India's great land grab continues, with police forcibly evicting tribal villagers in Orissa from land sold to UK-based Vedanta Resources to use as a toxic waste dump, Amnesty International reports.
The evictions come amid a fraught battle between the mining industry and India's tribal peoples, as well as environmental activists. Orissa is among India's poorest and least developed states, but its mineral riches have led to a breakneck race to strip the land of iron, bauxite and other metals needed to fuel the country's infrastructure and manufacturing sectors.
To gain access to these riches, however, the state government has conspired with industry to run roughshod over the rights of its indigenous peoples, according to their advocates. Local resentment has also helped to make Orissa one of the flashpoints in India's simmering Maoist insurgency -- a crisis that recently resulted in the deployment of some 50,000 police and paramilitary personnel.
Earlier, Amnesty alleged that Vedanta has done nothing to clean up environmental damage at the site of its Lanjigarh aluminum refinery, after the High Court of Orissa once again supported the central government's decision to reject Vedanta Aluminium's plans to expand the facility after finding the project violated India's environmental laws.
"Research by Amnesty International and other local and international groups documents the serious and continuing pollution caused by the refinery’s operations," Amnesty said in a press release. "Despite the string of decisions against Vedanta, the company has failed to remedy the pollution."
Vedanta has vowed to challenge the case again in the Supreme Court.
In 2010, similar accusations of rampant violations of laws designed to protect forests and the environment prompted India's Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) to cancel permission for a $1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Orissa's Niyamgiri Hills -- an area held sacred by the local tribe.
The state-run Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) has challenged the cancellation, and on Monday the Supreme Court fixed April 9 for a hearing on the company's challenge of cancellation, according to India's Business Standard newspaper. The court had earlier fixed January 30, as the date for final hearing and disposal of the case.
But Vedanta's activities -- and troubles -- are only the tip of the iceberg.
Local villagers are also battling against the allotment of land to Korean steel giant Posco -- a deal that represented the largest foreign direct investment ever attracted to India when it was signed six years ago -- and the much ballyhooed project exists only on paper. Despite being owned by the government, OMC is under investigation for alleged illegal mining activities. And the Congress Party -- in the opposition in the state -- has lambasted the government for failing to shut down many illegal operations, despite its claims it has shuttered nearly 500 out of 600-odd mines in the state.