The east Indian state of Odisha is the largest producer of bauxite in India, accounting for 59% of India’s total bauxite deposits (a). After the economic liberalization of India in 1991, major thrust was given for the ‘development’ of the ‘backward states’ which consisted of large forest covers with high concentration of minerals underneath, and high tribal population inhabiting those forests. In this context, in March 1993, the new National Mineral Policy was announced opening the mining sector to private investments.
In the same year, the Utkal Aluminium Industrial Limited (UAIL) was formed as a consortium, originally as a joint venture between ALCAN, Canada; Hindalco of Birla Group, India; Tata, India and Norsk Hydro, Norway with the motive to mine bauxite from the Baphlimali Hills of Kashipur Block in Rayagada district and construct an alumina refinery, also in Rayagada to refine it for export. The open-cast mine was scheduled to produce 195 million tonnes a year and the refinery was meant to have a capacity of 1 MTPA. The project, however, was resisted since its very inception by the local indigenous people residing in the area, which although led to massive delays in the operationalization, was unfortunately unable to stop the project in the end. Commonly known as the Kashipur anti-bauxite movement, it has a long and violent story, and is one of the historic environmental justice movements of Odisha. Kashipur Block, in the Rayagada district consists of 412 revenue villages and 109 hamlets divided into twenty Gram Panchayats (GPs) with a total area of 1,505.90 sq. km and a population of 1, 21,044 (as per the 2001 census), out of which 61% belong to Scheduled Tribes and 20% to Scheduled Castes (Naik, 2012) (b).
The reason why the people resisted the project right from the beginning is because they were aware of the false promises of employment, basic amenities and infrastructure and development which NALCO had made in the early 1980s in the neighbouring regions for the creation of the biggest bauxite mine and refinery of the country. Opposition to the Kashipur bauxite mine was spearheaded by the Prakrutik Sampad Surakshya Parishad (PSSP) movement and several Adivasi-Dalit movement organizations in South Orissa in addition to various national and transnational solidarity groups including ALCAN’t of Montreal (Kapoor, 2006). PSSP has more than 1000 members, many of them tribal, many of them women.
These non-violent forms of protest have systematically been met with violent repercussions from the state- be it the police force, or the goons employed by the mining companies. One of the most memorable one is the police firing on 16 December 2000, upon adivasis in Maikanch village of Kashipur block, killing three protestors, permanently disabling 6 and seriously injuring 30. The people had put up a barricade on the road at Maikanch as part of their resistance against the alumina project. The day before the massacre, this barricade had prevented a delegation of political leaders from fraudulently representing the people in a ‘multi-stakeholder dialogue’ organized by the company at Nuagaon village. UAIL and CARE International (a corporate-funded NGO) had formed this “All Party Committee” by handpicking representatives of various pro-project electioneering parties. The people forced these pro-project leaders to return to Rayagada, the district headquarters (c). The people alleged that the firing was a consequence of this action.
The firing resulted in mass uproar against the project, with the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) sending an "Urgent Action Alert" to human rights organisations the world over urging them "to write to all the concerned authorities in Orissa to take necessary steps to protect the lives of activists as well as Adivasis involved in the struggle to safeguard their lives and dignity." (f) Despite this, the violence continued, and project although at halt wasn’t abandoned. Four years later, in December 2004, The Rayagada District Collector P.K. Mehrda and the district Superintendent of Police Sanjaya Kumar led the police in a brutal attack on a people’s demonstration at village D-Karol, near the proposed alumina plant of Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL) at Doraguda. Rape threats, filthy abuses, tear gas shells and an aggressive lathicharge targeted more than 300 adivasis and dalits who were protesting against the forcible setting up of a police station and barracks for armed police at D-Karol. At least 16 persons, mainly women, were seriously injured in the unprovoked attack ordered by the government (c ). There have been numerous such incidents over the years, where CRPF and other paramilitary forces along with local goons raided villages and attacked without provocation (d).
In October 2006, an eight member multidisciplinary panel of the Indian People's Tribunal headed by Justice S.N.Bhargava (Retd.) enquired into alleged human rights and environment violations by UAIL. The Panel members visited Kucheaipadar which is the center of the resistance against this bauxite mining company and has inter-alia faced the ire of state repression. Taking into account the testimonies of the local tribals who would be affected by the project along with the testimonies of experts and the responses furnished by various ministries to letters sent under the Right to Information Act, the panel recommended that the Government of Orissa should abandon the UAIL project with immediate effect. The Panel investigated specifically in to opposition by the local people, the overwhelming majority of whom are Scheduled tribes and found that their voices are being met by repressive measures in the form of large scale arrests, disruption of public meetings by force, violent beatings to disperse gatherings, official encouragement to the employment of private goons by UAIL, midnight raids by the police, unmitigated violence on women and children etc. The Panel was convinced that the bauxite-mining project proposed by UAIL would have adverse environmental and health effects: water sources and agricultural land will be contaminated by toxic wastes, grasslands and forest land will be destroyed, and pollution including the release of cancerous gases that will create a health hazard for those living in proximity of the alumina refinery. The panel also concluded that there would be no economic benefits arising from the project for the local Adivasi communities, despite the Government of Orissa and UAIL's claims that the project will lead to development and provide jobs. On the contrary, the project will threaten local adivasi communities by radically altering their livelihood options, agrarian lifestyles, cultures, and identities (e ). After the firing at Maikanch on December 16, 2000, the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro ASA, immediately withdrew from the Utkal project (on December 17, 2000) citing its assessment of the future market for alumina and the lack of progress on the construction of the refinery as the reason, which was soon followed by TATA (g). Norsk Hydro was a 45% shareholder in UAIL, with Alcan holding 35%, and Hindustan Aluminium Co. Ltd. (Hindalco), the remaining 20%. (h) After the withdrawals, Hindalco and Alcan held 55% and 45% respectively of the UAIL shares, which Alcan finally sold off in 2007 due to many mobilizations and shareholder activism in Canada. Currently, UAIL it is a 100 percent subsidiary of Hindalco.
Since there were multiple conflicts and movements in Odisha, this movement was strengthened by the interactions between different struggles. People of the Baliapal (anit-nuclear) and Chilika (anti-shrimp aquaculture) movements came to Kashipur and explained how they fought and won their rights. When the people of Kashipur heard about the success of the protest against BALCO and the leaders of Gandhamardan Surakhya Samiti came and explained the methods of protest against the BALCO, they were more motivated to keep the struggle alive (Naik, 2012). Many international and national solidarity groups were also instrumental in keeping the spirit of the movement alive, be it the ALCAN’t of Montreal or the Adivasi-Dalit Ekta Abhiyan (ADEA). Although the protest was successful in delaying the project for close to 15 years, the work on the project was finally taken up in 2008. By December 2012, when 90 % of the construction was completed, and the UAIL was optimistic that its trail production could start from April 1, 2013, with the pre-commissioning trail in February, the tribals still hadn’t given up. They gathered on the anniversary of the Maikanch killing to protest. (i) The refinery finally started trail production in June 2013. This was amidst opposition by the people of around 20 villages near the plant for the utilization of water from river Gada. The local tribals claimed that at least 200 villages in the downstream of the river would face water scarcity for irrigation and other purpose, if the plant draws excess water from the river. They submitted a memorandum to Rayagada collector, Sashi Bhusan Padhi for the intervention of district administration, which the company officials refuted. (j).
The company had projected output of 1.5 million tonnes for the fiscal year 2016-17, which it mainly exports to West Asian countries. The refinery is currently running at its full design capacity and has cemented its position as one of the lowest cost refineries of the world (k). "Utkal today is a world class asset and our captive alumina bagged by captive bauxite is proving to be a great strength. We believe that operational improvements ensure that better performance will be sustained in the coming quarters", Satish Pai, managing director, Hindalco Industries said during a conference in February, 2017. They have plans of investing another Rs. 500-700 crores in the next 18 months (l).
UAIL has no plans of stopping the project despite the many reports of human and environmental violations. A fact-finding team visiting the area in December 2014, submitted a report in March 2015 stating that environmental and mining laws were being flaunted by UAIL. The letter to the Odisha Station Pollution Control Board said that "On the request of local people we visited the area on December 23, 2014 and found that Utkal Alumina has not implemented the environmental guidelines as laid out by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). Compliance status report submitted by UAIL contradict the actual physical condition of the mining area". (m).
In September 2016, a petition was filed in the National Green Tribunal alleging that the company was granted mining lease and operation of refinery over 1,338 hectare out of which 233 hectare fell within forest area for which no environment clearance had been obtained. Mining has been going on since 2013 without any forest clearance. (n)