt to the refinery at Doraguda.

The environmental impact of the venture will be severe. Hills will be razed to the ground. Heavy rains will sweep silt into a huge reservoir that provides water for the drought prone region. Even the engineer in charge of the Indravati Irrigation Project has warned of the impact of mining on the reservoir. Millions of tons of solid effluents, such as "red mud" from bauxite processing, will be stored in tailings ponds. The mine will be "open cast", which provides a quick return on investment, but leaves a gaping pit.

The Proja and Kondha people, one of the country's most "primitive" tribes, will lose their livelihoods. Three villages will be completely destroyed, and over 100 will be irreparably damaged by the project.

In Orissa, most tribal people do not register their land. In these areas, land is broadly divided into two categories — forest and uplands. The uplands are about 60% of the land in the tribal areas, and are unsurveyed. In the lowlands, although the tribal people make up 69% of the population and own their land, their ownership rights are rarely recorded. The government now says that the transfer of land has been made to the company and the tribal people will have to vacate. Utkal Alumina insists that it has clear title to the tribal lands.

The tribal people have organized, and have the support of a number of local NGOs including Agragamee, which has a 20-year history in the area. Road blockades, and demonstrations have been organized in front of government offices in Kashipur and Rayagada. Company surveyors have been denied access to the area. Every village now has an organizing centre. The tribal anti-mining movement is lead by two voluntary groupings of local people known as "Prakrutika Sampada Suraksha Paridshad" and "Bapalimali Surakhya Samiti".

On December 16, about 4000 people from 15 villages held a meeting in Maikanch to plan a roadblock for December 20. Two platoons of police descended on the meeting, and the terrified villagers fled for the hills, except a few women who were left behind.

Indumati Jhodia, a tribal woman, who was on the spot, said "Police came to the village and started threatening us that 'We are here with firing orders, we will not spare even you and your children if you will not ask the male members to appear before us'. When we tried to convince them, they assaulted Danei Jhodia , a 55 year old woman, mercilessly. She fainted and we went inside our doors in fear. There was a hue and cry and followed by lathi charge [assaults with bamboo poles] and firing."

Hearing the commotion, the men returned from the hills. According to numerous observers, as soon as the police saw the men, they opened fire. Three villagers were killed and eight seriously wounded. Four cattle also were killed.

The police and the regional administration claim that the villagers attacked the police and forced the police to open fire, and that Agragamee incited the villagers.

Following the shootings, the offices of Agragamee were ransacked by a mob, and trees on the property cut down. Other supporters of the tribals have been threatened. Achyut Das, Director of Agragamee, has been charged with inciting the demonstrations that lead to the police firing on December 16.

On December 20, thousands of tribals collected at Rupkona Creek and blocked traffic in protest against the mine. Other protests took place December 23 and December 30. On January 30, the anniversary of Ghandi's death, the villagers intend to march from Maikanch to Kashipur.

In response to a national and international outcry, the government of Orissa has now ordered a judicial inquiry into the firing incident of 16 December.

The tribal people ask for support in their demands:

  1. Disciplinary action against the officials responsible for the firing and related atrocities
  2. Withdrawal of the police force from Kashipur, and that all charges against tribals involved in anti-mining activity be withdrawn
  3. Cancellation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of the government with Utkal Alumina

Please write expressing your support of their demands to:

  • The Chief Minister, Orissa, fax 0674-404695
  • The Governor, Orissa, fax 0674-404695
  • Alcan Aluminum Limited, fax (514) 848-8115
  • John Manley, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada, fax (613) 995-1534

For further information, contact:

Ravi Rebbapragada, National Convenor, Mines Minerals and People, Hyderabad, India, tel. 91 40 6505974, e-mail [email protected]

Joan Kuyek, National co-ordinator, Miningwatch Canada, tel. (613) 569-3439, e-mail [email protected]

Roger Moody, Nostromo Research, e-mail [email protected]

From the following sources: Frontline, January 19, 2001 (pp 33-36), Advocacy Update, Nostromo Research, National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Kashipur Update (17-23 December 2000), The Hindu, Dec 21, 2000, New India Express