An Open Letter to Political Parties in Odisha

dhinkia jindal7

With due respect and honour, I am drawing the attention of yours and of your political party, through this letter, to the several basic issues related to the protection of humanity and the protection of life as well as livelihood of the future generations of our state Odisha.

In the eyes of you and your party, I have a different opinion about the current capitalist system in terms of thoughts, approach and prosperity. I have no intention of seeking the cooperation or support of yours or of your party to agree to my views. Despite different views on developmental policies, I am drawing your attention to certain basic needs for the existence of nature, humanity and men of soil. The need of this protection and conservation of natural resources has become very urgent for the prevention of global warming and for the protection of the life and livelihood of the people and our country, especially about one crore tribals and forest dwellers of our state. I do not also intend to argue or present through this letter, either to agree with the social-political-environmental activists like me or to change your party policy in regard to industrialization and mining. That is why there is a need for a long and open dialogue. It is also true that I am too small person to think of bringing about such a big change. So this is only a limited effort to appraise the leadership of all political parties like yours about the threats and crises created in your so- called ongoing development process to consider its causes and remedies.

Fifty years ago a question was relevant: “Why is poverty so abundant in our state despite vast natural resources?” But in the last five decades, unwarranted mining has been going on in the state and concerned districts as well as their human resources lagging behind. There is no improvement noticed in the living standards of tribals, dalits and farmers residing in mines dominated districts of Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, undivided Koraput, Sundergarh, Jharsuguda and Kalahandi. Rather the natives of the mining areas have lost their economic, social and cultural security as well as their identity. No provision could be made for proper settlement of the displaced persons. You often put the question whether because of displacement, industry and mining will not be done? Before answering this question for you: In name of development or in the name of increasing revenue for the government, why indiscriminately destroy the dense forests, limited mineral resources, waterbodies and fertile farmlands? Isn’t it unfair to the people who depend on the same for their livelihood and to the interest of the future of Odisha?

Does a government have the right to simply increase the states revenue collection from the minerals depleting the state? After the central government changed the rules regarding the captive mines for industries and made provisions for sale of special mines in open market, the state government, without any thought, has been auctioning large bauxite mines, iron ore mines, chrome mines for sale in the open market, as a result of which many valuable and ecologically important forests like Karlapat in Kalahandi and Gandhalpada in Keonjhar with rich biodiversity will be destroyed by mining companies. Keonjhar’s mineral resources are running out. Therefore, the conversation of the huge dense Sal forest ay Gandhalpada is essential for the next 500 years. It is also constitutional responsibility of the nation to preserve 340 million tons of iron ore in it for the future.

Similarly the reckless decision of the government to auction the lease for bauxite mining will lead to destroy the biodiversity, water resources and wildlife sanctuary of the Karlapat forest in Khandamauli mountain range. Currently bauxite is being used by NALCO from Panchbotmali of Koraput in the state. Odisha Mining Corporation is supplying bauxite to Vedanta Company at cheaper rate in Kodingmali. Aditya Birla is mining for its own industry at Bafili Mali in Rayagada district. Our country is now able to export alumina abroad. So why should we deplete these forests that contain billions of tons of minerals to generate revenue profits? Bauxite abounds in Khanduamali, from which the ever-flowing streams join the Tela River, also to Nagabali. This number is more than 300. In the same way all rivers are created from these ever-flowing streams which originate in the forests. Isn’t it the duty of the government and responsible political parties, policy makers and administrators to take into account the impact of any project or mines on food security, including forests, fields and rivers? And shouldn’t it be taken into consideration which project should be located at which place? Where there are objections of the local people, cannot at least the issue be discussed with them in a democratic way and agreed to or considered for alternatives?

For example South Korea’s POSCO Company came to Dhinkia. For 10 years people carried on a democratic movement and were even jailed to save their livelihood of a prosperous agricultural and fishing economic sector there. Five years after the departure of POSCO, the more harmful Jindal Project has been brought in. With the construction of steel, cement and coal-based power plants in the vicinity of 25 thousand populated villages in such a coastal forest and agricultural area, the people residing in radius of another 5 km including those 25 thousand villages will find it extremely difficult to live in the most deadly polluted atmosphere of fire, smoke and dust. The cumulative pollution of the said project will be double the pollution of the industries now in existence in and around Paradeep. Isn’t that unfair to the people of Paradeep? I am not putting before you my views on climate change and natural resource protection. But my basic question for those who have accepted the current capitalist economy that industry mining is indispensable for the development is: How could the Government think of abandoning the existing vast areas of betel-leaf fields, pisciculture fields paddy fields etc. In a densely populated locality, instead of drawing up a road map for the purpose by providing an alternative site for such a pollution-prone big industry? The villagers including women have been harassed by the police and have been in jail for months in a false case of protesting ten years ago even after the company had disappeared. How could the government that failed to facilitate Posco, suddenly felt it necessary during the period of 12 years to suppress the people, deprive them of the right to express dissent and forcefully demolish the betel vines for a new project through the police administration? Do the ruling party’s ministers, MLAs and opposition parties, in such a situation, have no responsibility? Then for whom such industrialization and mining operations are done?

Now the government has been giving mining leases for sale in the hands of certain big companies through auctions in the last two years. Last year, the annual revenue from it was 36 thousand crore rupees. Now the target is up to 50 thousand crores. It may go to one lakh crore rupees in next 3 years. This means that if the government continues the process of charging the lion’s share of the budget only from mineral sources, then the major mines of the state may go to corporate houses in the next 10 years. It shows that 100 rupees of wealth is being looted while only one rupee is earned. In that case, it will be impossible to preserve the chrome of Sukinda region including bauxite of Western and South Odisha and iron ore of North and Western Odisha for future generations. After the disappearance of all these forests, many major rivers of the state like Baitarani, Brahmani, Mahanadi, Nagabali, Indravati, Kolab will dry up and their highly polluted water will become unsuitable for drinking. Now the government has invited Adani Company to set up an alumina project, and there is a proposal to auction the entire Khandualmali including Kuturmali-Sijimali- Minjimali located in the tribal habitations of Kashipur-Thumamul Rampur. The Government of Odisha has started process of auction of mining leases in Ballada Hills in Koraput district where there are many perennial streams which feed water to Jalaputa reservoir. Mining of bauxites in Sasubohu Mali of Kashipur will also deplete water sources to rivers like Jhanjavati and Nagavali in Rayagada district. Again knifing of lime-stones in forest of Uskalvagu in Malkangiri district will finish the green forest and harm to river Saberi ecologically. So the ecological damage in huge quantity not only create climatic disaster but also the sustainable socio-economic and nature based daily lives of the local tribals will be lost. Many companies are also eyeing loot at Deomali in Koraput. The central Government is thoughtlessly selling coal mines through auction. In such process the vast agricultural and Rampur forest lands of the state including some big villages of Chhendipada Block will have no existence. About 40 thousand acres of agricultural and forest lands will be vanished. All this is not for electricity generation, but for sale abroad. As per Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) declared in COP21, Paris, we have to go for green energy instead of coal.

My plea is the issue as to how much of Orissa’s natural resources will be used for the mining industry and how much will be used in the next 50 years so as to minimize environmental damage and safeguard the livelihoods of the tribals for the future by preserving adequate natural resources should be discussed with the Government as well as in the Assembly & Parliament and also with the public at large. According to our constitutional provision and policy, the natural resources as the property government are not the owner of natural resources as the property trustee. But, as the state government is indiscriminately auctioning off the mineral leases in an undemocratic and unlawful process. unlawful and has started a blind race for mineral-based industries only, it is imperative that each political party should at least present, in terms of their responsibility, a development plan that can provide income potential to the masses of the state.

Why are the government and the chief minister not forcing the industrialists to manufacture internmeditory industrial goods from the raw materials produced by the mining- based industries by setting limits on mining leases? So far, why is the government not taking steps for investment in our state for aluminium-based industries to produce finished goods, various consumer goods, auto mobiles and different technology related industries? While on one hand, the small and medium industries in our state, such as textile mills, jute factories, privatized cotton mills and sugar mills, have been closed, on the other hand our minerals, steel and aluminium are only exported and various end products are produced elsewhere. As a result, skilled workers could not be created in the state or employment oriented medium industries could not be created in the state or employment oriented medium industries could not spread.

While putting all this before you, I do not think that my opinion is 100% acceptable or based on expert opinion. My only concern is that our state should not have zero resources in the next two or three decades. Green forests and rivers and lakes should not dry up, and as a result the agricultural fields should not be degraded. In the name of development, one crore tribals and forest dwellers of the state should not be forced to be displaced from their ancestral homes and natural habitats.

The Ketameta forest in Malkangiri district is a plain dense green forest where lakhs of valuable trees like kendu leaf, mahul, mango, Jackfruit etc, provide livelihood for thousands of tribal villagers and act as a protective barrier to the river Saberi. About three thousand acres of this forest land have been auctioned for mining lease of limestone Can the state’s interest be protected by giving away these forests? Limestone is very cheap and the revenue from it is very low. But the government is getting enough revenue from the kendu leaves and thousands of tribals are getting income. The government has never calculated the value of these forest produces there will also be a big cement factory causing pollution. The Saberi River will be polluted; the river will become unsafe after the destruction of riverside forests. Similarly, more than 36streams of Koraput Mali parvat form the water source of Kolab River. These streams along with the adjoining forests support the agriculture of the tribals. The amount of bauxite stored there is very small. However, this Mali hill is being leased despite the opposition of the local 44 village people.

According to Forest Rights Act 2006 and PESA Act 1996 in the state, consent of Gram allot Sabha is mandatory. But the state administration continues to at lot leases in violation of the law. The political parties in the state have a very important role to at least ensure that the government and administration respect the rule of law. However, the state government continues to violate the law and constitutional provision by giving away the state’s natural resources to private companies. In this context, you can at least make a fair judgment and take appropriate measures at the political level so that the destruction and looting going on in the name of development can be countered and the democratic system will remain secure, otherwise the future of our state and country will surely be doomed.

The government has already invited Adani Company on the pretext of increasing mining revenue. Many more will come. There is need for open dialogue with the government on the issue, and I hope for pro-active measures from all responsible political parties in the state for future conservation of natural resources and for tackling the current climate crisis. It is my humble request that in consultation with the leadership of other parties you please make efforts to curb such illegal mining in the state. With this letter J do hope and believe that you will consider it as your duty and political responsibility to prevent the depletion of the state’s natural resources.

(This letter has been sent to Biju Janta Dal, BJP and Congress Party in Odisha)

Prafulla Samantara, President, Lok Shakti Abhiyan. Lohia Academy, Bhubaneswar

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