Tribal people seek cancellation of e-tender notification issued for calcite mining

The Hindu | June 01, 2021
‘No resolution was passed on the issue in grama sabha’
The tribal people of Nimmalapadu, Karakavalasa and Rallagaruvu villages of Anantagiri mandal in the district have appealed the to the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) to cancel the e-tender notification for calcite mining at Nimmalapadu issued by the APMDC without a resolution by the ‘gram sabha.’

Referring to the e-tender notification issued by the APMDC in a Telugu daily on May 19, 2021, they noted in a memorandum to the VC and MD, that they had been cultivating lands for the past several years on the land proposed to be mined for calcite. They recalled that they had opposed the calcite mining proposal by Birla company in the past by approaching the Supreme Court and sought protection of their lands under the Samata Judgment.

The Samata Judgment clearly states that the right of local resources is vested with the ‘gram sabha’ under the the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA Act). Any business done in the Agency areas, should have prior approval of the ‘gram sabha’, failing which it would be considered a violation of the Constitution. As calcite is a mineral, mining should invariably have the approval of the ‘gram sabha.’

They noted that neither a ‘gram sabha’ was held on the issue nor a resolution passed in this regard. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution says that tribal people alone would have the right over local resources. When that was the case, they wondered as to how the APMDC could issue the e-tender notification that too during the COVID-19 crisis and the curfew imposed by the government.

Children raise voice against MP govt to save Buxwaha forests

Web India 123 | May 27, 2021
Children in Madhya Pradesh have come forward to raise their voice against the proposal by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to handover the forests of Buxwaha located in Chhatarpur district of Bundelkhand to a private company for mining diamonds.

Children have not only pointed out the impact of cutting down forests to the state government but have appealed to it not to cut them.

In the past Bundelkhand was vastly rich in terms of water and forests. Unfortunately, the area is no longer covered with greenery and has scarcity of water sources. This exploitation of the environment continues and now the last green cover left is being slowly plundered.

The Buxwaha forests have been given on lease for diamond excavation but protests have also started growing against it. This is probably the first time in Bundelkhand when public awareness to protect the environment is taking centrestage because the Covid-19 pandemic has made the people realise the importance of oxygen.

Oxygen is considered to be essential for the survival of Covid-infected patients which is emitted by trees.

To protect the forests of Buxwaha, people are raising their voices not only in Bundelkhand but in many parts of the country. The children which are the future of the country are also not far behind.

Several videos of children have gone viral on social media where they are trying to tell the government about the significance of trees for the people. Children have penned poems to save the Buxwaha forests and urged the government with folded hands to reconsider cutting down trees through these videos.

People of all classes and age groups have joined the campaign to save the Buxwaha forests and are trying to give the message that they will not allow forests to be cut.

On the one hand, the forest is an important part of the environment and on the other hand, it is also a means of livelihood for thousands of families living in villages in the Buxwaha area besides being the habitat of wildlife. There are rich water sources and these forests are revered in Indian culture so everyone is coming forward in the campaign to save the forests.

There is a huge stock of diamonds in the forests of Buxwaha with nearly 34.4 million carat diamonds believed to be buried here estimated to be worth several thousand crores of rupees.

The private company which has shown keen interest in taking up diamond mining has demanded nearly 382 hectare of land in the area. If this happens then 2.5 lakh trees in this area will be cut down.

Why no action against Vedanta directors, cops for Thoothukudi ‘massacre’?: NAPM

Counterview Desk | May 24, 2021
Recallig the third anniversary of Thoothukudi “massacre” in Tamil Nadu, in which 15 people were gunned down for resisting Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant, India’s civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has called for the ending corporate impunity by carrying forward the global campaign launched on May 14 by the Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement and other organisations.
In a statement, NAPM said, “While the protestors faced legal charges, no police officer has been charged and convicted till date under appropriate sections of the law, for the murders and injuries.” “Similarly”, it regretted, “Vedanta whose Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down due to fraudulent and unlicensed operation and expansion for over 20 years, gas leaks and pollution, still hasn’t been prosecuted for any of its crimes.”
Text:
National Alliance of People’s Movements remembers with anger and pain the 15 people of Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu who were brutally killed by the armed police, this day in 2018, for peacefully protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant. We reiterate our solidarity with people of Thoothukudi and communities across India, resisting Vedanta and other mega-corporates, who, with absolute state support, are on a ruthless and endless spree of exploitation of lands, resources and people’s rights. We commend the global campaign efforts from May 14 to 22 organized by Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement and various organisations to build support for the struggle.
The people’s struggle in Thoothukudi has been fought over decades, to challenge Vedanta’s impunity to pollute the villages for its own profits. The historic mass agitation on May 22, 2018, which was a culmination of 100 days of continuous protest, led to a lethal firing by the Tamil Nadu police.

The one-sided firing killed 15 people, including 17-year-old minor Snowlin, and left hundreds injured. Instead of dialoguing with the people protesting against the illegal and polluting operation of the Copper Smelter plant, the State government resorted to excessive and unjustifiable force and vilification of the movement.
The shootout itself was a culmination of the everyday violence that the multinational conglomerate unleashed on the locals for over two decades. The plant’s fraudulent and illegal operations and expansion since 1996 poisoned the air that the people breathe and the water they drink.

Farmers, salt pan workers, fisher people, small traders, concerned villagers were all part of the struggle in Thoothukudi and women who played a key role in keeping up the spirit of resistance, despite severe backlash are a symbol of hope in this country, which seems to have reached its pinnacle of corporate-state nexus.
While the shooting was widely condemned across the country, the legal machinery also came down on the protestors with police cases being registered against 71 people. Only after years, the cases, except those under investigation and those concerning destruction of public property, have been dropped by the newly elected Tam Nadu government.

While the protestors faced legal charges, no police officer has been charged and convicted till date under appropriate sections of the law, for the murders and injuries. Similarly, Vedanta whose Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down due to fraudulent and unlicensed operation and expansion for over 20 years, gas leaks and pollution still hasn’t been prosecuted for any of its crimes.
The Thoothukudi police killing was not ‘exceptional’, as the State and dominant sections of the society would want us to believe. This was the premeditated response of a neo-liberal state that sought to suppress the people’s struggles that were gaining momentum and solidarity by perpetrating cold-blooded violence without any regard for democracy and human rights; and with complete disregard for life itself.
We express our support to all demands of the people of Thoothukudi and call upon the Government of Tamil Nadu to immediately:
Ensure that all operations of Vedanta are permanently stopped in Thoothukudi.
Prosecute Vedanta and its directors for fraud and violation of environmental laws and human rights violations.
Identify and take action against police persons responsible for the May 22, 2018 massacre.
Withdraw all pending cases against Thoothukudi residents filed to cover up the state’s collusion with Vedanta and complicity in the violence.
We also urge the National Human Rights Commission to reopen the Thoothukudi enquiry, and make public its findings.
We seek a direction to the Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Committee to examine witnesses online to expedite finalisation of the enquiry into the Thoothukudi massacre.
The actions of police across the world, from Cali, Colombia to Bhopal and most recently, Silger, Chhattisgarh, show that within the existing state apparatus, the institution of police exists only to protect the status quo and do the biddings of the oligarchy.
Even as we pay homage to the departed lives and demand accountability of the State, we note that the struggle is a long-drawn one in Thoothukudi and elsewhere and are committed to extending all forms of solidarity to the communities for whom resistance against is an everyday act.

Make-up’s ugly secret: The plight of India’s poor miners behind the beauty industry

CNA | May 22, 2021

Mica is the mineral that gives a sparkle to an array of products, from eye shadow to lip gloss. But what consumers do not see is a deadly trade involving even children. The programme Undercover Asia investigates.

JHARKHAND, INDIA: It sounds like an innocuous ingredient, a word among many hidden on the back of the packaging of your eye shadow palette.

Mica: A mineral that can be ground down to make sparkly powders, and found in everything from eye shadow to lip gloss to foundation. Cosmetic companies value mica for its properties: Refractive, superfine and naturally occurring in different colours.

It can be found all over the world, including India, which is known for having some of the world’s largest and finest deposits. But in India, there is a heavy price to pay for it, the programme Undercover Asia investigates.

Thousands of miners working illegally in the country’s mica mines shoulder this burden, far away from the bright lights of cosmetic counters.

‘WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING’

Jharkhand, a north-eastern India state rich in mineral resources, is the country’s leading producer of coal, copper and mica. But close to half its people live in poverty.

One of them is 40-year-old widow Basanti Mosamat, who picks and sells scrap mica for a living. It is her family’s only source of income.

Once a week, Mosamat, her father-in-law and her five children make a 10-kilometre trek into the forest bordering her village to set up camp, where they would spend the next few days sifting for the mineral.

“We have difficulty finding food and trying to survive,” she said. Picking mica from dawn till dusk without any protective equipment has left her hands scraped and bruised.

Her oldest daughter, Karishma Kumari Birhor, has been picking mica since she was five — out of necessity. The more hands at work, the more likely it is the family will have food on the table.

“One person picking mica isn’t enough,” said the 14-year-old. “My father passed away, so I have to help my mother.”

Each kilogramme of mica scrap sells for seven rupees (S$0.13). On a good day, her family hope to earn around 150 rupees.

They are also less fortunate than most. They are part of India’s 100 million indigenous people known as Adivasis, who live on the fringes of society with limited governmental support in terms of health, education, job security and food.

“We don’t have anything here. We eat only every other day,” said Karishma. “Dreams don’t come true.”

DANGEROUS AND UNPREDICTABLE

Poverty has driven some miners to turn to abandoned caves and mine shafts, where mica is more plentiful. But there is no lighting or safety gear, and they often rely on their knowledge of the terrain to guide them.

Mukesh Bhulla, who has been going into abandoned mines since he was a boy, is still afraid. “People could slip and fall somewhere, or stones could fall on their head … It’s very tough,” he said.

“We have to be aware of our surroundings. Sometimes mines collapse. If one person makes a mistake, many could die.”

In January, there were at least three reports of mine collapses in Jharkhand’s Koderma district. It is estimated that 10 to 20 people die in such mishaps each month in the country’s north-eastern mica belt.

But for every accident reported, many more are covered up for one big reason: It is illegal to mine mica from land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, which came into effect in 1980 with the intention of protecting India’s forests.

The miners, however, have no choice but to continue. “If we don’t work here, then we’d all die,” said Dimpi Devi, a mother of three who mines mica from the forest and from deposits in her garden.

There are no other options for work. What would we do?

She struggles to make ends meet. Her family’s weekly expenses can go up to 2,500 rupees, but they barely earn 1,000 rupees.

This makes miners like her vulnerable to exploitation, especially when faced with additional family or health expenses. Without access to formal banking systems, they turn to unlicensed moneylenders, whose interest rates are as high as 200 per cent a year.

“Some miners told us they’re only allowed to sell mica to specific traders, those they’d borrowed money from and at a price decided by that trader,” said investigative journalist Peter Bengtsen, who has tracked the mica trade in Jharkhand for more than a decade.

“That agreement would basically last until they’d repaid that debt to this trader.”

Raids by forest authorities are also common, and miners sometimes must pay bribes in order to continue working. “The police don’t visit often, but the forest rangers are always after us,” said Mosamat.

Jharkhand’s mining areas are also run by different syndicates.

“There’s a whole network of people who make this mining happen, and they’re very powerful,” said Deepak Bara, a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand. “It can be very dangerous — it can be life-threatening — because there are so many stakeholders.”

It is estimated that 70 per cent of India’s mica output is illegally mined.

‘A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM’

Mica’s controversial reputation started to emerge in the mid-2000s, following investigations into the use of child labour in the industry.

According to the International Labour Organisation, India has more than 10 million working children. And with international organisations shining the spotlight on the issue, the plight of children in the mica industry attracted the international media’s attention.

“The stories came out — children going to mica mines, helping out their parents. So many documentaries were made (on) the issue of child labour,” said Bara.

But local journalists and politicians argue that these reports fail to address one critical detail: The marginalisation of the Adivasis. Children growing up around mica mines “have only one option”, noted Bara: To pick mica.

“They have to earn their family some income,” he said. “There’s no childcare support from the government. If there’s any, it’s not functioning.”

The problem around mica is a systemic problem. It’s not like you do a small campaign and things would get sorted out. The ground reality is very different.

In response to the growing public concern, several global coalitions were formed. One of them, the Responsible Mica Initiative, intends to eradicate child mining in Jharkhand by next year through better regulation and practices. Its members include Chanel, L’Oréal and Sephora.

Several brands have also pledged stricter compliance in their supply chains. But some also acknowledged the difficulty in tracing their mica and checking whether it is free of child labour.

In 2019, India exported more than US$37 million (S$49 million) worth of mica powder, according to World Bank data. Given the vast quantities bought and traded, it can be impossible to track where a brand’s mica comes from exactly.

Nonetheless, traceability has become a key issue for some manufacturers.

In January, European Union regulation of gold, tungsten and tin as conflict minerals took effect, so companies are now obliged to source these minerals responsibly. But similar legislation for mica has yet to be addressed.

“Mica is quite a cheap raw material to produce,” said Yue Jin Tay, the business development director of Circulor, a responsible sourcing company that uses blockchain to verify the origin of goods and minerals in supply chains.

“The cost of making sure that it’s been responsibly sourced as a proportion of the cost of the product sometimes does not make economic sense compared to other raw materials like gold or cobalt.”

Technology can be part of the solution, he added. But more work is needed to make ethical trading a common practice.

“To ensure that responsible sourcing practices are happening, they might have to be legislated for, and organisations will need to build the cost of compliance into their value chains,” he said.

“And we consumers need to accept that there’s an increased cost to us.”

WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?

Back in Jharkhand, demand for mica has not let up, and the state government is pushing for mining to be one of its economic growth initiatives.

With the problems faced by mica pickers becoming too grave to ignore, more and more community rallies are being organised to give them a voice. At some rallies, calls to legalise mining are growing louder.

Sudivya Kumar, a legislative assemblyman from Jharkhand, is using this momentum to continue lobbying for the legalisation of mica mining.

“Jharkhand has always been covered with forests, and its protection and welfare have been in our DNA forever,” he said. “We must find a way to save both the community and the forests.”

Mica was once classified as forest produce, but the Forest (Conservation) Act made mica picking a non-forest activity. India’s indigenous people are hoping its status will be restored.

“If picking mica is our only option, then the government should legalise mining here so that we can work without any fear or pressure,” said Devi.

Former mine owner Deepak Kumar Singh agreed, saying: “Mica scraps are basically residue from previous mining activities. It doesn’t harm the forest, but it’s still not legal.”

But without any real action being taken, mica pickers like Devi and Mosamat continue to work amid uncertainty for now.

Let Odisha vigorously pursue a policy for backward regions

the pioneer | May 21, 2021

The post independent economic development process in Odisha has not generated much employment for all sections of people across the State as evident from the growing distress migration.

The economic policies has contributed to widening the rich –poor gap across social groups as well as increasing the regional disparities.The unorganized sector labourers, small and marginal farmers, sharecroppers and petty traders are in the bottomline. It is evident from the statistics of the Government that many of the middle age socio-economic issues such as child labour, bonded labour, distress seasonal migration, trafficking, illiteracy, untouchability, social discrimination, malnutrition and extreme poverty are still prevalent in the State in spite of rule of a regional party for five times consecutively. These problems are the consequences of the economic policies of the successive Governments ruled for the last seventy years.

Justice SK Mohanty Commission’s report on regional imbalance submitted to the Government in 2008 identified south-west districts such as Malkangiri, Nuapada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Kalahandi, Kondhamal and northern districts like Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh and Keonjhar as most underdeveloped. This region is home to a majority of the total poor of the State but it is contributing more to the State treasury in terms of SGDP.

It has been observed that there is serious disparity in development of different regions and social groups in the State. The south-west and northern part of Odisha remain backward in many aspects of human and social development as well as in terms of educational, health, and communication infrastructure.

The most serious concern is lack of basic amenities like safe drinking water, electricity and connectivity. The lop-sided development has a serious impact on the economic growth of the State and very negatively encourages separatist tendencies, violence and extremism out of a sense of alienation and underdevelopment.

It is affecting production, social peace and quality of life. The charity, subsidy and welfare programme such as Re 1 per kg rice and few paltry schemes remain a dominant discourse in political mobilization of the poor people of the State.

Corporate private investment in mining and industry is being projected as State economic development and the role of State investment in economic development remains minimal. The development model of the Centre, schemes and programmes are being replicated by the State without any local innovation and considering the local context and relevance and a regional economic development prospective.

The costal districts remain always prone to natural calamities and every year people routinely suffer with losses and damages. It becomes the responsibility of the State to intervene in emergency through humanitarian relief.

This has been a regular State expense without a permanent solution to such tragedies. There is no plan by the State except relief to the affected people hit by flood, drought, cyclone and disaster. The biggest work done by the Government is the rescue operation and humanitarian aid. For the last seventy years, there has been nothing beyond relief.

As removal of regional disparity in development is one of the important agendas of the State which has been reflected in implementation of programmes like Biju KBK Plan, Biju Kandhamal O Gajapati plan, Gopabandhu Gramina Yojana, Western Odisha Development Council, Backward Regions Grant Fund, but these programmes have not yet created any substantial impact in removing regional disparity with low budget and lethargic bureaucracy. As a consequence, the backward regions of Odisha witness lack of local employment generation and low wage which encourages distress migration.

There are areas which still remain inaccessible and are branded as backward. Even there are districts without railway line and with zero industry. The long pending demands for Khurda –Balangir railway line and High Court bench in western part of Odisha still remain unresolved in spite of continuous uproar.

Odisha was formed as a linguistic province consisting of six districts such as Sambalpur, Koraput, Ganjam, Puri, Cuttack and Baleswar in 1936 and later in 1950 the others were merged. Broadly the whole area can be divided into three parts as areas under direct British rule, feudatory States and tribal areas which are different from the other two. So for historical and geographical reasons, the regional socio-political and socio-economic issues are different and there was absence of comprehensive administrative and legal mechanism to plan for the whole State till 1950.

The community development block concept was introduced in the early sixties but there have been serious limitations in the formation of blocks as development units without considering the purpose of such formations.

The budgetary allocation should consider the income of the district or a particular region. The regions contributing to State treasury in terms of natural resources, minerals, forest produce, and marine product ought to get preferential treatment. It is unfortunate that the people in coal, hydropower and thermal power plant area are not getting adequate electricity. It is found that the areas coming up with industrialization and urbanizations are being captured by the dominant educated social groups by displacing the poor, illiterate and marginalized social groups to the periphery and depriving them of job, business and other economic opportunities created in the area. Budgetary provision should strictly follow SCSP and TSP in spending to reach to the most backward social groups.

The State should invest to change the basic economic structure through its radical economic policy in favor of backward region through progressive land reform, universal quality English medium education, universal healthcare, irrigation, electricity, rural industrialization, NTFP and agriculture based activities, financial inclusion and tourism which always take a backseat in spite of many natural advantages.

Industrialization in the State is not integrating all regions. The State should have own power plant and attempt should be made to decentralize energy production for its domestic consumption. Solar, wind, wave and other forms of energy sources must be explored to minimize pollution and displacement.

Odisha being a land of diversity and diverse ethnic groups, the issues of different social groups need to be integrated into the State plan for an inclusive development. Regional economics and planning should be encouraged as a subject in colleges with State specific subjects like mineral economics, forest economics and marine economics.

The Government should generate adequate disaggregated socio-economic data and impact assessment reports which should be made available to policy makers, researchers, development planners and administrators.

The institute like NCDS and universities must collectively take a lead in the process in building a prospective of economic development involving political parties, CSOs and academics of the State to mitigate regional imbalances and persistent disparity in development.

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