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Uncovering the sordid history of mining projects

Monday, November 15, 2010

 Out of this Earth (East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel) by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das is a wake up call, warning against the unchecked, rampant and inhuman exploitation of the land and the people of Odisha (better known as Orissa), and adjoining regions. 

Though it is one of India’s poorest states, Odisha is extremely rich in mineral resources, and its mountains, along with those in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, are capped with massive deposits of bauxite, from which nearly all aluminium is made. Aluminium is a major constituent of rocks and the commonest mineral in the earth’s crust. It alloys easily with other metals and that has been its undoing. It is today a key component of lightweight aircraft and racing cars. Even Tetra Pak combines aluminium with oil/plastic derivatives for cartons and packaging. Car manufacturers increase the aluminium percentage in vehicles to claim that aluminium is greener than steel, since lighter cars are more fuel efficient.
The world over, development involving mining and construction, has always come at a price – adversely affecting the environment, ravaging landscapes, displacing original inhabitants, and generally spreading misery rather than the promised prosperity. In Odisha, development has actually muscled itself in, and those who have stood up for their rights have faced all manner of ill-treatment, from arrest to murder.
A painstakingly undertaken research by Padel and Das, this voluminous book is a damning indictment of the nation as a whole, for its sins of commission and almost criminal omission. Major manufacturers like Nalco, Utkal, Hindalco, Balco, Indal, Vedanta are all mentioned here for their massive plants that have encroached upon mountain ranges, forests, tribal lands, river systems, increasing the poverty and destitution in a state that has failed to look after its own.
The then President of India, K.R. Narayanan, said in his Republic Day speech on January 25, 2001, alluding to the Maikanch police killings just five weeks earlier:
The mining that is taking place in the forest areas is threatening the livelihood and survival of many tribes…Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic has been built on the destruction of the green earth and the innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries.
Out of this Earth
by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das
Orient BlackSwan
Price: Rs.495



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