AAL going for production shortly?

The Hindu | Sumit Bhattacharjee | 09 Feb, 2022

Activity picks up at plant, power plant trial run held

Anrak Aluminium Limited (AAL) which was set up in 2014 with an investment of around ₹6,000 crore at Rachapalle in Makavarapalem mandal of Visakhpatnam district, is yet to go into production. The plant was set up with an installed capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per year, but with the cancellation of G.O. 97 by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government and the company failing to get a linkage for bauxite ore, the operation of the plant has been stalled. Now there are strong rumours that the company is gearing up to start production and it is learnt that initially February 5 was the date given but it had to be postponed to a later date.

Initially, G.O. 97 had given permission to the plant to mine bauxite ore in Gudem and Chintapalle block in Visakhapatnam Agency, and the mining was to be done by the A.P. Mineral Development Corporation in the reserve forest area. But due to stiff resistance from the tribals who followed the Niyamgiri model of agitation, the YSRCP government had cancelled the G.O., sticking to its election promise.AAL, a joint venture between Penna Group and Ras Al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), has been waiting since then to establish a bauxite linkage and start production.

Sources say that it has been importing bauxite ore from abroad and building up its stock. It is also learnt that AAL is going the Vedanta way that has an alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Odisha.After Vedanta failed to get its linkage from Niyamgiri due to the resistance, it had established linkages from other States such as Rajasthan and Gujarat. Sources say that apart from importing bauxite, AAL is also planning to take one mine from Vedanta on lease to establish domestic linkage. However, no AAL official could be contacted for confirmation.

Sources say that a railway line is being laid from Bayyavaram in Kasimkota mandal to Makavarapalem, along with a siding to unload bauxite.

Hinting that something is on at the company, a few employees confirmed that hectic maintenance activity was on and the trial run of the power plant has been conducted successfully.

Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, who was the architect of the Samata Judgement, based on which mining in the Fifth Schedule area by private parties was banned, said, “We do not mind if AAL imports bauxite or takes a mine on lease in some other State, but it cannot mine in Fifth Schedule areas.”

Nimmalapadu’s protracted struggle: Despite legal win, 3 Andhra tribal villages fight to save land from mining

Down to Earth | Shagun | Jan 29, 2022

Villagers near Andhra-Odisha border are fighting the state for calcite reserves two decades after securing Supreme Court victory

In 1997, the residents of Nimmalapadu, a village in Andhra Pradesh, achieved the unthinkable: They won a legal battle against the state government and a private company to save their village from mining.

The Supreme Court overruled a 1993 Andhra Pradesh High Court order in favour of the state government, it declared that only people belonging to the Konda Dora tribe and their cooperatives can exploit the minerals in Fifth Schedule areas and that private mining here, even with government backing, is illegal.

The verdict, popularly called the Samata judgement after the name of the non-profit that helped the people fight the case, adds that even if the state government decides to mine directly, it needs to keep the interest of the tribal people first.

Yet, over two decades later, the residents of the village near the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border are fighting the state over their calcite reserves. Calcite is a mineral that is used in building material, abrasives, soil treatment, construction aggregate, pigment, and other applications.

The residents allege that the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC), the state agency responsible for mining licences, has issued licences five times since 1997 to cooperatives or individuals from the state belonging to the Konda Dora community. Every time, it has found new ways to keep the people out of the process.

“The Durga Sandstone MAC Society gave Rs 2 lakh per year to people whose land was brought under mining. Landless residents were given Rs 1 lakh per year. It also enrolled some of the residents as members and gave them a salary,” says Latchanna Rao of adjoining Karakavalasa village.

The most recent attempt to undermine the people was made on March 16, 2021, when APMDC floated a tender to mine calcite in a 32.7-ha area, which will impact Nimmalapadu along with the neighbouring Karakavalasa and Ralagaravu villages. Within days of the tender, the residents got a stay order from the High Court on the grounds that they will not be able to apply as the tender only allowed bidding by contractors with experience in heavy-mechanised mining.

The petition was filed by Sri Abhaya Girijana Mutually Aided Labour Cooperative Society, a group floated by the residents who worked with Durga Sandstone MAC Society, and now want to mine directly.

“Our elders never wanted mining. But seeing the government’s persistence, we have decided it is better if we get involved,” says Chompi Balaraju, a member of the cooperative.

In April last year, APMDC removed the contentious clause and awarded a five-year-long mining licence to two contractors who belong to the Konda Dora community but are not from the three villages.

“The contractors have no experience in mining and will remain responsible for the mines only on paper. Private players, whom the people have been fighting for long, will start to exploit the land through them,” says Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director of non-profit Samata.

He adds that if the government was serious, it would award the contract to the people’s cooperative. The contractors can extract 4,000 million tonnes of calcite every month and will pay APMDC a fee of Rs 448 per tonne.

The residents allege the government agency has also not taken a go-ahead from the three gram sabhas before awarding the licences, as mandated under the Provisions of The Panchayats (Extension to The Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

“While 18 families have land in the proposed mining area, there are at least 130 families who are either agricultural labourers or cultivate on government land for generations without legal rights. All of them need to be compensated,” says Rebbapragada.

Based on their learnings from 2012, the residents are demanding royalty for their land, besides annuity till the time the project is operational. They also want a fund for rehabilitating the land after the company is gone. Other demands include employment, land for land, a cellular tower, a 24-hour doctor, and transportation facilities.

“Most of our demands are about development, which is ideally the work of the government. But the state has punished us for not allowing private mining. It has not carried out any developmental projects in the region since the 1970s when calcite was first found in the area,” says 60-year-old Pandana, who had actively participated in the struggle.

The nearest hospital is in Bobbili, a town some 40 km away. “There is a surge in malaria and typhoid cases because of poor sanitation. We also do not have good roads or reliable mobile connectivity,” says Balaraju. Education is another challenge with most children forced to travel to other villages or cities to attend good schools.

In December 2021, the contractors and APMDC proposed that they will only mine government land, and asked residents for approval. The residents have in response demanded `1.50 lakh per acre (0.4 ha) for families cultivating on government land. They also said that if the land adjoining the mines gets disturbed, the contractor will have to compensate for the same.

“Durya Rukmani, a former mandal parishad president and one of the new contractors, is trying to convince us informally. His people are organising cultural events and festivals. But we will not budge till the time they agree to all our demands and sign a legal contract for the same,” says Balaraju.

‘Father Stan stood by me’: A life devoted to Jharkhand’s Adivasi and Moolvasi communities

News Laundry | July 06, 2021

Seventeen years of seeing Father Stan’s tireless work for the downtrodden.

As told to Anumeha Yadav

I am the national coordinator of the Visthapan Virodhi Janvikas Andolan, a coalition of anti-displacement movements across the country. I live in Jharkhand. Father Stan Swamy, who passed away on July 5, was one of the founders of this broad coalition of people’s movements.

I was jailed for my activism for nine months. The police charged me with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 in a case in 2008. I was later acquitted by the court. Father Stan fought for my release. I was arrested a second time three years ago.

On February 15, 2018, the Jharkhand police arrested me from the site of a seminar organised in Ranchi on democratic rights. I was being hounded for organising an event four months earlier in Giridih to mark 50 years of Naxalbari and the centenary year of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. Note that this was no clandestine event, the state authorities had given us permission for the event almost 15 days in advance, which was withdrawn just a day before the event to throw a spanner in the works. The police kept me in solitary confinement for this crime in a cell without a window for over three months. Father Stan stood by me and my family through all of this, and advocated for my civil liberties.

Meeting Father Stan

I was born as one of three children in Jitpur panchayat in Tundi in Dhanbad. My father worked as bandhua mazdoor, a bonded labourer, on the farms of upper caste landowners in Dhanbad, a coal-rich region of Jharkhand. After my father worked as a bonded labourer his whole life, the landowner had provided our family a small homestead plot. My father managed to educate me in a government school in the village and in 2003, I left Dhanbad to enroll myself in college in Ranchi.

I first met Father Stan in 2004. I had come in contact with anti-displacement activists in Ranchi when I moved there for higher studies. Their work resonated with me.

After Jharkhand was carved as a new state out of Bihar in 2001, the promise was that the indigenous tribes and people, the Adivasis, and Moolvasis like me, would be able to govern themselves. We were told the region’s socio-economic development would be aligned to our traditions. The Bharatiya Janata Party formed the first government in the new state in 2001.

Jharkhand accounts for more than 40 percent of India’s mineral wealth. This region is abundant in water resources, forests, and mineral riches. One of the first steps the then government took was to sign Memorandums of Understanding with large corporations to give our resources away to companies.

In the past, as part of Bihar, the Jharkhand region saw vast displacement. Lakhs of Adivasis and the poor living in forests and villages were displaced in the establishment of coal mines, bauxite mines, hydel projects such as Masanjore dam, the Tata factory in Jamshedpur and dam in Chandil. These policies led to lakhs of poor families being forced to leave and labour in tea estates or as domestic workers in metropolitan cities.

With the new government signing these MoUs, we again faced the possibility and a threat of large-scale displacement of the poor and those depending on forest and common lands by these projects.

Working together with Father Stan Swamy, and Ranchi’s other progressives, intellectuals, our coalition got information through Right to Information applications of 74 such MoUs to alienate people’s land without their knowledge and consent. Working with Father Stan on this shaped my understanding of how the government even after the formation of a new state planned to sell mineral resources coal, iron, ores to corporates for quick profits, and how this would make the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Moolvasis homeless, forcing them to move away.

This is how we constituted Visthapan Virodhi Janvikas Andolan, or VVJA, to wage a struggle against displacement.

A life devoted to the people

From 2004, when Father Stan was 67 years old, until now, I saw that his role and focus remained to save and conserve the forests, land, the community hills, which are the source of our livelihood, and our culture. To take part in this struggle, Father Stan wrote articles regularly; he thought about Jharkhand’s indigenous tribes and communities everyday, and he remained with us in every struggle.

For some years now, in Jharkhand as well as other states, the Adivasis who reside in forests and interior villages where the land holds mineral reserves are being coerced to give up their land or face arrests. Also, successive governments have registered false cases against intellectuals, writers, poets, social activists, to put them in prisons, intensifying the challenges for us.

In 2014, and later in April 2017, the Home Ministry labelled the Visthapan Virodhi Janvikas Andolan as a “Maoist” front in its annual report, but we are neither an NGO, nor any front. We are a broad-based people’s movement against displacement. We advocate against forced displacement. In fact, we have faced state violence in the form of false arrests of our members.

Father Stan Swamy co-founded and lived and worked at Bagaicha, a research and training institute in Namkum on the outskirts of Ranchi since 2006. For the past few years, successive governments in Jharkhand have incarcerated youth who resist land acquisition. They were mostly Dalits, Other Backward Castes, and Scheduled Tribes. Over 16 to 18 months from 2012 to 2014, Father Stan tried to reach out to and investigate the conditions of undertrials, their families, and tried to secure bail for them and I worked with him on this.

We submitted applications to all 26 jails of Jharkhand under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI). The total occupancy in Jharkhand prisons was 128 per cent of the actual prison capacity. Interviewing men and women who were alleged to be “extremists” under Section 17 of the Criminal Law and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, we found that Adivasis and Moolvasi constituted nearly 70 percent, about half were in the age group of 29-40 years, and about 22 present belonged to the 18-28 years age-group. Nearly all of them were landless or simple agriculturists, with 59 percent earning less than Rs 3,000 per month. They struggled to meet bail conditions or legal expenses.

Father Stan Swamy highlighted how in September 2016, the National Human Rights Commission after verifying complaints acknowledged that 514 innocent Adivasi youth had been pressured and cheated by paramilitary and police officials to “surrender” as Naxalites promising them jobs and imprisoning them to apply for awards and promotions.

As part of the coalition, Father Stan pursued both these cases in court. His public interest litigation on the undertrials’ release is pending before the Ranchi High Court. In the case of forced, fake “surrender” of Adivasi youth as “Naxalites”, the administration of Chaibasa, Khunti, Gumla, and Ranchi districts did not submit responses in court and tried to delay and drag the case. There have been no hearings in the case since October 2019.

Jharkhand has special tenancy laws meant to protect the land rights of indigenous communities. Five years back, when the then Jharkhand government announced it will amend two tenancy laws to allow use of agricultural land of tribal people for non-agricultural purposes, Father Stan Swamy wrote articles, published booklets, and organised meetings along with Jharkhandi intellectuals and activists to advocate to save these special Acts.

The Chotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 restricts the sale of tribal land to non-tribals in 16 districts of Jharkhand. The Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act of 1876 prohibits sale of tribal land to non-tribals in the Santhal Pargana region. Later, the government had to withdraw these amendments.

Along with this, Father Stan advocated for and worked for the implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996, the forests rights laws, and the Supreme Court’s Samata judgement which accord primacy of the gram sabha, the villages assemblies, on decisions on land use. These are all laws and judgements which the government ought to have tried to save, but it did not.

Laws meant for special protections for Dalit, Adivasi and oppressed communities are like a kawach, a protective cover, for these communities. Every time the government tried to break these laws, Father Stan stepped up to write, to protest, to express his dissent, to secure the democratic rights of the oppressed.

In the 17 years that I knew him, I realised Father Stan lived for the Adivasi and Moolvasi communities of Jharkhand – thinking of, speaking and writing for them. He made his life’s mission to not only write and speak up for these communities, but to also experience what people are going through by actually living among them. This was his daily routine for the 17 years that I spent with him.

When the police harassed and arrested social and cultural activist Jiten Marandi, a Santhal Adivasi, and tried to brand him a Naxalite, and later even arrested and imprisoned his wife Aparna Marandi who was attending to him in prison, Father Stan went to their village, their home, and raised questions about their arrests. He asked why, after Birsa Munda’s sentencing by the British, the same was being repeated in independent India, targeting an Adivasi who spoke up like this. He took part in several campaigns, public meetings and demonstrations for their release.

Who are these thousands of Adivasis and poor undertrials in Jharkhand? They are those who speak up to protect the natural resources, the jal jungle zameen in their villages? Who are the advocates to conserve the community’s resources and why do they do so? It is because they know that the state’s so-called “development model” has displaced lakhs and crores of Adivasis. It has captured their resources, and forced them out. They have been forced and coerced out of their homes.

Decades after Independence, the government has failed to create basic services and provisions for roti, kapda, makaan, for education and employment, and on top of it, the government tries to loot our livelihood resources and exclude us from them.

The people understand this and that is when they step forward, and then the governments start trapping them in false cases, charges, imprisoning them under black laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 which allows prolonged incarceration without bail, to keep them locked up for years. The conviction rate in UAPA cases is extremely low at 2.2 percent between 2016-19 (as stated in the Parliament), showing that these charges are largely without any evidence. It was against all this that Father Stan Swamy spoke up, wrote about, and tried to fight their battle through their legal and democratic protests.

The arrest

The National Investigation Agency arrested 84-year old Swamy from Bagaicha in October 2020 while the country reeled under a pandemic and there were curbs on movement after the lockdown. Despite the Covid crisis raging in the country, the NIA officials took him from his home to a place he had never been to before.

We protested this wrong and struggled against his arrest. Eight months on, the State has killed Father Stan Swamy in judicial custody. The judges who knew of his condition as an elderly, ailing person with Parkinson’s disease, who denied him bail, and then tried to stall his case giving dates upon dates for delaying his hearing too are responsible for this.

In the days to come, more social activists and human rights defenders may face the same. This is a big challenge. But Jharkhand has a 400-year-old history of struggle of Adivasi Moolvasi to save land, water, forests and culture – from Birsa Munda’s movement, to Sidho Kano, Tilka Majhi, who revolted against British to protect our resources and culture, our livelihood. We have faced such challenges before and we are ready.

In days to come we will rise against this injustice, taking inspiration from Birsa, Sidho Kano, Tilka Majhi, Chand Bhairav. This fight will not stop – we will come together for activists like Father Stan, for human rights defenders, those opposing CAA-NRC and arrested in false cases, those whose lives are being destroyed as they are kept in prisons, the movement against all this will intensify.

If we, the Adivasis, the Dalits, do not protest and take part in movements, our jal jangal zameen, our source of livelihood will be looted. We have to advance because there is no place for us to retreat.

Damodar Turi is the national coordinator of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, a coalition to resist land alienation and forced displacement of poor and indigenous communities.

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.

HC stays e-tender for calcite mining in Visakhapatnam

The Hindu | Sumit Bhattacharjee | April 11, 2021

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has put on hold for three weeks the e-tender for ‘working of calcite mining lease’ in 8.725 hectares at Nimmalapadu village in Ananthagiri mandal of Visakhapatnam district, on ‘raising-cum-sale contract basis’ floated by the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC).

The High Court passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by Sri Abhaya Girijana Mutually Aided Labour Contract Cooperative Society on Saturday.

The cooperative society has been trying to get the lease for mining since the last two decades. But, it was rejected by the APMDC every time. Earlier, the Birla group had the lease over the mines and it was passed to the APMDC after a Supreme Court order in 1995.

Earlier, the cooperative society had also proposed a tripartite agreement with the State government and a private party, but it was rejected, said Ravi Rebbapragada, Executive Director of Samata.

Mr. Ravi had played a key role in getting the Samata judgement from the Supreme Court which protects the tribal rights and acts as a benchmark for all tribal related issues along with the Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA).

‘No grama sabha held’

According to Mr. Ravi, the cooperative society’s pleas were ignored and neither did the APMDC care to hold a grama sabha with the tribal people from the region, before floating the e-tender, in violation of the PESA, FRA and Samata and Niyamgiri judgments of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the cooperative society contested that one of the clause in the e-tender said that the lease would be be given to a tribal person, not to a tribal cooperative. “This provision will facilitate benami trading, as no tribal person has the mining equipment listed in the contractual clauses,” he said.

The members of the cooperative society said that clauses should be modified and cooperatives be allowed to place their bids, and grama sabha be held as per the laws embedded in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The area earmarked for mining is rich in mineral and the calcite is pure and free of silica. The tribal people need to get the benefit of the resources, said Mr. Ravi.

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