India's mining boom threatens tribal people

Government measures to protect the Adivasi are falling short with many threatened by multinational mining deals


    In Chhattisghar State, village communities who live off the land are threatened by the lucrative mining industry, and an ambitious government.

    We spoke to Raman Singh, the state's chief minister. It was clear that he had a vision, but in order to realise his goal of making Chhattisghar one of India's most developed and economically advanced states, sacrifices will have to be made.

    They come in the form of the environment, the forests and the people that survive off them.

    Of the top 50 mineral-producing districts in the country, almost half are inhabited by tribal people. The average forest cover in these districts is far higher than the national rate not a good combination.

    Chhattisghar is zooming ahead with developing infrastructure, building business hubs, hotels, and a brand new billion dollar capital - Naya Raipur.

    But those left behind are covered in the dust of the mining corporations that are funding the endeavour.

    Protecting the Adivasi

    It is not India's intention to wipe out what it calls the Adivasi, the original people of the land.

    There are certain government guidelines to look out for their interests.

    Firstly, it is illegal to transfer primitive tribal land without the consent of its inhabitants.

    But as the agricultural communities earn less than a dollar a day, and do not understand the value of their land, they are given a pittance.

    They are also promised that the land will be returned to them.

    The government leases the land for large sums to multi billion dollar corporations, and tells them they have to give it back in 30 years, in good condition - a stipulation that is unclear.

    Secondly, the state government has demands that corporations develop the area, provide jobs and have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm.

    In one of the most violent areas of the state Dantewada, CSR money is building an impressive school and vocational training facilities for the community. But where millions of dollars of other CSR money ends up in most cases, is anyone's guess.

    As for developing the area, there are reports of empty shells of schools with no teachers and students, hospital buildings with no doctors and equipment, and roads that lead to nowhere.

    "Rich land, poor people"

    According to Human Rights Watch, regulatory institutions are overstretched with a few dozen central government officials to oversee the environment and human rights impact of every mine in India - and other industries.

    This means that the government relies almost exclusively on information provided by mine operators themselves.  

    When Chhattisgarh was created in 2000, carved out of Madhya Pradesh, the first chief minister described it as "rich land, poor people". 

    In the 13 years since its creation, the poor have become poorer as more riches are unearthed from the ground.

    This state is full of minerals - 19 percent of India's iron ore, 11 percent of the coal, bauxite, limestone comes from here, and the list goes on.

    But India is losing a precious commodity - the people that live to preserve the forests and the environment. There are few left in the world. 

    Most of the minerals, iron and steel leave the country to satisfy international demand.

    International companies are tying up with Indian multinationals so they get the best deals and access, since their own countries have stringent environmental laws - which raises the question of blame. 

    Is it fair to blame just India, when the rest of the world should be responsible too?




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