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.

Polavaram Project gets one third of irrigation outlay

The New Indian Express | May 21, 2021

In 2020-21, the budge estimate was Rs 4,804 crore and the revised estimate at end of the fiscal stood at Rs 1,328 crore.

VIJAYAWADA: With focus on completion of Polavaram Irrigation Project (PIP) and other projects under ‘Jalayagnam’, the state government has earmarked Rs 13,237.78 crore for the water resources department in the budget-2021-22 presented on Thursday. While the allocation is 12.1 per cent higher than last year, it remains to be seen how much would be actually utilised as 2020-21’s revised estimate showed utilisation of only Rs 5,238 crore out of Rs 11,805 crore.

In fact, the revised estimates of 2020-21, Rs 5,238 crore, are slightly lower than the 2019-20 account of Rs 5,335 crore as well.Like in FY 20-21, Polavaram project has been allotted over a third of the total outlay. About Rs 4,801 crore has been allocated for the national project, especially for land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement (LARR) components. In 2020-21, the budge estimate was Rs 4,804 crore and the revised estimate at end of the fiscal stood at Rs 1,328 crore.

Project works in Ongole irrigation circle including Rallapadu , Veligonda, Gundlakamma and others have been earmarked about Rs 1,685 crore, while those in Anantapur including Handri Neeva Sujala Sravanti, Tungabhadra Project High Level Canal stage and others were allocated Rs 1,042 crore.

The projects in Krishna Delta and Godavari delta systems, North coastal districts (Vamsadhara, Thotapalli and others), NTR Telugu Ganga, Kadapa (Rayalaseema Drought Mitigation Project), Kurnool district, and Tungabhadra board were allotted Rs 800 crore, Rs 752 crore, Rs 650 crore, Rs 502 crore, Rs 258 crore, and Rs 160 crore, respectively.

“The government has taken up 54 Jalayagnam projects out of which 14 have been completed. On completion of the remaining 40 projects, 27.62 lakh acres of new irrigation potential under major and medium irrigation will be created and 5.03 lakh acres of ayacut will be stabilised.

Through Jalayagnam, the government is committed to improve water availability for irrigation, thereby attaining sustainable development goal (SDG) 9 — build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation and SDG 2 — end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” Rajendranath Reddy said.

All projects to be completed in 2020-21

The finance minister revealed the progress made in various irrigation projects. BRR Vamsadhara project has achieved 86 per cent progress. Other major projects being implemented include interlinking of Vamsadhara and Nagavali rivers,Poola Subbaiah Veligonda Phase – I, , Owk right tunnel, HNSS. “Majority of works of these projects have been completed and the balance would be completed in 2021-22,” he averred.

COVID-19: Increasing Cases Reported Among Vulnerable Tribal Communities in Central India

News Click | May 19, 2021

Lack of testing, reluctance towards vaccination in the absence of awareness measures and severely under-reported deaths mark the second wave of the pandemic for the tribal groups in Odisha, MP, Gujarat and Karnataka.

As the second wave of COVID-19 wreaks havoc in urban cities, infections are reportedly increasing across vulnerable tribal belts in several states in central and southern India, including Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Tribal people account for around 370 million people in 70 countries around the world and make up 8.2% of the population in India.

According to tribal rights activists, the government has failed to check the invasion of the virus into the tribal communities in the central Indian states in the absence of specific protocols to tackle its spread.

Despite their relative isolation, members of many tribal groups in central India have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. The surge in infections in closed communities is being attributed to the movement of outsiders and contact spreading through local markets among other reasons. However, what makes the spread more worrisome are the nutritional and health discrepancies among the communities, increasing distrust of government policies including vaccination and limited access to healthcare system, making infectious diseases specially COVID-19 deadlier among these groups.

Speaking to NewsClick about it, Rajaram Sunderesan, a researcher based in Odisha associated with tribal studies explained the crisis, “The Odisha Government’s COVID-19 management practices were at one point being hailed by everyone but, on the contrary, the truth is that this government is clueless about tackling the spread of the virus when it comes to adivasi areas. Odisha has one of the largest number of tribal communities in the country, but the government till now has not come up with any prescribed guidelines on tackling the situation on the ground.”

He said, “Historically, it is well known that the state health agencies, including primary and community health centres, have treated people from adivasi communities with utmost disrespect and indignity. The government desperately needs to decentralise its COVID-19 management process. It also needs to understand that the idea of home isolation will not work within adivasi communities. This is because the notion of privacy is very different within adivasi cultures.”

“The government must open its eyes and ears to the requirements of these communities or the situation will descend into crisis like the 16th century epidemics that wiped out whole adivasi communities,” Sunderasan added.

In Maharashtra’s Palghar, tribals from Kunbi, Bhandari and Warli communities are battling a grave shortage of ICU beds and medicines as anxieties soar about the spread of community infection.

On the other hand, several tribal hamlets in Karnataka’s Mysuru and Kodagu region have reported a surge in infections. At least 15 tribals belonging to the Soliga community have contracted the infection over the past week. Cases have been reported from the traditional honey gathering Jenu Kuruba tribe as well.

Gujarat’s Bhil tribal group has also reported cases of fatal infection in the villages surrounding the Statue of Unity. However, lack of testing and data collection, and suppression of information in these areas has reportedly led to fragmented information about COVID-19 related deaths among the community.

Confirming community infection and casualties, Chhotubhai Vasava, a tribal leader from Gujarat, said, “There is no model for the treatment of the adivasis amid the pandemic. In addition to many cases in the remote belts of Dahoud and Panchamal, in the area surrounding the Statue of Unity, over 34 COVID-19 related deaths of Bhils have also been reported. However, only 9-10 deaths were recorded as major cases were unaccounted for. In remote tribal regions, the communities have locked their areas from outside contact to minimise the spread of infection. This is being done by the communities themselves as the state government has failed to address the issues of the tribal communities.”

Further, the COVID-19 crisis has also fuelled suspicions and anxieties among tribal communities contributing to reluctance and fears regarding the vaccination process, as per reports. Meanwhile, the Centre and the state governments have initiated vaccination, but distrust towards government machinery remains strong, Vasava added.

Highlighting the situation in tribal belts of Burhanpur region in Madhya Pradesh, Madhuri Krishnaswamy of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, said, “There are huge fever surges, sometimes pneumonia like symptoms. Compared to the urban areas, the symptoms among the tribals in remote areas are mild and moderate.”

Commenting on the doubts surrounding vaccination and so on, she added, “On the other hand, there is the question of vaccination. People on the ground do not fear COVID-19 as much as the alleged cases of post-vaccination deaths. Many are viewing this as an attack by the government on the poor, especially as last year even the mildly symptomatic were whisked off to COVID-19 centres against their will. Also there has been no attempt made by the government to disseminate information about the vaccines and the people who are at potential risk from the vaccine.”

In Odisha’s Sundargarh district, villagers are on a ‘do-or-die’ agitation to check coal pollution

Scroll.in | May 19, 2021

Trucks from the Kulda opencast mine pass through 19 villages, swathing them with fine coal dust.

For over a decade, the villages near the Kulda opencast mine in Odisha’s Hemgiri block in the Sundargarh district have been fighting coal pollution without respite. In a desperate bid to highlight their unrelenting situation, the people of the area are now locked in a “do or die” agitation against the project since January.

In February, Rajendra Naik, a human rights defender from Ratanpur, one of the affected villages located 10 km from the Kulda mines, filed an application in the Odisha High Court, against the central and state government and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited, a subsidiary of Coal India, which manages the mine. He submitted that the coal transport passing by Ratanpur and 25 villages along a 30 km stretch to Chhattisgarh violated the environmental clearance for the mine in 2002 and in 2018, which stipulated that the coal transported by road, shall be carried out by covered/conveyers with effective control measures.

The Odisha High Court in its order on March 17 directed the collector of Sundargarh district to hold a detailed enquiry involving local villagers and representatives of the government of Odisha and the centre. The collector, Nikhil Pavan Kalyan, held a meeting on March 23 following which he passed an order on March 24 restricting the plying of vehicles from 6 am to 1 pm except on public holidays.

His order called for covering the vehicles, increasing the water sprinkling in the villages for dust suppression, raising the school walls high to prevent dust. The district administration was asked to assess crop damage due to dust and impact on ponds in the area.

Since 2007-’08, the residents of Taparia, Ratanpur and other nearby villages in the Hemgir block of Sundargarh district have suffered incessant dust pollution from the daily 3,000 dumper trucks of coal which pass through their villages.

On January 19, they launched an agitation that is still going on, even though the authorities have tried to suppress it in many ways. Despite the collector’s order in March, the restriction on trucks plying is already being violated, according to local residents. Earlier court directives to control coal pollution have failed due to administrative apathy.

The villagers affected by pollution had opposed the expansion of the mine’s capacity, citing non -compliance with an earlier environmental clearance for a year in 2018, which increased the mine’s capacity from 10 million tonnes per annum to 14 million tonnes per annum. There were many conditions attached to this clearance that included regular medical camps, controlling fugitive emissions along the road with mechanised sweeping and spraying and creating a thick green belt in the downwind direction of the project site.

Despite the residents’ opposition, in January, an expert appraisal committee of the Indian government’s environment ministry recommended the expansion of Kulda mine’s capacity from 14 million tonnes per annum to 19.6 million tonnes per annum.

A news report in January mentioned “the economic blockade at Taparia village by locals who disrupted the movement of coal-laden trucks on Bankibahal-Taparia road”. It said that initially, the protestors were demanding repair of the damaged road but now are adamant about stopping the transportation of coal through their village.

Coal dust pollution
Far from it being an issue of road repair or merely transportation or even an economic blockade, it is a critical issue of coal pollution which the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste communities which live in these villages near the Kulda and Basundhara mines have suffered for over a decade. The coal is transported to various places in Chhattisgarh and the 25 km road stretch between Bankibahal and Tiparia on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border has dwindled to an unmotorable mess of potholes and stones.

Every day the trucks from the opencast mine at Kulda pass through 19 villages, and swathe the villages with fine coast dust which affects thousands of people, said Naresh Meher, one of the protestors. The road, which is the main bone of contention, is not the only thing at stake for the communities. The intense coal pollution disrupts every single minute of their lives.

It is after a decade-long struggle against pollution and exploring legal avenues that the affected villages embarked on a “do or die” agitation as one of the protestors, Naresh Meher told Mongabay-India. He is among those jailed and harassed for the protests.

Odisha has the second-largest coal reserves (24%) in the country with stocks of almost 80 billion tonnes. On April 2, at the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited annual press conference, PK Sinha, who is the Chairman-cum-Managing Director, said that coal production and despatch of the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited during the financial year 2020-’21 was the highest ever at 148.01 million tonnes and 146 million tonnes respectively.

Earlier in October 2020, it had bagged five Coal India awards, including two corporate awards for Corporate Social Responsibility and Quality and also the first prize for the CSR implementation in Coal India.

Despite these sterling qualities, the company has clearly fallen short of controlling coal pollution. A site inspection and monitoring report of 2019, by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows that concentrations of particulate matters PM10 and PM2.5 are above permissible limits in the area and it was suggested that more sprinkling and control measures needed to be carried out. Also, the company was not monitoring fugitive dust emissions from the mining operations, among several shortcomings.

Moreover, the promised green belt is also nowhere to be found and there is no proper health assessment on the impact of coal pollution, said Meher, from the Janshakti Vikas Sanghatana, a coalition of affected communities from 25 villages in the area. He alleged that the health situation has worsened over the years. He suffered from tuberculosis as do other people in Ratanpur village and two of his uncles passed away due to cancer. His younger brother died after he contracted tuberculosis and then cancer.

Finally, unable to take it any longer, the community formed a group this year mainly to deal with the long pending issues of pollution, livelihoods and health.

Meher said that his father owned seven acres in Ratanpur, which was acquired for the mines, about ten km away. “We have lost land in the mine but there are no jobs for us,” he pointed out. “In Ratanpur village alone, there were some 19 acres of cultivated land which was acquired for mining.”

This area had a dense forest with panthers but since a few years, there has been no sighting, said Sarita Barpanda, a lawyer with the Human Right Law Network who is helping Meher and others in the local region with their legal cases.

Impact on agriculture
The pollution is not only impacting the health of the people but is also affecting the livelihoods of the people. The dust from coal has adverse impacts on the cultivation of paddy and kendu (or tendu leaves used for rolling tobacco in beedis) leaves.

Often they are discoloured and do not fetch good prices in the market, Meher said. But this is not all, as there is an additional problem of slag being dumped on the roads from a sponge iron factory, one km away from Ratanpur, in the name of road repairs. The scheduled castes and tribes in the area do not own much land and they cultivated the nearby forests. Meher said their claims for titles for the forest land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, have been unsuccessful.

“We have scaled back the level due to Covid-19 but the agitation continues,” Meher said. “Many of us were detained and some including me went to jail. When we started our protest in January in Taparia village, false cases were filed against us and 16 persons were jailed. Then the police enforced prohibitory orders, so we moved to another village – Kandadhoha – to protest.”

There, he alleged that the local transporters and members of a coal mafia, operating in the region, filed cases of attempted murder and dacoity against the protestors following which the police arrested 12 men and 12 women.

After that, the protest soon moved to Ratanpur where they voiced their concerns about poor roads and pollution. On 23 March, the district collector arrived with many police personnel.

Barpanda said: “We spoke to the tehsildar but he supported the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited while saying the company will suffer losses if they do not run the trucks,” she said. “He had no sympathy for the villagers.”

Though the protesters are all geared up to take their latest protest to a meaningful conclusion this is not the first time they have voiced their concerns. The community had filed cases in court to divert the trucks away from their place of habitation but even then, Meher said, the timings were not being adhered to and nothing changed except the police repression.

In 2016, an order by the Odisha High Court had said that the road should be repaired and till then, no vehicle should ply on it. It had reviewed the road from Bankbihal to Taparia and said that two-ton multi-axle vehicles should be stopped till it was repaired.

Prior to that, in 2015, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Odisha government and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited for the construction of a four-lane coal corridor from Bankibahal to Bhedabahal (in Sundargarh district where an ultra-mega power plant is proposed), as the existing road is not fit for multi-axle heavy vehicles.

Since that was not done, the heads of 26 gram panchayats filed a writ petition in the Odisha High Court in 2016. On that, the court ordered the formation of a committee that inspected the road from Sundergarh to Bankibahal/Taparia and submitted its report in March 2017.

The report ordered stopping the movement of trucks from Bankibahal to Taparia till the road was widened and repaired. The court ruled that a coal corridor must be built within a period of two months of the order and must be completed by the end of 2018 “on a war footing basis”.

It had also asked the collector to restrict the movements of vehicles and said that one of the conditions should be that multi-axle vehicles would only ply from 11 pm to 6 am. But none of this happened and orders to restrict truck movement has been wilfully disobeyed.

A Mahanadi Coalfields Limited spokesperson said that there is no alternative to this road and it was being repaired by Jindal Power. He claimed that the timings regarding the movement of trucks are being adhered to and the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited was cleaning the ponds and spraying water to control coal dust. He said there was some proposal for a coal corridor but did not have any details.

The spokesperson said the problem the people are facing should be resolved in a few months. Mahanadi Coalfields Limited was also dealing with the pollution, and while there will be some pollution due to coal dust, the company was doing all it can to improve the matter, he said while stressing that the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited holds health camps for the people as well.

Delink ration cards and vaccination from Aadhaar: former bureaucrat

The Hindu | Visakhapatnam | May 19, 2021

‘Over 3,000 tribals in Paderu area lost opportunity to get vaccination due to linkage norms’

Appreciating the State government’s decision to deliver ration almost near the doorstep of the beneficiaries, former secretary to the Union government E.A.S. Sarma said that linking the PDS ration cards and even COVID vaccination to Aadhaar, may not give the desired result.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Minister, he pointed out that thousands of tribals have not been able to go through the verification process associated with the issuance of the Aadhaar numbers, as they reside in remote and inaccessible areas. In such a scenario, linkage of Aadhaar may not serve good for the tribals, he said.

Mr. Sarma pointed out that Aadhaar linkage in the Paderu area of Visakhapatnam district had deprived more than 3,000 tribals of their opportunity to get vaccination, as a result of which they stand severely exposed to the virus.

Substantiating his claim, the former bureaucrat said that an NGO, Lib Tech of India, has carried out a comprehensive study of the numbers of the tribals adversely affected by not being able to get Aadhaar numbers, the range of the factors responsible for it and the corrective measures that need to be taken urgently to enable those tribals to get access not only to PDS rations but also to vaccination.

Based on a field study in villages from two mandals, followed by telephonic interviews with people from 50 Gram Panchayats across four ITDAs, the study estimates that between 7,000 and 35,000 families have been excluded from the PDS in ITDA areas.

‘Involve Gram Sabhas’

Mr. Sarma suggested that the State government should take advantage of the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) which empowers the local tribal Gram Sabhas in the formulation and implementation of all schemes meant to benefit the tribals.

The verification process in close consultation with the Gram Sabha would be simpler and more authentic and would make the scheme more meaningful and beneficial. The Gram Sabhas should be fully involved in identifying the beneficiaries in the case of all such schemes, he said.

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