By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The resolution from a conference in Visakhapatnam, held under the auspices of the National Council of Churches of India (NCCI) and the Southern Orissa Development Network (SODAN) in the fall of 2000, is now available. The conference resolution is a criticism of all forced relocation, but the only project to get a specific, negative mention by the NCCI is Norsk Hydro's planned mining project, Utkal Alumina.
Norway's Strømme Foundation and Norwegian Church Aid were among the conference participants. Church representatives from large parts of India made up the lion's share of participants. The aim of the meeting was to clarify the policy of India's churches with regard to forced relocation issues. The resolution, which was finally approved by all participants, was surprisingly precise in its criticism. The resolution states: "We protest all displacement."
Utkal Alumina is criticised for using violence and other undemocratic means in the process of starting its project; for disrespecting the particular rights of indigenous peoples; and for not being willing to enter a dialogue with the local community unless such a dialogue is premised on support for the project plans.
Fredrik Gjernes took part in the meeting on behalf of Norwegian Church Aid. He says part of the intention behind the resolution was for the NCCI to clarify its view of forced relocation in infrastructure projects. Still, the resolution was worded in such a way that outside participants, too, supported it.
- What will this mean for Norwegian Church Aid's view of the Utkal project and for the dialogue you have with Norsk Hydro?
- We are continuing the dialogue. This resolution allows for that. The resolution strengthens our arguments against carrying out the Utkal project in its present form. This is about the right of indigenous peoples to decide over their natural resources. Our view of a possible amended project depends on what Norsk Hydro will do in the time to come. At the same time, it is completely clear that the Utkal project should not be carried out as it looks today, says Fredrik Gjernes.
The NCCI is now sending its resolution to the churches in Canada, since Canada's Alcan is involved in Utkal Alumina. There, the Taskforce on Churches and Corporate Responsibility will take the matter under consideration, says Gjernes.
The British aid organisation CARE, together with a number of multinational corporations, is participating in a World Bank initiative called Business Partners for Development (BPD). The aim of the BPD, according to the participants, is to contribute to industrial development taking place with a socially and environmentally correct profile. Among the BPD partners we find the infamous companies Rio Tinto, BP Amoco, Shell, and Placer Dome (check out their records in NorWatch 5/1999). One aim is to create a tripartite co-operation with representatives of governments, corporations, and civil society.
Sources that NorWatch has contacted among aid organisations are critical of CARE's role, and fear that the BPD's projects in Orissa will have an element of "greenwash" if the civil society representative in the tripartite co-operation is a foreign aid organisation that lacks a mandate from the affected local community.
NorWatch contacted CARE's London office and was told that BPD is in the final stage of a preliminary project on its future role in the Utkal project. CARE/BPD confirmed that they had not been in touch with the local community organisation PSSP in this process, and they would not promise to make such contacts before the preliminary project is finished. No-one from CARE wanted to comment on whether they consider such contacts with the local community necessary to call the future aid projects "tripartite co-operation". NorWatch was simply referred to the BPD's website, which has descriptions of projects previously carried out in co-operation with other multinational corporations.
In September, local supporters of the Utkal project held a bus trip for the villages that will be forcibly relocated if the Utkal project is realised. The trip went to the "forced resettlement colony" of Nalco, a bauxite and alumina project a few hours' drive away. Things did not go quite as planned. The residents of the colony told horror stories of how the mining company has systematically broken promises about everything, from compensation, to jobs and elementary sanitary conditions that should have been fixed. On the way home, the atmosphere was far more negative towards Norsk Hydro and its partners than earlier in the day. The Nalco project was built in the 1980s and is run by France's Pecheney.
Norwatch Newsletter 11/00