Vedanta is the first. There are many more

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By EAS Sarma, Convenor, Forum for Better Visakha

Scores of projects have been cleared on the sly. All of them need to be scrapped

Esa SarmaTHE NC Saxena Committee’s forthright findings on Vedanta and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s equally prompt decision to cancel the clearances for the company’s projects reveal the large-scale fraud and deceit that characterise most of the so-called development projects in India today. If the minister were to apply the same standard as Vedanta to the other projects surreptitiously cleared by his ministry during the past few years, it is doubtful if any of them can stand the test.

The Saxena report has highlighted that the Central and the state governments have openly colluded with the company to (i) violate the forest laws, (ii) give a go by to the government’s constitutional obligation under the Fifth Schedule to enforce the rights of the Dongaria and Kuntia tribes, (iii) ignore the government’s constitutional responsibility under Article 48A to protect the environment, (iv) ignore the symbiotic link between the tribes and the ecology and threaten to disrupt that link without remorse and (v) marginalise two constitutional institutions, namely, the Gram Sabhas and the Tribal Advisory Council. What the government did to please the company would adversely affect the future of the tribes in the hills, as well as the lives of the people in the plains, for centuries. There cannot be anything more perverse than this. Such a tainted process can never lead to development in its true sense.

Real avatar Members of the Dongaria Kondh tribe in traditional headgear atop the Niyamgiri hill
Real avatar Members of the Dongaria Kondh tribe in traditional headgear atop the Niyamgiri hill

The two mine-cum-alumina-refinery projects in Andhra Pradesh, one of the Jindals and the other of ANRAK, are similar to Vedanta in many respects. The clearances given for these projects should be quashed straightaway and the downstream jetty project put on hold. The same is the case with the iron ore mining projects in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and the other states. The clearances given to commercial power projects in ecologically fragile areas in this state, such as East Coast Energy’s at Bhavanapadu, Alfa Infraprop’s at Komarada, Hindujas’ near Visakhapatnam and similar projects in Prakasam district, need to be reviewed before they cause loss of livelihood and destruction of the ecology.

It is not as though the MOEF is unaware of the ecological vandalism going on in the name of development projects through the country today. In each and every case, civil society activists have brought the facts to the notice of the MOEF and repeatedly appealed in vain to its officials at every stage of clearance, not to give a green signal. The promoters of most companies enjoy support from influential politicians and officials. That explains why instances of human rights violations committed by them with impunity are often winked at.

THE EIA procedures are faulty. The public hearing process has become a farce. The deliberations of the Expert Appraisal Committees have become ritualistic, only meant to clear the projects at any cost. Corruption and deceit have become a rule rather than an exception. Jairam Ramesh has a hard task to perform, if he were to revamp the existing appraisal system. I hope what he did in the case of Vedanta would set a healthy trend of what he is going to do next.

I hope the officials of the Central and state governments and Vedanta itself would be prosecuted for defying the law of the land, disrupting the lives of the tribals and endangering the ecology of the region.

Photo: Reuters

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