Protests from Indian indigenous people: Civil disobedience against Hydro's bauxite project
By Harald Eraker
Hydro's plans for a bauxite mine and production of alumina in Koraput district in the state of Orissa on India's east coast are met with strong resistance by the local population. In October last year the movement Save Bapli Mali - named after the plateau where Hydro together with its Indian partners will extract bauxite - was established in order to stop Hydro's plans.
– So far 11 persons from Save Bapli Mali have been arrested for protesting against the mining company's activities in their villages. All were released on bail, but the cases are still pending in the court," says William Stanley, who is working with development projects among the tribal people dominating this region.
Stanley says that the local population for some time now has organized meetings and spontaneous protests in the villages. Save Bapli Mali has decided not to allow into the area anybody from the Utkal project intending to start extraction of bauxite.
"I haven't heard anything about this," says manager of information and public affairs Thomas Knutzen of Hydro Aluminium.
The first organized resistance against the Utkal project saw the light of day February 17 last year when representatives from 40 villages in Koraput district got together and formed a united front against Hydro's project and a similar bauxite project planned for the same district.
Since then, the local population has used civil disobedience to protest against the development plans. In the village of Kucheipadar, ditches were dug across the road to prevent representatives from the Utkal project to enter the area. According to Indian newspapers, spontaneous protests from the population in the same village have led to destruction of the company's machinery.
Last spring the inhabitants stopped Utkal's work in the village of Ranibeda, one of four villages from which Hydro concedes people will have to move. When a number of people were arrested and taken to the nearest police station, more than 1,000 people gathered outside and refused to leave until the arrested had been released.
"Anybody can long for a previous paradise-like existence. But this is a lost paradise - an overpopulated area facing an ecological crisis."
Hydro's anthropologist Rolf Lunheim about the area where the Utkal project is to be established. Hydro's Profil Magazine, no. 20-95.
There are conflicting figures as to how many people will be affected. Hydro tells NorWatch that about 750 persons from 4 villages will have to move. Executive director N.K. Chaudhury of the Utkal project says that about 500 families (3,500 persons) will lose their land, and that an additional 100 hectares of "village forest" will be occupied by the project.
However, a spokesperson for the opponents of the Utkal project claims that 9,000 persons will be directly affected by Hydro's plans, while according to an unpublished report financed by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), 60,000 persons will be directly or indirectly affected.
The three tribal peoples affected are the Kondh (those who live in the mountains), the Manne Dora (kings of the forest) and the Jadapus - all indigenous peoples who according to Hydro's own publications live in harmony with nature.
In spite of the fact that the conflict has existed for a long time and has been covered by Indian newspapers, Hydro says that the Utkal project is a pioneer project with regard to understanding of the indigenous peoples' culture and plans for relocation of the population.
Among other things Hydro Aluminium has engaged anthropologist Rolf Lunheim to assess the social and cultural impact of the project.
Last October the population formed the movement Save Bapli Mali.
The declaration presented by the local population February 17 last year says among other things:
"Our rights as indigenous people of this region to land, forests and homes are taken away, as we are being forced to move without any other options."
Hydro looks at it differently:
"There were no signs of local resistance to our project when I was there. People were gathering enthusiastically when one of our helicopters landed - and I heard no booing," says Knutzen of Hydro Aluminium.
According to William Stanley, studies show that 6% of the population in Koraput district had been forced to move in the name of development up to 1991. The Utkal project seems to preserve this tradition.
The Utkal project
Behind the Utkal project are, in addition to Hydro Aluminium, the two large Indian companies Indal and Tata. The three partners each own 33% of the company Utkal Alumina International, which for years has planned the 100% export-oriented project.
The bauxite mine, the alumina factory, and necessary infrastructure will occupy 2,060 hectares of land.
According to Norsk Hydro, the final decision regarding participation in the project will be taken in the course of 1996. But construction signs with Hydro's logo and road signs showing the direction to the Bapli Mali bauxite mine are already in place.
Norwatch Newsletter 1/96