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Silence and fire ire on industry

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 1: When the country celebrates Dussehra, Kalahandi in Orissa will witness a concerted protest against a big-ticket industrial project that villagers and environmentalists fear would do more harm than good.

Thousands of tribals would take to the streets tomorrow to demonstrate against Vedanta Alumina’s proposed 1-million-tonne alumina refinery in the Lanjigarh area of the district and bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri hills.

“People want their environment to be protected at any cost. Vedanta should relocate its plant elsewhere,” said Kumuti Majhi, head of the Niyamgiri Surakshya Parishad.

The protest, organised by environment forum Green Kalhandi, will feature burning of effigies and a public “show of solidarity”.

“In the first two minutes, we will stall all movement and observe silence, while in the next three minutes we will chant inquilab zindabad (long live the revolution) and videshi company dur hua (call it quits, foreign company),” said S. Naik, president of Kalahandi Sachetan Nagarika Parishad, a citizens’ body which has joined the protest.

In the evening, villagers will burn effigies of “Vedanta rakhshas” at 13 block headquarters.

Green Kalahandi has been opposing the refinery on several grounds saying it would divert water of the Tel river away from irrigation, causing destruction of environment, cultural degradation and pave the path for droughts.

An application pending against the company in the Supreme Court is likely to be heard after the Puja holidays.

The court, which is hearing a PIL filed by environmentalists Biswajit Mohanty, Prafulla Samantra and Ritwick Dutta, had asked Dehra Dun’s Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Ranchi’s Central Mines Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL) to look into the impact of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri.

A two-member WII team visited the site and reported that the threats posed by the proposed bauxite mining would “irreversibly” change the Niyamgiri eco-system. The mining institute is yet to submit its report to the apex court.

Bhakta Charan Das, a former Kalahandi MP who is spearheading the protest, said: “People have realised that ousting Vedanta from their soil is possible. They are not misled by the company’s counter-propaganda and will join the protest in massive numbers.”

Green activists have questioned how the Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Alumina managed to go ahead with work on the refinery without obtaining clearance for mining in the Niyamgiri belt.

According to Clause 2(X) of a letter dated September 22, 2004 — sent from the ministry of environment and forests to Sterlite Industries, “the company shall obtain necessary clearances for linked mining components before it operationalises the alumina refinery”.

Vedanta has spent over Rs 3,100 crore on the construction of the refinery, which is likely to be commissioned by the year-end.

Head of human resource at the Vedanta refinery and public relations in-charge Sanjay Patnaik said: “Activists of Green Kalahandi are spreading false propaganda and have a small support base.”

He said the refinery is nearing completion and will start production once the mining lease comes through.

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