By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
The company Utkal Alumina, of which Norsk Hydro is the major shareholder, plans to start a bauxite mine and an alumina refinery in the Indian state Orissa. When their subcontractor, Orissa Construction Company, arrived in the area to erect a construction wall around the factory area in March this year, they were chased off by the local population. They complained of the company's plan to wall up cultivated land already before the decision to invest had been made.
The organisations that met the Utkal board in June, handed over a copy of a protest letter sent by the local population to Norwegian authorities, praying to stop the entire venture. At the meeting, three issues contributing to the escalation of the conflict between the company and the people who are affected by the company's plans, were given particular attention. In addition to the construction wall, use of violence and language problems were discussed. The company has made a minimum of information accessible to the local population in their own languages, on what kind of plans they have for the area. And shortly before the board meeting, a considerable number of armed policemen were stationed in the area to protect the mining companies, which are active there.
- The board agreed to interrupt major construction activity until a process of informing the local population in a relevant manner, and further consultations have been carried out, says Thomas Knutzen, information manager of Hydro Aluminium to NorWatch.
In practice, this implies that the previously mentioned security wall around the factory area (see NW 4/1998 and 8/1998) will not be erected during this stage of the project, as originally planned. It also implies that the company will prepare an information package for the local population, which will be presented in the languages considered relevant in the various villages. Some information should also be presented orally.
The company's work to establish a foundation to assist the developers in the process of rehabilitation continues, but so far, no NGOs in the area have agreed to help the company with this. The local organisation Agragamee is among those which have refused to assist Norsk Hydro and their partners through this foundation. Utkal Alumina itself is considering to take the initiative in establishing NGOs to contribute here, among other things, by organising the affected families.
In July, NorWatch asked Norsk Hydro to release eight documents with important information on the bauxite project, including the proposed ethic guidelines of the company, and the results of some of the company's anthropologic studies. The idea was that both Norwegian and Indian organisations, and also the local population, would benefit from these. However, Norsk Hydro has no intention to reduce the secrecy around their controversial project, and none of the documents are released.
"The board agreed to interrupt major construction activity until a process of informing the local population in a relevant manner, and further consultations have been carried out."
Thomas Knutzen, information manager of Hydro Aluminium
Norwatch Newsletter 16/98