The NFFPFW (National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers) welcomes Indian government's decision to deny forest clearance to the Vedanta mining project at Niyamgiri. Though much delayed (after the MoEF consistently ignoring for years tomes of reports and evidences of barefaced violations of laws by Vedanta and the Orissa government), this decision is a just move, and perhaps for the first time in the history of the country the government has said ‘no’ to a large and powerful corporation on social and environmental grounds.
The Niyamgiri mining denial is the result of a sustained and hard-fought struggle by the Dongria Kondhs, the Kutia Kondhs, and the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, supported by many other people and groups in India and abroad. This is indeed a victory for the people’s movements on the ground and will inspire other struggles throughout the country.
Nonetheless, it is premature to assume that the machinations of Vedanta Group will stop with the denial of mining in Niyamgiri. Vedanta’s illegal alumina refinery at Lanjigarh is still operative and, given the scores of violations it has evidently committed over the years, a decision to shut it down immediately must be taken and punitive measures be considered against the company and their cronies in the state government. There is a need to be vigilant against further possible transgressions by the company. Moreover, it would rather be brazen mockery of the recent government decision itself and a travesty of justice and democratic norms, if Vedanta is given some alternative sites to extract bauxite to feed the refinery, as the company has already started mobilizing on the corridors of power for the same.
It is also important to keep in mind that one denial and one piece of justice will not undo years of governmental kowtowing to corporate greed and innumerable narratives of injustice and illegalities unfolding everywhere in India. From Arunachal Pradesh to Jammu and Kashmir to Himachal Pradesh, and from Orissa to Maharashtra and Goa, forest communities, farmers, and fish-workers are still locked in grim battles against the corporate—State nexus in order to defend their social, economic, cultural, and ecological existence—in essence, their identity. All these people demand justice—which means saying an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of resource-grab by large or small corporations in nexus with politicians and sundry contractors. In the name of ‘development’, no more forests and lands must be taken away from people—meaning, no more violation of their legal and constitutional rights at will.
In the wake of the government decision to scrap Vedanta’s mining project on Niyamgiri, the issue of Forest Rights Act 2006 – and thereby the issue of respecting the legitimate rights of forest communities – has now assumed centre stage in public discourses on such ‘development’ projects. Keeping the democratic spirit of this particular ‘decision’, the government should hereafter stop considering corporate interests blindly on priority and place the ‘rights of the people’ above anything else.
The Vedanta case is just a symptom of a much larger menace. And, therefore, one Niyamgiri will not suffice. We join all the people’s movements of the country in demanding that all illegal clearances given to mining, dam, and similar development projects are revoked and, more importantly, no new forest clearance is given to manifestly anti-people and illegal projects, like POSCO in Jagatsingpur and TATA in Kalinganagar in Orissa. At the same time, the government must stop its military offensive in the forest areas ostensibly in aid of profit-hungry corporations.
It is time that the government of this country starts respecting the country's Constitution and its own laws. We hope that the decision on Niyamgiri marks the beginning for a democratic process where the government brings all its Constitutional obligations to the fore whenever it takes a decision hereafter.
— National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW)
25 August 2010