Air and water pollution from mining in Orissa in eastern India is endangering tribals as never before. But neither the federal nor the state government have bothered to do anything to alleviate the people's miseries, says a new report by the Amnesty International.
The international human rights organization has focussed on about the potential impact of a proposed alumina refinery expansion and mining project to be operated by subsidiaries of UK-based company Vedanta Resources in Orissa.
The report is particularly critical of the Indian authorities for failing to give local communities necessary information on the venture.
The Amnesty International report, Don't Mine Us out of Existence: Bauxite Mine and Refinery Devastate Lives in India
documents how an alumina refinery operated by a subsidiary of UK-based FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources in Orissa, is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people and their access to water.
"People are living in the shadow of a massive refinery, breathing polluted air and afraid to drink from and bathe in a river that is one of the main sources of water in the region," said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International's researcher on South Asia. "It is shocking how those who are most affected by the project have been provided with the least information."
Adivasi (Indigenous), Dalit, women and other marginalised communities in the remote part of Orissa where the refinery is located have described to Amnesty International how authorities told them that the refinery would transform the area into a Mumbai or Dubai.
The Orissa State Pollution Control Board has documented air and water pollution from Vedanta Aluminium's refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa. Amnesty International found that the pollution threatens the health of local people and their access to clean water yet there has been no health monitoring.
"We used to bathe in the river but now I am scared of taking my children there. Both my sons have had rashes and blisters," a local woman told Amnesty International. The organization recorded many similar accounts from people living around the refinery.
Despite these concerns and the environmentally sensitive location of the refinery near a river and villages, the government is considering a proposal for a six-fold expansion of the refinery. Neither the Indian authorities nor Vedanta have shared information on the extent of pollution and its possible effects with local communities.
The Orissa Mining Corporation and another Vedanta Resources subsidiary also plan to mine bauxite in the nearby Niyamgiri Hills. The proposed mine threatens the very existence of the Dongria Kondh, an 8,000 strong protected indigenous community that has lived on the Niyamgiri hills for centuries. The hills are considered sacred by the Dongria Kondh and are essential for their economic, physical and cultural survival, yet no process to seek the community's informed consent has been established.
A Dongria Kondh man told Amnesty International, "We have seen what happens to other Adivasis when they are forced to leave their traditional lands, they lose everything."
"The people of Orissa are among the poorest in India and their health is being threatened by pollution from the refinery. Their voices are being ignored by Vedanta Resources and its partner companies as well as by Orissa's government. There has been inadequate consultation with local people about the changes on the ground and yet it's their lives and futures which hang in the balance," said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan.
International is calling on the Government of India and Vedanta Resources to ensure that there is no expansion of the refinery and mining does not go ahead until existing problems are resolved. Amnesty International is also calling for full consultation with local people and for the Indian authorities to set up a process to seek the free, prior and informed consent of the Dongria Kondh.