By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
For many years, Norsk Hydro's bauxite and alumina project Utkal Alumina has been criticized for its poor relationship with the affected local population. There have been several acts of violence and arrests, and four local NGOs have had problems with the authorities after they involved themselves in the case. Communication with the affected people is very problematic. At the same time, Utkal is important in Norsk Hydro's strategy to get control over more of the raw material supplies to its aluminium production, and the project is supported by the Indian central authorities.
The Ministry of trade and industry is the major shareholder in Norsk Hydro. In spite of the fact that the ministry has collected a lot of information from the company and the involved organisations on the issue, no external and active measures have been taken. On two occasions, the ministry has even failed to answer letters from the affected local population.
- A constructive initiative
- We challenge the minister of trade and industry to go to the area in question in Kashipur. He is an important actor in the Utkal-case, and going there would increase his understanding of what the conflict is about. This is a serious and constructive initiative, which is quite necessary to achieve a positive development in a difficult case, and to visualise the situation of the poor, says Øystein Garcia de Presno, secretary general of the Strømme foundation.
- Such a local inquiry could include a visit both to affected villages and NGOs which have worked in the area for a long time, and to the company and the local authorities. We assume that the company would welcome such a visit, and we, on our side, will help out with the resources and contacts we have in this case, de Presno continues.
It has not been confirmed whether Sponheim will take time to go to Orissa. A request to the office of the minister of trade and industry on 30 August resulted in a promise that the invitation would be replied to within about a week.
Norsk Hydro in India
Norsk Hydro owns 45% of the Utkal project, which aims to build a bauxite mine and an alumina plant in the Indian state Orissa. The other partners are the Canadian company Alcan, and the Indian company Indal (which is now owned by Alcan). The first phase of the project has an investment budget of one billion US$, and a further 800 million US$ are the estimated costs of the second phase. Utkal has faced massive local opposition, and the project will lead to forced resettlement of three villages. Another twelve villages will lose land they have title deeds to, and tens of villages will have reduced access to common resources, such as grazing land and water. The Norwegian state, through the ministry of trade and industry, is the major shareholder in Norsk Hydro with a 44% share, after Hydro's issue of shares (emisjon?) and take-over of Saga Petroleum.
Norwatch newsletter 13/99