Aug 18 2007

Agya, What do You Mean by Development?

In this exhaustive text, Felix Padel and Samarendra Das give a thorough analysis of the situation of the aluminium industry in India, its history as a global force of destruction intrinsically linked to the arms industry and its links to genocide. This is required reading for anyone with an interest in the aluminium industry, peace, and the desperate situation of the people of Orissa, India.

This article was first published in June 2007 in the journal Caterpillar and the Mahua Flower

Felix Padel and Samarendra Das are also the authors of  ‘Double Death –
Aluminium’s Links with Genocide’

‘Agya, What do You Mean by Development?’


The pursuit of aluminium in Orissa has resulted in cultural genocide.

Displacement has destroyed the tribal society’s structure while
pollution from factories has rendered areas uncultivable, snatching
away the residents’ main source of livelihood.

The fact that the arms industry is one of the driving forces behind
aluminium production makes the indifference with which locals are
treated even more sinister

A new wave of industrialisation, imposed under the guise of development,
growth and poverty alleviation, is threatening to displace hundreds of
villages in Orissa and other neighbouring states. These areas, slotted as the
ideal locations for mining, metal, dam and power projects, are home to
indigenous people, who are being largely ignored as unavoidable casualties
in the race towards progress.

In India, industrialisation has already displaced an estimated 60 million
villagers in the past 60 years. Two million of those dispossessed lived in Orissa, and a shocking 75 percent comprised Adivasis and Dalits.[1] Very few of them have been adequately compensated; most report no improvement in their standard of living though such displacement is unabashedly presented as a precursor to development. In fact, as the displaced point out, the projects have achieved precisely the opposite result. The poverty that they have been reduced to is just as painful as the erosion of their cultural values and traditions, which invariably accompanies the forced separation from the land that they and their forefathers cultivated.

How can one understand the processes involved? Each of us has an area
of expertise, but to comprehend what is happening, one should opt for a
multi-disciplinary approach. In anthropology, understanding comes from
assimilating the viewpoints of the people concerned, as expressed in their
own words. Yet few of us listen to what the Adivasis have to say. We have seen thousands of Adivasis being transported to meetings around India, yet
completely sidelined in the road shows. They are rarely asked to give their views, they simply sit in dignified silence during the meetings, and return to their villages unhappy about the confusion among the very people who claim to offer help.

Cultural Genocide

The present industrialisation process may boost India’s growth rate, but
its impact on Adivasis amounts to cultural genocide. Tribal culture exists
through the relationships dictated by social structures and it’s this binding fabric that displacement tears down.

The economic system, along with the tradition of cultivation, is destroyed as people are removed from their land and can no longer work as farmers. The kinship system is fractured, as social relations traditionally depend on a village’s layout, and the spatial distance from each person’s kin living in neighbouring villages. A mining company’s entry into an area invariably splits people into those for and against. In every area where a project causes displacement, there is tension between those who accept compensation and move from their homes, and those who oppose the plan.

The religious system is undermined as sacred village sites are removed,
and venerated mountains mined away. At Kinari village, from where people
were shifted to Vedantanagar to make way for the Lanjigarh refinery, a woman who had seen bulldozers flattening her village and its central Earth shrine, said to us days after the forced move: “Even our gods are destroyed.” For her, losing her land means she can never grow her own food again. All the values attached to the customary way in which people supported themselves have thus become redundant.

The material culture, which helps people make most of what they have, is
destroyed as soon as the houses people built from local earth and wood are
knocked down to be replaced with concrete structures. But most of all, it’s the power structure that is completely transformed. From being in control of their area and its resources, people find themselves at the bottom of the extremely hierarchical structures of power and authority.

Corruption plays a role in the murky process by which entire villages are
given away for projects, and even in its underhand avatar, has a strong negative impact on the society as a whole. It polarises people, making the elite class richer, and their “conspicuous consumption” becomes more wasteful and tasteless than ever. In a front-page article on February 21, 2007, the Oriya daily Sambad mentions a new scandal about a coal mine near Talcher. The report suggests that kickbacks of Rs 200 crores (about 45 million dollars) were given to secure a single coal mining lease even as the issue of Tangarapada, Niyamgiri and Khandadharo mining leases remain unresolved. Tangarapada, incidentally, is a chromite deposit in Jajpur district that was leased to Jindal Strips. However, the Orissa High Court criticised the deal stating that the state stands to lose 4,500 million dollars if the mine goes ahead as planned.[2] Niyamgiri is Orissa’s most controversial bauxite deposit straddling Kalahandi and Rayagada, while Khandadharo is a forest- and iron-ore rich mountain area of Keonjhar.

Whose Wealth is It Anyway?

Orissa’s immense riches have been a source of conflict, with the proponents of ‘development’ mostly getting their way over the tribal communities who have lived in the area for years. For instance, Orissa has India’s biggest bauxite mine in Panchpat Mali, run by NALCO. It also boasts of two of the country’s seven working refineries (NALCO’s at Damanjodi and Vedanta’s newly completed one at Lanjigarh), and two of its six smelters (NALCO’s at Angul and Indal’s at Hirakud). Many projects are in the offing, such as refineries, with Utkal’s being constructed now in Kashipur. Several more smelters are planned, with Vedanta’s in Jharsuguda district already under construction and Hindalco’s in Sambalpur at an advanced planning stage.

It’s worth recalling here that British geologists originally conceived of this whole scheme, complete with dams to power the factories, rail links and port facilities, in the 1920s. According to them, the bauxite from Orissa’s mountains was “so good that, if large quantities exist, the tract must prove important when the [Raipur-Vizag] railway is constructed… This importance is heightened by the existence of possible hydro-electric sites in the adjacent Madras (Jaipur State) area to the south-west, and to the fact that a harbour is to be built at Vizagapatanam.”[3] Besides, it was the geologist TL Walker who named the base rock of Orissa’s bauxite-capped mountains Khondalite, after the Konds, Orissa’s largest tribe, who live all around these mountains and consider them sacred entities.[4]

Economists view Orissa’s famed mineral wealth as unutilised resources. But Adivasis look at their mineral-rich mountains as sources of life that nourish the land’s fertility. If trees are cut down and mountains mined, large areas of Orissa will dry out and lose their fertility fast — something that is already visible around Panchpat Mali and Damanjodi.

Bhagavan Majhi, a Kond leader of the Kashipur Movement, expresses similar sentiments about the Utkal Alumina project. After the Movement
stalled it for 12 years, Utkal restarted the construction of its refinery in 2006. An area of several square kilometres is being reduced to bare earth right next to Bhagavan Majhi’s village of Kucheipadar. Hills are being gouged out and flattened by dozer-rippers. Two villages on the refinery site, Ramibeda and Kendukhunti, have been erased from existence. Their inhabitants have been moved to a colony beside the work site and now exist only as a captive labour pool.

Ramibeda’s strongest leader and biggest landowner, an elder named Mangta
Majhi, died after police torture in 1998. It’s believed that the cops came at night in an Utkal company vehicle, called him down from his mancha (raised platform) from where he was guarding his chilli-crop, beat him with rifle butts, tied him up with two Dalits from Kendukhunti, and kept him in custody for some weeks. When he was released, his face was disfigured by beating, and he died a few days later.[5]

Today, Utkal’s plan is to mine 195 million tonnes of bauxite from the top
of the local mountain Bapla Mali, which people from three different tribes
spread over a large area hold as sacred. Utkal, meanwhile, estimates that the deposit will be finished within 30 years. Their work, therefore, involves the permanent removal of a non-renewable resource. In the bargain, however, the flow of Bapla Mali’s numerous perennial streams will be adversely affected.[6]

The police, who repeatedly attacked Kucheipadar, were banned from
entering the village for some years by its inhabitants. During a confrontation, Bhagavan Majhi spoke to a senior officer. He recalls, “I put a question to the SP. I asked him, ‘Sir, what do you mean by development? (Agya, unnoti boile kono?) Can you call displacing people development? The people, for whom development is meant, should reap its benefits. After them, the succeeding generations should enjoy its benefits. That is development. It should not be merely to cater to the greed of a few officials.’ Development is not destroying mountains that are millions of years old. If the government has decided that it needs alumina, and has to mine bauxite, they should give us land as replacement. As Adivasis, we are cultivators. We cannot live without land.”[7]

It’s clear that the pursuit of aluminium results in cultural genocide in two ways. One, displacement directly destroys the social structure of the tribal society. Second, the factories themselves will affect the environment so adversely that large areas of west Orissa will become dry and uncultivable in the near future. Bauxite mining damages the capacity of mountains to retain water, leading to the drying up of water bodies. Besides, the factories themselves consume huge amounts of water and also pollute the environment. The depletion of forests, and the factory fumes, together drastically reduce rainfall, a fact that the Advasi understands as well as any scientist.

In a wider sense, excessive aluminium production results in cultural
genocide because of the “resource curse”, which denotes the extreme level of financial manipulation and exploitation that areas rich in resources are subjected to. The aluminium industry undermined several countries’
independence economically and politically right from the start. The resource curse is unfolding in Orissa, where values have become corrupt and a culture of “briberisation” is evident. Cultural genocide also results from the link between aluminium and the arms industry. The connection with war is little known, but aluminium is one of the four metals classified as ‘strategic’ because of its importance in manufacturing arms. This is the reason why Abdul Kalam, a nuclear scientist who at the time of writing was the President of India, devotes several pages of his book India 2020 to explain the importance of
aluminium and its role in achieving his vision for India as a “developed
country”.[8] Both these points are discussed in detail later in this paper.

Resistance and Resettlement

It’s possible to pinpoint January 2, 2006, as the date when tribal resistance to displacement strengthened (also see page 178). That was the day of the Kalinga Nagar killings, when the police fired at those protesting against the construction of a Tata steel plant in their land, killing 12 Adivasis. The Visthapan Virodhi Janamanch (People’s Platform against Displacement) has kept up a high-profile blockade in Kalinga Nagar since then.

Another Tata steel plant planned in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh
faces similar resistance from Adivasis who say their “consent” was not given freely. Their protests come in the backdrop of a manufactured civil war, which started with the government-sponsored creation of the Salwa Judum (Peace March) in mid-2005. The aim of this war is not just to exterminate Maoists, but also to implement industrialisation plans that have faced sustained opposition from tribal society. This has resulted in the forced displacement of at least 80,000 Adivasis in Dantewada district, with human rights abuses and conditions of horror and squalor that beggar the imagination.[9] In West Bengal, where blood baths have followed land acquisition plans, the High Court recently gave a strong judgement about the illegality of Tata’s land acquisitions at Singur.

There is talk of a generous new Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R)
policy at the all-India level, but what do the promised R&R packages actually consist of? Essentially, cash for the minority with land deeds, a new concrete house in a colony by the work site, and promises of employment — promises that in the past have rarely, if ever, been kept.[10] What the packages hardly ever include is land to replace what has been taken away from the displaced, even though international experts agree this is a crucial issue. The World
Commission on Dams recommended including a provision for this, but the
suggestion was rejected both at the central and state levels. Similarly, the Extractive Industries Review, an independent review commissioned by the World Bank which recommended that the Bank stop funding coal and mining projects in developing countries and instead concentrate on renewable energy sources, has also been ignored.[11]

Bhagavan places on record the many unanswered questions surrounding
the land issue: “We have sought an explanation from the government about
the people who have been displaced in the name of development. How many
have been properly rehabilitated? You have not provided them with jobs, you have not rehabilitated them at all. How can you again displace more people? Where will you relocate them and what jobs will you give them? You tell us first. The government has failed to answer our questions. Our fundamental question is this: how can we survive if our land is taken away? We are tribal farmers. We are earthworms (matiro poko). Like fishes that die when taken out of water, a cultivator dies when his land is taken away from him. So we won’t leave our land.”

The key recommendation of R&R experts and the World Bank’s Resettlement policy is that the quality of life of the displaced people should improve. However, this has almost never happened. Companies hide this reality by bandying about such fine-sounding terms as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and advertising a ‘missionary’ model of charity, consisting of standardised programmes that centre on education, health, sports and Self-Help Groups. All these programmes betray a complete lack of understanding of tribal culture.[12]

Vedanta Resources devotes 60 pages of its Annual General Report for
2006 to the “good works” done as part of its CSR programme, with glossy
colour photos of smiling tribals who have been “civilised” through such programmes. This is a gross distortion of the real situation. Several hundred people have been killed in work accidents at Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery and it’s well known locally that labourers are often not paid for their work and have to beg for jobs.

Adverse Impact

Aluminium is one of the most energy intensive of industries. Refining a
metric tonne of alumina requires an average of 250 kilowatt hours (kwh) of
electricity, and smelting a tonne of aluminium needs at least 1,300 kwh. The Wuppertal Institute in Germany estimates that the amount of water needed to produce one tonne of aluminium is no less than 1,378 tonnes (for steel, a comparable amount is 44 tonnes of water, also a huge quantity). Altogether, a tonne of aluminium produces 4-8 tonnes of toxic red mud as solid waste (from refineries) and 13.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide (mainly from smelters) while the overall “ecological rucksack” of “abiotic material” is 85 tonnes.[13] In simple terms, this means that the negative impact of producing aluminium is around 85 times its positive value. A recent UK government report notes that the externality costs of carbon emissions alone stand at 85 dollars per tonne, giving over 1,000 dollars per tonne of aluminum.[14]

The process of manufacturing aluminium from bauxite involves four stages
that have a negative impact on society and environment: bauxite mining;
alumina refining; aluminium smelting; and generation of electricity to run
all three aforementioned operations. Mega-dams for hydropower and coal-
fired power stations are built to meet this demand. By extension, the several hundred thousand people displaced by the reservoirs in Orissa and by coal mining, both resources required for power projects, are also casualties of the aluminium industry.

The externality costs of dams, refineries and smelters are relatively well documented. By contrast, the extent to which the fertility of Orissa’s land is lost because of the mining of mountain-top bauxite deposits is little understood. Bauxite has a strong water-retaining capacity. It’s porous and acts as a sponge, and holds the monsoon rain throughout the year, releasing it gradually. Mining it severely reduces the mountain’s water-retaining capacity. This aspect has been studied way too little, presumably because aluminium companies sponsor most of the scientific studies on bauxite, and do not encourage research that reveals the industry’s negative effects. The kind of distortion involved is revealed in recent reports that expose the gross manipulation of scientific evidence on climate change.[15]

A careful study of the aluminium industry’s history shows that aluminium
is actually sold for less than the cost of its production. Refineries and smelters can only make a profit if they receive huge subsidies in electricity, water and transport, as well as tax rebates. India’s last independent energy audit of the aluminium industry, in 1988, explicitly mentions this.16 Companies themselves exclude certain costs from their calculations, especially the price paid by the environment and society. These costs are passed on to the host government, and are eventually borne by the least powerful section of the population.

Mining and metal production also head the list of industries being outsourced to India. Europe and the US have been closing down aluminium
plants as electricity prices rise and environmental laws become more stringent. Alcan closed its last UK refinery in 2003 (Burntisland), just as it finalised plans to build a refinery in Kashipur. It might appear as if Europe is reducing its carbon emissions slightly by this outsourcing, but this reduction is illusory.[17] Aluminium used in Europe still produces massive carbon emissions, even if these are now polluting India and not Europe.

Resource Curse

The ‘resource curse’ affects many areas of the world that are rich in natural resources. In these parts, massive projects are started to exploit the riches, the local population is promised grand wealth in return, and inevitably all that follows is a terrible cycle of exploitation, poverty and violence.[18] Nigeria’s oil delta, Sierra Leone, Angola and many other countries in Africa, South America and Asia exemplify this pattern at its worst. The oil companies’ behaviour in Nigeria, for instance, demonstrates the dangers lying in store for Orissa. Shell and other such companies make vast profits at the cost of people’s lives while also wreaking the environment. Those protesting are killed by the security forces trying to stamp out opposition. One of the most famous deaths was that of Ken Saro Wiwa, hanged with eight other Ogonis on a false murder charge in 1995, against world condemnation, but with Shell connivance.[19]

The aluminium industry has in effect controlled the economy of several
countries from the moment they gained Independence. Guyana’s
independence was delayed from 1957 to 1966, during which time the British
permitted limited self-government in the country. During those years, Cheddi Jagan was elected into power three times on the promise that he would increase the bauxite royalty to a reasonable level and nationalise Alcan’s subsidiary company. In return, the MI6 and CIA tried to destabilise the country and when the industry was finally nationalised in 1970, there was considerable pressure from the World Bank to compensate Alcan.[20]

In Jamaica, the US ambassador warned Michael Manley in 1972 that if
he made boosting the bauxite royalty and nationalising the industry an
election issue, it could result in him being overthrown. This was not an idle threat as the CIA supported Pinochet’s coup in Chile the next year, on behalf of Anaconda and Kennecott copper companies and Pepsicola. Manley, however, went ahead with his plans in 1974, and nationalised a 51 percent stake in his country’s bauxite mines. The same year, he formed the
International Bauxite Association of bauxite-producing countries (IBA), which for a while negotiated a higher price for bauxite with aluminium
companies, by making the price of the raw material — in this case bauxite — 7.5 percent of the price of the finished product, the aluminium ingots.
Compare this to the London Metal Exchange’s aluminium price, which is
0.4 percent of that of the ingot, also India’s bauxite royalty rate since 2004.[21]

One of the world’s biggest and worst dams was built on the Volta River in
Ghana to power a huge smelter run by Kaiser Aluminum, through the
subsidiary it set up, VALCO (Volta Aluminium Company). It displaced at
least 80,000 people, obliterated 740 villages and spread river blindness and schistosomiasis, making an estimated 70,000 people blind.22 The main
agreement between the company and Ghana’s first President Nkrumah was
manipulated to Kaiser’s advantage, with the World Bank acting as the
company’s accomplice. The CIA tried to destabilise the country between
1957 and 1966, when Nkrumah was overthrown, one month after the dam
and smelter were opened.

The creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), now a hot topic in India,
is not a new phenomenon either. There is a long history of multinational
companies making use of industrial enclaves in regions that are resource-rich but kept poor. The aluminium industry made its profits in Guyana, Jamaica, Ghana, Guinea and many other places only because of subsidised enclaves. These countries’ history of corporate exploitation show what lies in store for Orissa from upcoming aluminium plants. Vedanta’s and Hindalco’s smelters planned in north Orissa are located in SEZs. The SEZ Act (2005) offers outrageous subsidies in electricity, water and land prices comparable to the VALCO Master Agreement in Ghana, and negates India’s legislation that protects labour rights, land rights and the environment.[23]

A similar resource curse caused by the aluminium industry is evident in
parts of Australia and Brazil. In north Australia, the Alcan and Alcoa projects in Cape York and Arnhem Land displaced Aborigines while the Tucurui dam in Brazil resulted in the displacement of indigenous people.24 The same story unfolds in parts of central India affected by mining, a concern that was voiced by the then President of India KR Narayanan on the eve of Republic Day on January 25, 2001. Alluding to the Maikanch police killings that had happened five weeks before, he said, “The mining that is taking place in the forest areas is threatening the livelihood and survival of many tribes…. Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic has been built on the destruction of the green earth and the innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries….”

Fuelling War

One of the main, though hidden, forces driving aluminium production
is the arms industry. Bhagavan Majhi makes this connection when he asks
where Bapla Mali’s bauxite will go: “If they need it so badly, they need to tell us why they need it. How many missiles will our bauxite be used for? What bombs will you make? How many military aeroplanes? You must give us a complete account.”

The connection with war goes back to aluminium’s first royal patrons,
Napoleon III of France and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. Aluminium’s
explosive properties were discovered in 1901, when ammonal and thermite
were invented, and the metal has indeed changed the course of world history.

There is a connection between the reason why aluminium plants require
huge amounts of electricity and the metal’s use in arms. Smelters need the
power supply to split aluminium from its bonding with oxygen, in molecules
of aluminium oxide. Thermite reverses this process; a bomb is packed with
iron oxide and aluminium powder. When the fuse ignites, the aluminium
leaps to the high temperature of its “heat of formation” to re-bond with
oxygen, making the explosion huge. Thermite was first used in the ‘Mills
bomb’ hand grenades, 70,000 of which Britain produced in the First World War. These killed at least 70,000 soldiers and the inventor, Sir William Mills, was knighted after the war. During the First World War, aluminium companies realised that their fortunes were linked to the production of arms and ammunition. About 90 percent of Alcoa’s production was used for making arms and, as the Aluminum Corporation of America’s standard biography observes, “war was good to Alcoa”.[25]

In the 1930s, aluminium became the basis of aircraft design, and as
Germany, Britain and the US started producing thousands of war-planes,
aluminium companies made unprecedented profits. Aluminium still forms
80 percent of the unladen weight of a jumbo-jet and most other aircraft,
often through metal matrix composites, fused with plastics.26
During the Second World War, aluminium was used as a prime ingredient
in fire bombs, including napalm, which killed tens of thousands of civilians in air raids over Germany and Japan. In fact, the main ores for war metals are all found in Orissa — iron, chromite and manganese for steel, bauxite, and uranium. Hitler was apparently well aware of Orissa’s iron and bauxite deposits, one reason why Japanese bombs were dropped on Orissa’s ports.[27] One of the main purposes of America’s mega-dams was also to power aluminium smelters. “Electricity from the big Western dams helped to win the Second World War”, as it was used for making the aluminium that shaped arms and aircraft.[28]

After the war, profits from aluminium plummeted, until it was
spectacularly revived by the Korean War, the Vietnam War and a succession
of US-instigated wars. Aluminium lies “at the very core of the military-industry complex” set up by the then US President Dwight D Eisenhower during the Korean War. He left his office in 1961 with a warning: “We have been compelled to create a permanent arms industry of vast proportions.”[29]

The US started to stockpile the metal in 1950. As an American aluminium expert wrote in a pamphlet in 1951: “Aluminum has become the most
important single bulk material of modern warfare. No fighting is possible,
and no war can be carried to a successful conclusion today, without using
and destroying vast quantities of aluminum…. Aluminum is strategic in
defence. Aluminum makes fighter and transport planes possible. Aluminum
is needed in atomic weapons, both in their manufacture and in their delivery… Aluminum, and great quantities of it, spell the difference between victory and defeat….” [30]

Every US missile fired in Iraq or Afghanistan uses aluminium in a
combination of explosive mechanisms, shell casings and propellants. The
“daisy cutter” bombs used in “carpet bombing” exploit aluminium’s explosive potential, as do nuclear missiles, including the 30,000 nuclear warheads in the US. Between the two World Wars, there was widespread understanding that arms companies played a crucial role behind the scenes in promoting wars. The League of Nations declared in 1927 that “the manufacture by private enterprise of munitions and implements of war is open to grave objection”. But vested interests were too strong. At the League’s Conference on Disarmament at Geneva in 1927, an American lobbyist was paid 27,000 dollars to carry out six weeks’ propaganda for arms companies, which scuppered any agreement. The arms industry then, as now, was at the centre of the economies of the most powerful countries. As a British commentator noted after the complete failure of this conference, “War is not only terrible, but is a terribly profitable thing.”[31] Behind the arms companies stand the mining companies and metals traders. Every shell used in the US-led wars has to be replaced by new shells, made from newly mined minerals.

Manufacturing Consent

If one were to look at the question of sustainability, there is no doubt that the tribal communities that are being dislocated hold most of the answers. They take very little from nature and waste almost nothing. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Bhagavan Majhi and others wonder whether the planned mining projects represent development at all, considering they will last only about 30 years, at such high costs to the local people and the environment.

At conferences that promote aluminium, the view expressed is that India
is “backward” as its per capita aluminium consumption is low per year: less than one kilogramme per year, compared to the 15-30 kilos in ‘developed’ countries. Yet, if one looks at the high cost of manufacturing aluminium and the dire effect it has on climate change, India’s low consumption should be viewed as the more developed alternative. Besides, medical research widely agrees that tiny yet significant quantities of aluminium are constantly leaching into the human body from packaging and water supply. These deposits cannot be excreted and are collected in the brain, and it has even been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.[32]

Ironically, aluminium claims to be “green”, based on two points: one,
that it can be recycled, and two, it reduces the weight of cars, thereby cutting down the use of fuel. But these benefits are misleading and in fact do not count when environmental costs are considered.33 The social costs involved in running aluminium factories, and the amount of fuel these units require, actually mandate reduced extraction and consumption of the metal.

An important point to be noted is that tribal people, being less used to compartmentalising ideas, are able to immediately see the connection between Bapla Mali’s bauxite and the bombs and wars that “consume vast quantities of aluminium”. The questions that locals such as Bhagavan Majhi ask need to be given answers and there should be a Cost Benefit Analysis of aluminium projects. What are the environmental and social costs of NALCO’s existing Orissa projects? As each tonne of the metal produced takes up 1,378 tonnes of water, to what extent will it leave the land around Damanjodi barren? The answers to these questions represent the other side of the big profits that the company makes as it increases its aluminium exports.

This leads us to the most important question: who is actually controlling
the policy of industrialisation? Orissa is the most highly indebted state in India due to the various infrastructure projects in the state that the World Bank and other organisations have lent money for. These loans create
tremendous pressure on the government as repayment has to be made in
foreign exchange. Besides, the Bank’s conditions, such as those demanding
removal of all legislation that curtails corporate power, have to be met. As a result, SEZs are being created and for “improving the climate for foreign investment”, and the safeguards in Indian Law and the Constitution that protect land rights, labour rights and the environment are being dismantled.

Orissa’s main policies and financial decisions are now being decided from
London and Washington, in a hierarchy of power that is unknown to the
people who have been affected by the projects. A letter from the policy director of the British Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), to the person overseeing the Extractives Industries Review in 2003, shows how this power is exercised. The director warns in the letter that there is a “real risk” that the WB Board will reject the report [which indeed did happen], unless certain basic changes are made.34 The letter states, “The issue of Prior Informed Consent [note how the word ‘free’ is not used with consent] needs some clarification. It is not clear whether consent is a blanket requirement over the whole project…. To what extent is the Bank or Government prepared to veto a national development package on the basis of disagreement from an individual?” The last question fundamentally misrepresents the issue of tribal communities’ land rights by confusing it with the rights of an individual. Here is a representative of the British government expressing exasperation at the idea that tribal people in India or any other country should have a blanket veto on a mining project taking over their land — a mindset that is astonishing similar to the colonial attitudes the East India Company flaunted before India’s independence.

When the idea of Free Prior Informed Consent is discarded, it basically
validates the occurrences in Orissa, where ‘consent’ is manufactured in public hearings that are manipulated by heavy police presence and threats. It’s also the reason why villagers affected by hundreds of projects in Orissa and neighbouring states are forced to give their ‘consent’ and part with their land, though the non-alienability of tribal land is guaranteed by the 5th Schedule of India’s Constitution as the basic right of Adivasis.

The Environment Impact Assessments of projects are not taken seriously
either; they are inevitably delayed and the methodology used is questionable. Social Impact Assessments hardly exist, and when they do, they are conducted by officials who have no training. There is no recognition of the fact that the projects come at a tremendous cost to India’s cultural heritage.[35] What is Indian culture, and where is located? The traditions of Indian music, religion and craft are now so heavily marketed or politicised that their essence is often contrived and artificial, in sharp contrast to the unbroken traditions of village society. This was Indian culture as Mahatma Gandhi understood it. Cultivating the land and collecting plants from the forest lie at the heart of tribal culture, and when villages are displaced, this is also a tradition that is lost. Yet, compounding the cultural genocide, there has been a constant process of censoring and sidelining Advasi voices and denying the existence of their knowledge, as Bhagavan Majhi and others point out.36 He says, “We want permanent development. Provide us with irrigation for our lands. Give us hospitals. Give us medicines. Give us schools and teachers. Provide us with land and forest. We don’t need the company. Dislodge the company. We have been repeatedly saying this for the past 13 years. But the government is just not listening to us.”

India is already a highly developed country, and was before European
companies ever reached it. Protection of people’s basic rights and protection of the environment for future generations are the hallmarks of a developed society. Yet, the laws ensuring this protection, which developed in a long and painful process in the 60 years after independence, are being dismantled because of pressure from abroad. The industries that are being imposed on the local population are not sustainable and their activities certainly do not ensure development in any real sense of the word.


1. Fernandes 2006 pp 110-111

2. The Telegraph, December 7, 2004: ‘Opposition Takes Naveen Case to Governor’

3. Fox 1932: Bauxite and Aluminous Laterite, p 136 (previous editions: Bauxite and
Aluminous Occurrences of India, Calcutta: GSI Memoirs 1923, and Bauxite 1927)

4. Fox 1932 p 135

5. The story of Mangta’s death has been neglected in writings about the Kashipur
movement. We have heard first-hand accounts of it from his son and the Kendukhunti men
as well as other witnesses

6. The three tribes living around Bapla Mali are Kond, Jhoria and Pengo. The plan is to
mine approximately six million tonnes of bauxite a year, similar to what NALCO is doing
on Panchpat Mali

7. SP is the Superintendent of Police. This quotation, and others from Bhagavan Majhi
given later in the paper, is from the documentary film Wira Pdika: Matiro Puko, Company
Loko by Amarendra and Samarendra Das, which gives Orissa’s Adivasis’ response to mining
in their own voices, without any commentary

8. Kalam & Rajan 1998: India 2020: A Vision for the New Millenium. Penguin

9. Human Rights Forum December 2006: ‘Death, displacement and deprivation. The war
in Dantewara: a report’. Hyderabad

10. Fernandes 2006, Mathur 2006

11. Fernandes 2006 p109

12. Fauset 2006

13. Ritthoff et al 2002 p 49. It’s estimated that when a tonne of aluminium is produced,
5.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted if the smelter is hydro-powered from a dam; the
emissions reach up to 20.6 tonnes if it’s powered by a captive coal-fired power station
(Richard Cowen: Geology, History and People, chapter 14, Cartels and the Aluminium
Industry, www.geology. Most
of India’s smelters apparently use a combination of electricity from dams and from their
own captive coal-fired power stations, which they build to ensure a constant supply of electricity as well as to keep prices low. These statistics are from the International
Aluminium Institute’s website (, plus the IAI’s ‘The Aluminium
Industry’s sustainability report’ [no date], IAI’s Aluminium Applications and Society:
Automotive, Paper 1, May 2000

14. Nicholas Stern, 2006. A previous report by the Department of Environment of the UK
government estimated 56-223 dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide (Andrew Simms in Ann
Pettifor ed, Real World Environmental Outlook, London: Pallgrave 2003 p 66)

15. Goldberg 2007, Monbiot 2006, Simms 2005, J Roberts & D McLean 1976 pp 86-9

16. BICP Dec 1988, Energy Audit of Aluminium Industry

17. Haberl et al 2006

18. Ross 1999, 2001

19. Rowell et al, 2005

20. Graham pp 20-23 & 93-101; Cheddi Jagan 1975: The West on Trial: The Fight for
Guyana’s Freedom; Marcus Colchester 1997: Guyana: Fragile Frontier (London: Latin
American Bureau with the World Rainforest Movement); Mark Curtis 2003 Ch 17

21. Girvan 1971: Foreign Capital and Economic Underdevelopment in Jamaica; Graham p
259 ff; Blum 2003 p 263; Holloway 1988 p 73

22. McCully 1996 pp 265-6, Caufield 1996 pp 1979-83, Gitlitz 1993 Ch 4 on Ghana’s
Volta dam

23. Graham 1982 pp 21-22, 117-188. The complex twists and turns of these negotiations
for Ghana’s dam and smelter forms a large part of Graham’s book

24. J Roberts et al 1976, Gitlitz 1993

25. Graham p 20

26. Statistics from the International Aluminium Institute, London

27. Hitler’s interest in Orissa’s bauxite/aluminium and iron ore is outlined in an article in
Oriya in Samaj, May 3, 2005 by Ajit Mahapatra who met one of Hitler’s key metal experts,
and the widow of another

28. Graham p 23

29. Graham p 79, Eisenhower quoted in Anthony Sampson 1977 p 103

30. Dewey Anderson 1951, Aluminum for Defence and Prosperity, Washington, US Public
Affairs Institute, pp 3-5

31. Quotations from Sampson 1977, passim

32. Exley 2001

33. Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that when the emissions from aluminium production are taken into account, aluminium-intensive cars
would only start emitting less than steel cars after being used for 15 years (Mathias 2003)

34. Sharon White to Professor Emil Salim, October 20, 2003

35. Mathur 2006 pp 46-48

36. Padel 1998, and testimony from several people interviewed in Wira Pdika: Matiro Puko,
Company Loko


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