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Stoltenberg fails to answer protest letter from 5 000 affected people

5523 affected people from the state of Orissa in India have written a protest letter against the planned bauxite project in their area, addressed to Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, The Norwegian Minister of Industry and Energy. They say the plans have large negative consequences for them. The Adivasies, the indigenous people in the area, are asking Mr. Stoltenberg to use his 51% control of the Norwegian company Hydro Aluminum to stop the planned project, Utkal Alumina. They wiew the new establishment as development in the wrong direction for their region. The Ministry of Industry and Energy has stated that they are not going to answer the letter.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
5523 affected people from the state of Orissa in India have written a protest letter against the planned bauxite project in their area, addressed to Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, The Norwegian Minister of Industry and Energy. They say the plans have large negative consequences for them. The Adivasies, the indigenous people in the area, are asking Mr. Stoltenberg to use his 51% control of the Norwegian company Hydro Aluminum to stop the planned project, Utkal Alumina. They wiew the new establishment as development in the wrong direction for their region. The Ministry of Industry and Energy has stated that they are not going to answer the letter.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
Norwatch

The letter, of which NorWatch has a copy, is signed with finger-prints by 5523 people and lists the negative sides of the Utkal project, in which Hydro owns 33% (see also previous articles in Folkevett 5/95, NorWatch 1/96 and 4/96). According to the people in the area, the location of the planned alumina factory, in connection to the mines, is situated in the most productive area in Kashipur, well known as "The Rice Bowl". At this place two townships will be built, different deposits of waste will be stored, and in addition, Hydro and their partners find it necessary to construct a large swimming pool for employees at their plant. Hydro has previously argued for the project in Norwegian media, saying that the area is almost already destroyed by erosion and deforestation. And they have pointed out that constructing the mine itself in the holy mountain Parbat Baphlimali, is no problem. According to Hydro, in practice, all mountains are holy for these people, so it will not matter which mountain they pick. They also claims that this hill range is not a productive grazing area. This in contrast to the recent distribution of mountain land to previous landless farmers in Kashipur by the authorities at Orissa. In their opinion the land is productive enough to be agriculture land. The signatories of the letter further accuses the partners of the Utkal project of using shady methods to get their plans supported by the Indian authorities. The letter contains direct accusations of corruption of local authorities. Forty villages in the area fear the forced resettlement or some form of serious and direct encroachment upon their lives. Hydro, on the other hand, claims that not more than 140 families, about 800 people, must move. There is doubt about the prevailing figure, but none of the affected people have got detailed instructions as to when they have to be resettled, where they will be resettled or what kind of compensation they will recieve. Norwatch has been informed about this by Agragamee, an organisation which works closely with the Adivasies people. In the mean time, on telephone with NorWatch, Hydro Aluminium's Head of information, Thomas Knutzen confirmed that 1 302 families will lose their land. A figure that is much higher than what so far has been quoted in the media. Hydro last year sent a social anthropologist to Kashipur to survey the indigenous people, and to see how the project could be carried out with least possible damages. But Hydro's anthropological work has been strongly criticised, Among others things, the field work was evidently extremely short, and, since the anthropologist was working for Hydro, not as an independent. Beyond that, the signatories of the letter feel they have had little contact with the constructors, especially with regard to information. From their side, they have clearly expressed their concern and scepticism for the project.

Hydro in India
The consortium Utkal Alumina International Limited is a joint venture between Norsk Hydro, Tata Industries (India's largest private industry) and Indal (the Indian State aluminium company), each with 33% ownership. The consortium's plans includes a bauxite mine complete with an alumina factory and infrastructure. Alumina is a pre product of aluminium, which will be transported to smelting plants, among others, in Norway.

Large opposition
Since January 1995, the Utkal project has faced large opposition from the indigenous people in the area. At that time 40 villagers signed an appeal against the construction, and expressed their fear for both the environmental sides of the case and the treatment of people in the area. Since January last year, a series of demonstrations and actions have been carried out against the construction. Everything from quiet protests to civil disobedience and sabotage against plant machinery. The demonstrators have been repeatedly arrested with charges as serious as "attempted murder", without any of them being convicted for the actions. However in the mean time, the most serious case Mr. Knutzen at Hydro knows of, is that a surveyor by chance got his mouth stuffed with cow dung by locals opposed to the project

"Therefore we request Norsk Hydro, in sympathy with the thousands of oppressed and poor indigenous people and other inhabitants, withdraw from our lands. As we see it, this will be a just action, and will help restore human rights for thousands of people in the area"
Final comment and conclusion of the letter from the inhabitants of Kashipur to Jens Stoltenberg, 13.9.96.

Environmental problems
The signatories of the letter further call attention to the problems with mud and ash deposits, which during a leakage can poison the ground water and river. They claim that the factory which will be constructed will poison a stretch of 50 kilometres of the Ghodagada river which flows into the far larger and more important Indravatia river. Somewhere between 60 and 70 villages get their drinking water from this river. Mr. Knutzen claims, in conversation with NorWatch, that a totally different source of water will be utilised, but clearly it seems this has not been communicated to the affected parties. The confiscation of land for mine, factory and infrastructure is also a reason for anxiety.
From the letter to Stoltenberg, signed 13.9.96

He who shouts...
Mr. Øyvind Meisingset from the Ministry of Industry and Energy (NED) believes that the protest letter from the 5523 people in the Kashipur block in Orissa does not "deserve" an answer, and indicates that the Ministry does not exercise political influence of the companies they own, with the exception not of the general assembly. At the same time, he confrms that the department did not bring forward the Utkal question during the last general assembly at Norsk Hydro ASA. Meisingset further says that the Ministry has adressed this case to Hydro, and that Hydro has sent a note to the Ministry. This note is confidential Neither Meisingset nor the head of information at NED, Anne Ekern, believes that the Ministry is going to answer the signatories of the letter. Thomas Knutzen at Hydro has on the contrary this comment about the letter: -This is undocumented allegations. Neither the time, place nor who allegedly had acted this way, is provided. Utkal has not made use of unethical methods in Kashipur. Utkal has neither any motive for such conduct against local people, but is rather preoccupied with getting the best possible neighbour relationship. But we take the letter as a sign of not having a good enough dialogue with the entire local coomunity. We will make new efforts to achieve this, and hope Rural Development Society (a union of affected and interested parties of Utkal project, ed.com.) could contribute. What is clear, is that the communication between the constructor and the affected parties is poorly. One of the villages which will be heavily affected, Kucheipadar, Utkal will not enter. According to Knutzen Utkal is not wanted in this village. So 5523 affected people have now in writing approached Hydro's main share holder, the Norwegian State, and expressed their anxiety for the development in the area, and they ask Stoltenberg to take action. Neither the State nor Hydro seems to answer, and for the time being work with the new bauxite mine and aluminium factory continues as before.

Norwatch Newsletter 10/96

- Annonse -