Oct 08 2007

Behind the Shining: Aluminum’s Dark Side

VI. Human rights


Aluminum industrialization and repression in India’s state of Orissa

(footnote: This updates part of a chapter in an Institute of Policy Studies

1998 report, “The World Bank’s Juggernaut: The Coal-Fired Industrial

Colonization of India’s State of Orissa.)

The Indian state of Orissa’s vast bauxite reserves are among the world’s

largest. More bauxite is mined here than in all but seven countries. The

state holds about 10 percent of global bauxite reserves. Coal and hydro

power provide cheap sources for existing and proposed smelters. Labor is

also inexpensive; thus, foreign corporations have rushed to proliferate

bauxite mining, alumina refining, and aluminum smelting in India.

(“Canadian ambition for Indian bauxite,” Mining Journal, March 12, 1999)

In the name of the “upliftment of backwards tribes” — or perhaps just

corporate profits — Orissa has entered the list of transnational

corporations’ favorite sources of bauxite and alumina. In short time, the

aluminum industry’s blasting, refining, smelting, and coal-fired power

operations already have created a legacy of forced removals of people from

their villages, ruined temples, destroyed forests, poisoned rivers, brittle

bones, and dirty air.

Orissa’s early experiences with this industry have compelled many people to

campaign for a halt to bauxite mining and smelting. Protests have

surrounded the NALCO aluminum smelter in Angul, the Utkal bauxite/alumina

project, and several other new or planned bauxite mines and alumina


Corporate investors and the state and national governments have ignored or

squashed the dissident voices. As Ranjit Dev Raj of Inter Press Service

reported in 1999, “Mining transnationals have found an easy way to grab

bauxite-laden land from ‘adivasis’ (aboriginals) in the mineral-rich state

of Orissa, eastern India – get them arrested on trumped up criminal

charges.” (Ranjit Dev Raj, “Bauxite TNCs Grab Tribal Land With Impunity,”

Inter Press Service, June 2, 1999)

Orissa’s cheap labor, energy, and land have provided companies like Alcan,

Pechiney, Alcoa, and Alusuisse with the potential to build the lowest-cost

bauxite mining and alumina refining operations in the world. This

export-oriented industry is heavily subsidized by the Indian government,

which is eager to move big industries into regions it has labeled as

“backward areas.” India offers 100% export-oriented industries exemption

from paying income taxes. It also drops import tariffs for equipment used

in these plants.

Companies utilizing these loopholes defend them as a means to uplift the

poor. In 1993, for example, Alutec of the U.S. defended a proposed bauxite

mine and alumina refinery venture in a 1993 study. “The state of Orissa and

the Indian Government have a commitment to develop the backward districts

of Kalahandi and the adjoining regions. A project of this type will lead to

infrastructure development, creation of modern townships, schools, medical

facilities and direct employment to approximately 1,000 persons.” (Alutec

Inc., “RPGE Alumina Refinery Project, State of Orissa: Desk Study for

United States Trade and Development Agency,” September 1993.)

But these same plants are tearing at the social fabric of life in many

parts of Orissa, according to the growing number of people campaigning

against them. Opponents of the new mines, refineries and smelters are

trying to protect their history and their communities in order to secure

their future. They argue that while the industry is there, riches may flow

to some people in the region, but when the bauxite deposits are gone, the

modern townships, schools and hospitals will almost certainly disappear

with them. Only a legacy of environmental and social destruction will


According to Inter Press Service, “Far from protecting the ‘adivasis’ and

their land, as it is constitutionally and legally bound to do, the Orissa

state government has openly pitched in on behalf of the TNCs which see no

need to negotiate with the ‘adivasis’.” (IPS, June 2, 1999)

”So far we have only received threats from policemen, district officials

and goons hired by the companies,” Bidu Lata Huika, convenor of the

Orissa Adivasi Manch (Orissa Aboriginals Forum) said in 1999. “‘These

companies hire goons to demolish our homes and attack us and then file

criminal cases on the basis of which the police arrest us. In any case we

are not interested in the compensation offered by the bauxite companies –

we want to continue as farmers on this land which has sustained us for

centuries.” (ibid)

One bauxite mining/alumina refining scheme, Utkal Alumina, has drawn

increasing fire from indigenous people and others in Orissa’s Raigada

district. Hydro of Norway and Alcan of Canada hold 45 and 35 percent

shares in the project, respectively. Indian Aluminium Co. holds the

balance. Alcan owned a 55% stake in Indal at the end of 1999. The companies

plan to complete financing by the end of 2001 and start producing one

million tons per year of alumina by 2005. (Plunkert, 2000; Alcan 10-K,

FY1999) ]

The Utkal consortium asserted in 1995 that it is “totally committed towards

the socio-economic upliftment of a backward tribal area.” Utkal opponents

claim that 3,500 people will lose their land. Hydro of Norway said that 500

to 700 people would have to move from 2,400 acres of land. (“Hydro of

Norway has problems with alumina plant,” Dagens Naeringsliv, March 28,


Local peoples’ efforts to halt the Utkal project date almost to its

inception in 1991. Their protests have intensified in recent years. In

August 1997, according to Norwegian NGO NorWatch, Kucheipadar villagers

“smashed a prototype house that Utkal had erected in the neighborhood to

show the people who will be forced to relocate what kind of houses they

would be offered.” All of the villagers’ cultivated land would be wiped out

by the Utkal development. (Morten Rønning, “The fight against Utkal is

coming to a head,” NorWatch newsletter, No. 4, Feb. 1998)

NorWatch interviewed some of the people who were in the blockade. Lochma

Mahji, a 42 year old woman, told the NGO that after four days of blocking

the road, many of the villagers “went back to work on our fields, and the

village was almost empty. At four a.m. on January 5, the few of us who were

left in the village were told that a truck and four jeeps were on their

way, and that the police were removing the roadblock. I immediately went

there, and stood in front of it. Representatives of the local authorities

and the police were there. We asked, ‘Why are you removing the roadblock?

If you remove it, we’ll lose our land and our homes. The authority you have

doesn’t come from the womb of our motherland. You have your authority from

us, and you’re obliged to help us.'”

The police responded with violence, she said. “The police grabbed the other

women present by their hands and threw them down on the ground. I objected,

saying that one cannot take a woman’s hand unless one is married to her.

The police used the butts of their rifles to push me back. I said, ‘Are you

going to shoot me – are you going to kill me? I’m not scared. I stand for

what I fight for, and I’m willing to die for that.’ The police gathered

around me and hit me three times on my legs with sticks. I collapsed and

fainted. At the same time the police attacked the others, and threw

tear-gas grenades. Seven police officers came over to me, tried to lift me

up, and said they wanted to help me get home…

They stabbed me with iron pipes to get me up. A police officer pulled at my

leg. I tried to stand up, and felt an excruciating pain in my legs when I

stretched them out. I kicked the police officer who held my leg in his

face. When I managed to get up, two police officers grabbed my hair and

pulled me over to the roadblock. I was dragged there practically on my


Mahji said 17 women, 6 children and 7 or 8 men were injured in the police

action. Afterwards, the villagers sent a notice to the chief of police.

“He immediately tore it apart, and said that if we stirred up more trouble,

they would kill us,” she said.

A boy told NorWatch that at the blockade, “I was beaten by the police once.

I asked why they hit me, but they didn’t answer. The roadblock is there

only to control representatives of the authorities and the company. It’s

our land; that’s why we put it up. We cut trees, carry rocks and stand

guard at the roadblock.” (Rønning)

Krushna Saunta, an aboriginal landowner and social worker, said in 1999

that, ”I was held in jail for a week along with five others, beaten, and

then released on bail. Everybody in my village of Kucheipadar have been

arrested at one time or another.” Saunta’s Organization for Protection of

Nature’s Wealth (Sampada Sangrakshan Parishad or PSSP) conducted a poll of

local villagers in November 1998. He said 96 percent people in the district

opposed the projects. (IPS, June 2, 1999)

A five-person team of members of the Council for Social Development visited

the region in 1999. ”We were told by officials at the highest level in

Bhubaneshwar, Orissa’s capital that the government would not countenance

any opposition to Raigada’s industrialization,” said team member, D.

Bandhyopadhyay. According to IPS, the team members were told that the

government was determined to ‘teach a lesson’ to NGOs which they accused of

inciting and organizing tribals against land acquisition for the ‘public

good.'” (IPS, June 2, 1999)

Four NGOs in the area have been threatened with bans against receiving

government funds. A member of one of those NGOs, Vidhya Das of Agragamee,

said “This is just colonialism in another garb but the people here are not

going to give up so easily – they have learnt from the mistakes of their

brethren. Mines and factories have reduced self-reliant, self respecting

aboriginal families to live like refugees in ill- planned rehabilitation

colonies – but most of them are still homeless.” (IPS, June 2, 1999)

In June 1998, Agragamee and people from Kucheipadar set up another road

block. According to NorWatch, around 3 a.m. on June 16, 1998, “armed police

raided one of Agragamee’s local offices, and an hour later they raided the

organization’s main office. The operation has been described as very rough,

and some of the employees were beaten. Eight staff members were arrested,

and five of them were imprisoned for several days before they were released

on bail. The charges, which Agragamee strongly rejects, were use of

violence, rebellious behavior, and suspicion of incitement to riot against

the mining companies.” (Tarjei Leer-Salvesen, “Armed police clears the way

for Utkal, NorWatch newsletter No. 14, July 1998)

The troubled Utkal project has drawn the attention of many in Norway, home

to the consortium’s lead corporation, Norsk Hydro. In January 2000,

Minister of Foreign Affairs Knut Vollebæk met with Norsk Hydro and three

NGO representatives in Delhi to discuss the project. According to Norwegian

NGO NorWatch, during the meeting Norsk Hydro “allegedly admitted that the

dialogue with the affected local population is not as good as it should be,

and then claimed that the local population supports them. When they were

confronted with the fact that the company is taking some of the local

population to court, one of the company’s representatives replied that

Norsk Hydro does not deal with violent groups.” (Tarjei Leer-Salvesen,

“Utkal Alumina discussed at top political level,” NorWatch newsletter, No.

2, 2000)

Conflict over the Utkal project continued in 2000. On February 13, more

than 5,000 people organized by the PSSP demonstrated outside the

consortium’s office in Tikiri. They demanded the end of the project,

Utkal’s aid program, and police harassment. The demonstrators also demanded

the return of land acquired by Utkal to rightful owners. (NorWatch

newsletter, No. 2, 2000)

In April, according to the Norwegian paper, Dagens Naeringsliv, “Two

thousand demonstrators armed with bamboo canes and bows and arrows

destroyed two wooden bridges and trampled down 50,000 cuttings that were

part of a forest planting project. The next day armed police made arrests.

On April 22, protesters built a barricade to stop contract workers from

traveling to the site of the proposed bauxite mine.” (“More conflict over

Norsk Hydro’s Utkal project,” Dagens Naeringsliv, as reported by Chemical

Business Newsbase, June 19, 2000)

The struggle took an even more violent turn in December.

On Dec. 7, Hydro issued a press release asserting that “most of the

inhabitants in Utkal are in favor of the bauxite and alumina project.

Having adopted an attitude of wait-and-see for several years, the political

parties in the area have now gathered support for the project. It quoted

K.C. Mohapatra, leader of the All Parties Committee, as saying “We welcome

the project and are united in our support.” (www.hydro.com)

This propaganda washed away in a bloodbath nine days later. On Dec. 16,

police shot and killed three local villagers in the town of Kaikanch, where

people have refused to move out for Utkal. Political leaders of the CPI

[ck] demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident. According to The Hindu,

politicians “said the killings of the tribals was a pre-planned one to

terrorize them to give into their demands and vacate their village for

enabling them to set up the project.”

Hydro issued a press release two days later. “Three people were killed on

Dec. 16 when police opened fire on an aggressive crowd in the village of

Maikanch… Hydro profoundly regrets the incident, emphasizes Hydro

Aluminum information manager Thomas Knutzen.” Knutsen said, “No

representatives from Hydro or Utkal Alumina were in the vicinity when the

incident occurred. Therefore we don’t know any details.”

Biswanath Sahoo, a party representative who visited the village after the

killings, said two platoons of police entered the village and brutally

attacked a woman. He said that men who heard the woman’s cry were fired at

as they neared. Police shot and killed three of the men. They also shot

four cattle grazing nearby. (“Probe into Rayagada incident sought,” The

Hindu, Dec. 22, 2000)

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