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Bauxite mining from Odisha's Kashipur to Baphlimali: Tribals getting nothing except arrest
In the mid 1990s, one could notice industrial development and the progress of bauxite business in Odisha. A survey was undertaken. Abundant bauxite deposits were traced in Kashipur. The then government wanted to permit bauxite mining to set up an aluminium plant which would transform the lives of local people.

Opportunities were created for mining and setting up industries. The government relied on false assurances given by industrialists. Both the government and the company deceived the people after taking up a few welfare schemes like creating health infrastructure. In the meanwhile, a private alumina refinery company had come to Kashipur, eying abundant bauxite deposits there.

The year 2000 marked a change of government both at the Centre and at the state. The NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee took charge in Delhi and in Odisha, Naveen Patnaik-led BJD-BJP coalition came to power. The age of Indira, Rajiv, Biju and Janaki was over.

The bauxite of Baphlimali had become the centre of attraction in the aluminium market. Patnaik had focused on it at the beginning of his political career. A few months after Patnaik assumed power in Odisha, the private refiner started its expansion programme in Kashipur. When starvation deaths occurred due to hunger and malnutrition, the suffering of people living in a model village set up by the private refiner exceeded the misery of all others living elsewhere in Kashipur.

People expressed their anger and resentment by offering mango kernel gruel to Naveen Patnaik when he visited Kashipur. The false assurances made by the private company stood exposed. But they covered up everything with the tacit support of the government.

Baphlimali now became the centre stage of activities. A story was circulated that the natives of surrounding villages would live happily once bauxite is excavated and transported from the area. The black money of the company prompted leaders, ministers and officers to spread the story. A conspiracy was hatched to pocket Baphlimali by indulging in falsehood and by terrorizing people.

The company decided to proceed with bauxite mining with the tacit support of the state government. The company bulldozer would be pressed to service for the development of villages. A story was circulated that the development of the area was impossible without public support to bauxite mining and the use of bulldozer.

The company won over the local police who arrested and tormented the poor and innocent people. The company acquired the land and in the process shattered the life and livelihood of forest dwellers. The Maikanch Firing proved the real intention of the government: the area would suffer and people would suffer if they opposed mining and the plant.

Police unleashed a reign of terror. Raid continued unabated. Men were arrested. Even women and children were not spared. Common man had to bear the brunt. He was oppressed, his protest suppressed and voice choked. He was deprived of his Constitutional right, his freedom of expression. Government could not set up a hospital and appoint a doctor to provide healthcare facilities people in Kashipur, but it could now set up a police station and a police camp there overnight.

The company and the elected representatives had ditched the people by spreading false stories of development. Now the government led by Naveen Patnaik has given the sacred Baphlimali hill to the private company. Machinery is used to dig the hill. Harsh noise has disturbed the peace that once prevailed there. Streams have dried up; air has been polluted. It appeared as if the mining activities of the company are mocking human rights and protection of environment and biodiversity. Democracy was throttled on Baphlimali.

Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking to villagers who were to be displaced by the Hirakud Dam in 1948, said, “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country." Since then our governments and industrialists cite Nehru’s words to persuade people to sacrifice their individual interest for greater national or human interest. But actually it is not the greater interest of the community; it is the narrow interest of the wealthy businessmen and industry lords. And our elected representatives lend their support to these industry magnates who contribute generously to their  party fund.

And to hoodwink people, the companies these days speak of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). While converting the green good earth into a desert of baldness and polluting the sweet scented breeze into a mixture of foul smelling poisonous gases, these people pose as the benefactors of the society by way of digging a well here or establishing a school there or occasionally conducting an eye camp in the local school building.

Corporate Social Responsibility owes its origin to Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 article titled “The Gospel of Wealth.” This Scottish-American industrialist who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and was also one of the high profile philanthropists of his era, called on the rich to use their wealth to improve the society.

John D. Rockefeller, whose success in business enabled him to start the Rockefeller Foundation in the early twentieth century, articulated the essence of corporate social responsibility. Since then it has been a part of all company activities. The term has come to mean whatever a company does to give back to the community in which it has a presence.

But we all know that it has been mere eyewash. We know it too well what the Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis, Adanis and Vedantas are doing here, there and everywhere. The real effort is to hide the human agony perpetrated by companies under the cover of social responsibility. Bhagaban Majhi of Baphlimali explained the way the theory worked there.

Bauxite is Baphlimali’s chief attraction. Its transformation into aluminium is beset with danger. Bauxite mining is an unhealthy activity which has an adverse impact on biodiversity. Extraction of alumina from bauxite involves dealing with a poisonous material. That is why developed countries like USA have drafted national bauxite policy and are processing bauxite in other countries.

Three tonnes of bauxite, a thousand tones of water and a huge quantity of electricity are required to extract one tonne of alumina. Dams are required for such massive quantity of water and electricity. And aluminium is used to produce weapons. Poor tribal people lose their identity in bauxite mining. Now the end product threatens human existence. That completes the cycle of destruction.

The private refiner had flooded Kashipur with promises of development. A few even believed them. And those who did not had to give their consent for fear of police. All such promises were easily forgotten and human laws were violated once mining activity started. The company had promised jobs to people and a compensation of Rs 3000/- to each family living within 20 km radius.

People were told that drinking water would be supplied, large-scale plantation would be taken up and all types of assistance would be given according to the mining law. Now if you raise the issue, you will be arrested. Since Baphlimali lies in the Indravati catchment area, Indravati water has been poisoned. Unfortunately, our politicians and officials fail to notice it. Ratikanta Naik, Bharati Majhi, Kartik Naik, Sulochana Majhi, Chandra Majhi and many others expressed their views with this citizen journalist.


Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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