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Archives for : Tribal rights

Global Day of Action against Vedanta  – August 14th , AGM in London #mustshare

Global day of action against Vedanta’s AGM


The annual Global Day of Action against Vedanta will take place on Monday 14th August 2017, as their AGM is conducted in London.

While the Vedanta board try to don the ‘cloak of respectability’ of their London listing, communities affected by the company’s pollution, human rights abuses and tax evasion around the world will raise their voices through protests and reports showing the true face of this deadly British mining company. As usual we will bring the defiant energy and demands of these communities to London, in our theatrical protest outside the London AGM, and shareholder activism inside it.


Monday 14th August 20172 – 4pm .
The Lincoln Centre, 18 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3ED

Bring drums, placards and loud voices.

Please join our Facebook event page if you can come to London on 14th August.

Why we are opposing Vedanta’s 2017 AGM:

This year Vedanta was again excluded from the Norwegian Pension Fund investments following a report which found “numerous reports of Vedanta’s failure to comply with government requirements” at four subsidiaries in Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Zambia.

In Zambia, Vedanta has appealed against a precedent May 2016 judgment allowing thousands of farmers suffering eleven years of pollution by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) to have their case against the company heard in the UKDuring the London appeal hearing they claimed no connection between the parent and subsidiary, stating that corporate governance reports were just for show to comply with London listing rules. Meanwhile the pollution goes on in Zambia, where Vedanta have also been found guilty of widespread transfer mispricing and tax evasion according to a recent UNCTAD report. KCM have never published their annual accounts.

Sonshi villagers

Gowda women in Sonshi, Go

In Goa, India, resumption of iron ore mining by Vedanta subsidiary Sesa Goa has already led to protests by Gowda Adivasis (a tribal group) suffering from air and water pollution, and accusations that the company is already exceeding its quota and continuing illegal mining under the guise of removing waste dumps. After being found guilty of widespread illegal mining Vedanta is already demanding that the resultant cap on mining is lifted.


In Niyamgiri, Odisha, harassment of tribal activists who succeeded in stopping Vedanta’s bauxite mine in a precedent referendum in 2013 is increasing, and key activists have been jailed and tortured this year, accused of being Maoists. Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) and the Dongria Kondshave held major blockades of Vedanta’s refinery in reaction demanding an end to harassment and the decomissioning of the refinery.

Parallel demonstrations are already planned in Zambia and India on the 14th August for this Global Day of Action and questions raised by the communities will be asked inside the AGM meeting.If you would like to plan a demonstration or organise any event in solidarity with any Vedanta affected community, in any part of the world please get in touch.

Vedanta is a FTSE 250 British mining company controlled and owned by Anil Agarwal and his family through a series of tax havens and holding companies. It has become infamous for its violations of law, pollution and human rights abuses across India and Afrika. Vedanta is controlled and 69.6% owned by Brit Anil Agarwal and his family through a series of tax havens and holding companies. It was launched on the London Stock Exchange in 2003 with the assistance of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), who continue with their  support for the company.



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OPEN letter to organisations trying to stop the implementation of Forest rights Act !

Dear Praveen Bhargav (Wildlife Trust), Kishor Rithe (NCS) and Harshvardhan Dhanwatey (TRACT),

We are writing to express our deep dismay at the position you have recently taken before the Supreme Court, in your interim application (IA 5) filed in January in Writ Petition 109/2008 (Wildlife First and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors.). We fail to understand why, at a time when it has become clear to everyone that the key enemy of the environment is the Forest Department-facilitated corporate looting of natural resources, you insist on continuing to attack the rights of the country’s poorest citizens while further empowering that very same bureaucracy. Moreover, you do this in a forum where you know the millions of ordinary people that will be affected have hardly any chance of being heard, and can only be heard at enormous cost to themselves. While people are fighting and dying to protect forests and natural resources across the country, you not only want the Forest Rights Act – their strongest weapon so far – struck down, you now ask for them to be deprived of their rights as well.

In your application you ask for the following (a full set of the prayers is at the end of this open letter for public reference):

  • YOUR PRAYER: “set up an independent committee of experts or the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to examine the implementation of the impugned Act… and in particular the procedure adopted”: Perhaps you are unaware that several independent committees, both within and outside the government, have already examined the implementation of this Act thoroughly and that the government itself has issued several reports in this regard. In all of them, contrary to the implied scaremongering in your petition, what has emerged is that millions of people are actually being deprived of their rights. No mention of this is made in your petition.
  • YOUR PRAYER: “direct the above mentioned committee … to report as to the extent of forest land which has been physically occupied by ineligible claimants… and the extent of forest land that has been recovered…”: Eight years after people fought and won a democratic and transparent process to decide their rights, you want an unaccountable committee to decide who is “eligible” and who has “illegally occupied” land. And how can a single committee do this for the whole country? Only through local officials, who in turn will demand bribes. In other words, your petition would-empower precisely the corrupt system that created the problem in the first place.
  • YOUR PRAYER: “direct the respondents to permit voluntary resettlement of people residing within national parks and sanctuaries without insisting on settling their rights under the Act”: How precisely is such resettlement supposed to be “voluntary” when people have no idea what their rights actually are? They are supposed to take a “voluntary” decision about resettlement when they live under the daily harassment of forest officials, deprived of their livelihoods; and you desire that they should not even be given the chance to assert their legal rights and discover that they can live peaceful lives in the forest as well?How can any decision be “voluntary” when you want people to have only two options: face continued illegal harassment and repression, or accept whatever they are offered in the name of “resettlement”?
  • YOUR PRAYER: “direct the respondents to issue directions to all the States for mandatory use of satellite imageries for verification of all claims…”: Perhaps this prayer indicates just what kind of conservationism you endorse. Obviously, satellite imagery is irrelevant to all forms of community rights over the forest, which are the real innovation in this law and the real key to protection of forests. For simple land plots as well, as verified by several independent inquiries of the kind that you want yet again, satellite imagery usually fails – because ground truthing is not done properly, the imagery is incorrect, or, most importantly, it is simply not available to the people who need to assert their rights. Instead, it is only available with officials and elites. Once again, through the backdoor, your petition will empower the bureaucracy which has been responsible for massive destruction of forests and violation of forest dwellers’ rights.
  • YOUR PRAYER: “grant ad-interim ex-parte stay of commercial extraction of all nontimber forest produce (NTFP) from national parks and sanctuaries”: You seek to disguise your intentions with the use of the term “commercial.” But you know that in practice, until this law came into existence, forest officials did not permit forest dwellers to sell even the small quantities of produce they collected for their survival livelihoods. You will be aware that in many protected areas – such as in BRT wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka, or in Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa – more than 60% of people’s cash income comes from sale of NTFP. As a result, when these rules were imposed, malnutrition and poverty skyrocketed in these areas (reaching 82% in Simlipal). Now, when communities across the country are experimenting with collective, democratic management of NTFP for their livelihoods – at times with the support of conservationists – you want the court to reinstate a misguided, illegal and brutal ban which has no scientific basis.

The most crucial threat to forests and natural resources in this country today is the corporate juggernaut, with its demands for increasing clearances for its own speculative profiteering. But you quite significantly have not chosen to approach any court about illegal diversion of forest land in violation of the Forest Rights Act. Instead, you seek to divert attention and enormous resources into an expensive, long and pointless court battle, to prevent you from negating the progress achieved over the past eight years. This, of course, is conveniently just what the corporates want.

You might claim that it is open to us or anyone else to contest you in court. We ask why you chose this forum rather than, for instance, approaching Parliament to amend the law. That is what we and countless other groups did. But you know perfectly well that the courts are inaccessible to most ordinary people and that the tens of millions of people who will be affected by your actions will be represented by perhaps one or two lawyers in court – while you and the government bureaucrats will gang up against them. Certainly it is your right to approach the court, but pleading that the court overturn provisions of a law unanimously passed by Parliament after intense discussion and debate across the country reflects your undemocratic motivations extremely clearly.

We call upon you and your co-petitioners to immediately withdraw your interim applications and Writ Petition 109/2008 against the Forest Rights Act. Otherwise, whatever your intentions might be, you are facilitating the corrupt forest bureaucracy and the loot of this country’s natural resources by corporates.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity




(i) direct the respondents to constitute a committee of  independent experts or the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) to examine the implementation of the Impugned Act and in particular the procedure adopted for identification of the genuine claims and grant of forest rights in the 3 States namely, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and submit a report to this Hon’ble Court within two months;

(ii) direct the above independent committee or the CAG to give a report as to the extent of forest land which has been physically occupied by the ineligible claimants after the cutoff date of 13th December 2005 or whose claims have been rejected under the provisions of the impugned Act and the extent of  forest land that has been recovered from the such ineligible claimants/ encroachers;

(iii) direct the Respondent No. 2 States to provide information giving district-wise details including the number of individual and community claims filed, claims granted and claims rejected along with the extent of forest area involved in all these three categories within a time bound manner;

(iv) direct the respondents to permit voluntary resettlement of people residing within national parks and sanctuaries without insisting on settling their rights therein under the impugned Act and;

(v) direct the Respondent No. 2 to issue directions to all the States for mandatory use of satellite imageries for verification of all the claims as a proof/ evidence of actual occupation/ physical possession of the forest lands as on the cutoff date of 13.12.2005  before  granting  any  new  rights  under  the  impugned Act. Directions may also be issued to use satellite imageries to review all the rights which have already been granted under the impugned Act to verify their correctness;

(vi) grant ad-interim ex-parte stay of commercial extraction of all non timber forest produce (NTFP) from national parks and sanctuaries in view of the prohibition provided in the Wild Life (Protection) Act,1972 and also prohibited by this Hon’ble Court’s order dt. 14.2.2000 passed in IA No. 548 in WP (C) 202 of 1995, till the disposal of the present petition.

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Tribal Ministry terms forestland diversion for Essel Mining ‘invalid’ #goodnews

BHUBANESWAR, March 26, 2014

Satyasundar Barik


Official points out irregularities and asks Collector to withdraw recommendation

Taking strong exception to the hush-hush manner with which approval of gram sabha was attempted to be taken for forestland diversion in favour of Essel Mining and Industries Limited in Keonjhar district, Union Tribal Affairs Ministry termed the transfer of forestland to the company as ‘invalid’.

Union Tribal Affairs Secretary Hrusikesh Panda during his recent visit to Keonjhar district pointed out the irregularities and asked district Collector to withdraw the recommendation.

Mr. Panda had called for the records after receiving complaint relating to improper implementation of Forest Right Act at Jalahari, Bholbeda, Jajanga, Jorudi, Banspani and Khuntpani coming under Joda-Badbil Tahsil for taking gram sabha’s approval for diversion of 342.602 hectare of forestland of total 456.1 hectare of land in favour of Essel Mining group.

The Union Secretary noticed blatant violation of FRA after going through records. In his tour diary, copy of which is in possession of The Hindu , Mr. Panda mentioned, “the notice which had been issued showed that a meeting had been convened to obtain approval of Gram Sabha for transfer of forestland to one Essel Mining and Industries Limited.”

“In the same meeting, forest rights were to be ascertained. The minutes of the meeting show that in the same meeting it was decided that the villagers have no forest rights. It was also decided that they had no objection to transfer of forestland to the firm. This is in complete violation of FRA,” he observed.

The Union Tribal Affairs Secretary maintained, “the process envisaged under FRA has to be completed before the question of transfer of forestland for non-forest use is considered under the Forest Conservation Act. Therefore, the transfer of forest to the firm is invalid.”

Tribal rights activists had earlier alleged that gullible and ignorant tribals in the area were threatened to put their signatures on documents which were processed for forestland diversion in favour of the mining company. They had pointed out that analysis of records of rights in six villages Jalahari, Jurudi, Bholbeda, Banspani, Khutpani and Jajanga coming under mining area showed most of the tribal and other villagers were landless.

The community land available in the concerned villages in fact belongs to the community and the land should have been distributed among the landless and homestead less people of the villages in priority basis rather than transferring them to the outsider private company, said activists who closely monitor the moving forward of forest diversion proposal.



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Posco: The War for Steel is Not Over


Wed Feb 19, 2014


NEW DELHI:In spite of the green nod from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Posco has not been able to go ahead with the construction of its integrated steel plant near Paradip in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur District. Conflict continues to be rampant in the project area. Apart from people who have been opposing the project since its inception, the so-called supporters are also now up in arms against Posco, alleging non-fulfilment of promises made by the company and the administration.

While showing their anger over the callousness of the district administration and the Posco authorities towards their long pending demands, hundreds of pro-Posco villagers razed a 300-meter boundary wall inside the project area at Nuagaon village near Paradip on February 16, 2014. They also set the temporary camp offices of Posco and IDCO, the government agency that facilitates industrial development, on fire. Most of the agitating villagers were erstwhile landowners who had handed their land over to Posco for the proposed integrated steel plant.

“We gave our land for the Posco project trusting the government which had promised us a proper rehabilitation package and employment to at least one member of each family. It’s more than five years since, with many families having lost their lands to Posco. These families have been waiting for some employment to earn their livelihood. The Posco project is being delayed for many reasons and we people, who have sacrificed our land and our livelihoods, are only suffering,” said Tamil Pradhan of Nuagaon, who is one of those who gave his land and who is also the leader of the pro-Posco group of villagers.

“Now after approaching all levels of administration and realising that neither the company nor the administration is serious about our rightful demands, we have serious doubt about the commitment of Posco in regard to the rights of the people and the promises it made to the people. We have all decided now that we are not going to allow the company to enter the area and start its construction work till it fulfils our demands,” Tamil added.


The six-point charter of demands kept before the RPDAC (Rehabilitation and Peripheral Development and Advisory Committee) meeting, held in 2010, included assured employment to each land-loser family; separate and enhanced prices for home, homestead and agricultural lands; monthly allowance to the landless labourers engaged in agriculture and betel-vine cultivation; and, project construction works to be done by the local people, by engaging members of the local communities.

“None of the demands were fulfilled. Even though they promised to give unemployment allowance to the youth belonging to the land-loser families, they haven’t listed anybody. Forget about allowance, we haven’t even received the compensation money against the 147 decimal of land given by us, the land where we used to raise betel vine. They demolished the vines in our absence and nobody has listened to our claims for the past two and a half years,” said Prabhat Pradhan of Nuagaon.

The company and the local administration made one promise after another in order to acquire land for the Posco plant. The government, through the district administration and its industrial development agency, IDCO, acquired 2700 acres of land required for the 8-mpta (million tonne per annum) plant. Everybody expected Posco to fulfil all the promises made to the people soon after the land acquisition. But the people’s demands have not been heeded, neither by the administration nor by the Posco authorities.
Discontent is simmering in the supporters’ camp.

On January last, a group of supporters sat in protest at Gadakujanga for more than twenty days demanding fulfilment of their demands. Nobody responded. On February 16, the pro-Posco villagers of Nuagaon showed their anger by razing the boundary wall to the ground and setting the temporary offices on fire. The villagers erected bamboo barricades at village entry points to stop the Posco people and government officials from entering the villages and the project area. Now their one point demand is – fulfil the promises before doing any further construction.

Without taking any responsibility for whatever happened in the project area, the Jagatsinghpur District Collector avoided making any comment: “We follow all decisions taken in the RPDAC meeting of 2010. Now, for other issues, let’s wait till the RPDAC meeting takes place.”

A few days back, a senior BJD leader and Health Minister in the state of Orissa, Dr. Damodar Rout, came out with an open allegation against the company and the district administration saying, “I know that a group of Posco’s Indian employees and the Jagatsinghpur District administration are misleading the people living in the proposed plant site villages.” He also alleged that “the people are not being given compensation as per the decision of the RPDAC. While some people get the maximum benefit, there are others who do not get the same.”

A senior leader of the ruling BJD and a minister in Naveen Patnaik’s cabinet making such allegations carries conviction.

So now, it’s not only the members of the opposing PPSS (Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti) who are against Posco’s proposed steel project. The supporters are also emerging as a bigger challenge to the company.

“We have been opposing the project from the beginning because we know it’s a design to grab the land and loot our resources. Now the supporters of the project have also realized that the single agenda of Posco is to acquire their fertile agricultural land and construct the boundary wall. They have started opposing the project now. We welcome the development and hope that the movement against Posco will be fiercer in the coming days,” said Prasanta Paikray, spokesperson of the anti-Posco PPSS.

It seems the war for steel is not over. Recent developments have only added to the troubles faced by Posco. Once the troubles at the site are over, the biggest hurdle before Posco would be mining at Khandadhar. Even though it might tide over the legal battle for the Khandadhar mining lease, who knows if Posco won’t have a fate similar to that of Vedanta Aluminium vis-a-vis Niyamgiri–“No” to mining in all gramsabhas?

The undeniable fact is that Khandadhar too comes under Schedule V and is inhabited by the Paudi Bhuyans, a primitive tribal group.

(Basudev Mahapatra is a Writer, TV News Producer & Documentary Maker)


Read more here —


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#RIP- Comrade Dabar, Adivasi Leader of anti-Tata movement in KalingaNagar

One of the greatest Adivasi fighters of recent times is no more due to tragic reasons.
SHOCKING NEWS! TRAGIC LOSS!! Comrade Dabar Kalundia, the brave leader of the anti Tata movement in kalinga nagar passed away a few hours ago because of renal failure! He was one of the most fearless and outspoken activists of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch and resisted Tata's violent attempts to displace him from Baligotha village. In fact Com Dabar successfully led his village to face many attempts by hundreds of para-military to evict the entire village despite several attempts to kill him. The mafia, the police and para-military tried to kill him on many occasions but Comrade Dabar was an alert and agile person who had somehow managed to escape the closest of encounters. But what the man could not fight like many others in his community is the the diseases that stalk the villages in the polluted Kalinga Nagar area, especially with the district administration, police and bid backed militia cordoning his village for years. Lal Salaam Comrade Dabar Kalundia, you have shown us that it is possible for the most ordinary of people to stop the most powerful opponents... Long Live Com Dabar Kalundia!
Comrade Dabar Kalundia, the brave leader of the anti Tata movement in kalinga nagar passed away  on Jan 30th, 2014  because of renal failure!
He was one of the most fearless and outspoken activists of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch and resisted Tata’s violent attempts to displace him from Baligotha village. In fact Com Dabar successfully led his village to face many attempts by hundreds of para-military to evict the entire village despite several attempts to kill him.
The mafia, the police and para-military tried to kill him on many occasions but Comrade Dabar was an alert and agile person who had somehow managed to escape the closest of encounters. But what the man could not fight like many others in his community is the the diseases that stalk the villages in the polluted Kalinga Nagar area, especially with the district administration, police and bid backed militia cordoning his village for years.
Lal Salaam Comrade Dabar Kalundia, you have shown us that it is possible for the most ordinary of people to stop the most powerful opponents..
. Long Live Com Dabar Kalundia!
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PRESS RELEASE- ESCR NET calls for Suspension of POSCO-India Steel Project

For immediate release
New York, . Human rights violations connected to the POSCOIndia project must be addressed as a matter of priority by India and South Korea during South Korean President Park Geun-Hye’s state visit to India, said ESCR-Net today. India and South Korea should discuss and make public concrete measures to address serious allegations of human rights abuse tied to POSCO’s steel project in Odisha state.In the lead up to President Park’s visit to India, Indian officials took several measures aimed at accelerating POSCO’s Odisha project. India’s new Environment Minister revalidated environmental clearance for the project’s steel plant, while Odisha’s Chief Minister approved POSCO’s compliance report, a prerequisite for the granting of a prospecting license for mining rights.

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) urged India and South Korea to suspend the POSCO-India steel project until and unless it complies with international human rights standards.

“In light of serious allegations of human rights abuse, India and South Korea should suspend any further activities on the POSCO project and take meaningful and immediate action to address human rights concerns,” said Chris Grove, Director of ESCR-Net, adding that “development projects should not come at the expense of the human rights of people”.

ESCR-Net’s June 2013 report The Price of Steel: Human Rights and Forced Evictions in the POSCO-India Project—which was co-produced with the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at NYU School of law— found that Indian authorities have actively targeted those who speak out against the POSCO-India project with violence and arbitrary arrests and detentions.  Local police have barricaded villages, occupied schools, leveled thousands of fabricated criminal charges against individuals opposing the project, and have failed to protect individuals from consistent and sometimes fatal attacks by private actors who are allegedly motivated by the interests of the company and of the State.

The report further concluded that India’s attempts to forcibly evict people from their lands to make way for the project violated both international legal standards and Indian law.

In October 2013, eight independent U.N. human rights experts called for a halt to the mega-steel project, citing serious human rights concerns including the impact of forced evictions on affected communities’ livelihoods and means of subsistence.  The experts urged India, POSCO and the Republic of Korea to fulfill their respective human rights responsibilities.

More than six months after being published, India has yet to respond to the human rights concerns raised by ESCR-Net and IHRC in the Price of Steel report, or publicly address the Press Statement released on October 1 by the group of U.N. experts.
Press contact: Sergio Rozalén (ESCR-Net)



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POSCO – Shove Comes To Push – Bend It Like Moily

Steel vs steely resolve A Dongriya Kondh girl expresses solidarity with the anti-Posco cause
Shove Comes To Push
The real story of a ‘decisive’ UPA blowing away the eight-year cloud around Posco’s project

Bend It Like Moily

Seven reasons why UPA’s pre-poll green clearance for Posco is more about spiel than steel

  1. Posco got green clearance after the sudden removal of MoEF Jayanthi Natarajan, who was reluctant to sign on the file.
  2. The nod came days before South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit; Manmohan Singh keen to send positive signal to investors.
  3. Green clearance has little value without a forest clearance, which is not yet forthcoming from a sluggish Orissa govt.
  4. A captive iron ore mine and captive port were strategic to Posco’s steel plant. But the nod is only for the steel plant. Why the delink?
  5. Ignores on-ground agitation by eight coastal gram panchayats who have been protesting against their land being acquired.
  6. The forest clearance will certainly be legally challenged; the gram panchayats may vote against land acquisition.
  7. Most of these issues will fester in the pre-election period; after the announcement, UPA is leaving the headache for the next government.


On the face of it, a government in its dying days has served up a much-needed self-image booster—a decision showcasing decisiveness, speed and with high symbolism. In giving the green clearance to India’s biggest foreign direct investment (FDI) proposal by South Korean steel major Posco, the UPA government is on target in sending the right signal to global investors (rightfully) seeking more promise in India. Of course, it’s also wonderfully timed as the nod for Posco came days before South Korean President Park Geun-hye came visiting on January 15.

It was preceded, of course, by a few  deft chess moves—in late December environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan was shown the door and rep­laced by Veerappa Moily (who now holds the unique distinction of being energy and environment minister at the same time). Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi simultaneously made all the right noises about driving trucks through loopholes. And a flurry of environmental clearances—70 at last count, though the ministry website is not being updated that regularly now—paved the way for the clearance of Posco’s steel plant. The government collected its fair share of hosannas in the national media (though the local media in Orissa has been strangely muted).

Obviously, there’s a big problem here—and (this must be stated upfront) it’s got nothing to do with FDI. Many environmental and rehabilitation concerns have been raised about this massive project. By all indications, they have been swept under the carpet—or left for the courts and the future government to decide. For instance, the environment nod for Posco’s steel plant is useless without a forest clearance, which the Orissa government still needs to provide. Also, the project has been conveniently cleared by delinking it—the clearance given only to the steel plant, not to the integrated project that also envisages a port and an iron ore mining proposal.

But even in opening the door for Posco’s steel plant, has the government overlooked the people’s concerns raised by green tribunals and at least four committees? There are ser­ious agitations on the ground as we speak (see following article). It does not appear that these problems will disappear overnight. Does this nod not smack of a charade by the UPA government to show its investor-friendly credentials? Official sources agree that till the replacement of Jayanthi Natarajan, there was no talk of clearing the Posco steel project. “Just for creating some goodwill it has been cleared. There is also the question of perception and credibility of India as an investment destination,” they say.

But why would the UPA allow the open maligning of Jayanthi, a loyal party worker by all accounts? Or is there some truth to the ‘Jayanthi tax’ statement Narendra Modi made after her removal? In her own defence, Jayanthi told Outlook, “My mandate was to prevent the destruction of the environment. I do not see the environment ministry as a clearance house, therefore I needed to study every project for impact assessment.” On Moily, Jayanthi comes up with a politically correct response, stating that he is a “very seasoned politician. I am sure he will take the right decision in the interest of the country.”

Burning ambition A Dhinkia gram panchayat demonstration. (Photograph by Sanjib Mukherjee)

Modi, of course, has an axe to grind. The farmers of Orissa can take heart from the success of their brethren in Navinal village of Gujarat who earlier this month won a favourable verdict from the Gujarat High Court for their plea against the Modi government giving away their cattle grazing land to the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) project at Mundra in Kutch district. The court observed that the Adani SEZ had started operations without getting necessary environment clearances, a development that led Modi to charge that Jayanthi had been deliberately delaying clearance to collect the ‘Jayanthi tax’.


“Moily should know that clearing a file is easy but to safeguard India’s threatened environment is far more challenging.”E.A.S. Sarma, Former Power Secretary

According to an official who has worked with both Jairam Jairam and Jayanthi, while the former was superfast in some cases, he was also known to be super-slow in tricky cases. When forced into a corner, Jairam would put riders to the decisions. Jayanthi, however, was generally slow in clearing files but would try to keep to the time schedule of projects. In fact, in the Posco case, it appears Jayanthi took a cue from Jairam—not giving the environmental clearance unless all the pending cases on some 1,000 acres of tribal land were resolved.

The reports of files (around 300) having been kept pending by Jayanthi has added to the usual whispers about a pre-election funds collection for the party. As of now, it remains unclear why she was sitting on  the files. The official reason was that she was creating ‘environment bottlenecks’ in project implementation. This was reinforced by PMO sources stating that the former minister was perceived to be “generally slow. Given the situation (slowdown in economic growth and investment inflow), it was not very encouraging”. There is, however, ack­nowledgement that Jayanthi had “several complicated issues” to look into and resolve, including the case of Posco.

It’s also no secret that there has been a consistent push by the PMO over the last eight years to get the Posco project cleared. “There have been clear letters written from the prime minister’s office back in 2010 and also in 2007 when the first clearances were granted. This was also one of the submissions during the green tribunal arguments back in 2011-2012,” says Kanchi Kohli of the environmental NGO Kalpavriksha.

On the other hand, questions are being raised on the undue haste Moily has shown in clearing over 70 files within just three weeks of taking charge. Has the environment ministry become the single-point reform and clearing house for projects in the few months’ window before the elections? While Moily’s jet-speed decision-making—whether yes or no—is raising investor perception, it has made many, apart from the green lobby, very jittery.

“It is ridiculous to push through statutory clearances to please foreign dignitaries!” says former power secretary E.A.S. Sarma. “As in the case of Posco, this happened in the case of Jaitapur. Imagine, foreign governments saying, ‘Don’t worry about the environment clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act for our project. We will arrange our PM’s visit and India will cave in.’ This makes India a veritable banana republic.”

There are other issues being raised about Moily’s clearance for Posco. “By clearing Posco’s steel project in isolation, he has brazenly violated the spirit underlying the National Green Tribunal’s order of March 2012,” argues Sarma. The ngt advi­sed the MoEF to issue “clear guidelines for project developers that they need to apply for a single EC (environment clearance) if it involves components that are essential part to the main industry”, steel in this case.

Setting the limit Posco builds a boundary wall. (Photograph by Raj Chaudhury)

A sensible response to the tribunal’s order would have been to appraise the steel and the port projects together and study their cumulative impact on the people and environment. Unfortunately, in the eight years since the South Korean steel major started the process of acquiring land and getting the necessary clearances and licences, it has failed to meet many of the prerequisites as per law. Chief among them is the impact assessment of the total 12 million tonne steel plant. MoEF officials say the assessment submitted by Posco pertains only to four mt capacity.


“The pace of clearances is a hurried exercise to show favour to the industrialists before the 2014 general election.”Medha Patkar, Environmental Activist

National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena says there is considerable confusion over forest clearances. There is also a major issue with land acquisition. While the government owns 90 per cent of the 4,004 acres of the land required for the Posco project, there is a major complication as tribals have been cultivating horticulture produce there for decades. “The land required by Posco is about rich farmers. There are over 500 families who have been cultivating betel leaf and other horticulture produce on government land. Most of them earn Rs 1 lakh and some even Rs 3-4 lakh a year while the government is willing to offer only Rs 5 lakh as compensation,” says Saxena.

Apart from finding a clear case of a violation of the Forest Rights Act, Saxena—who headed a panel in 2010 to study such fra violations by Posco—finds it incomprehensible that the government has made no attempt in the last several years to prepare the families for relocation and employment as the locals are ill-equipped and face the disadvantage of not knowing even Oriya. That’s why the on-ground agitation shows no signs of petering off.

Drawing similarities with the Vedanta project which has been denied mining clearance in the Niyamgiri hills by Moily, Tushar Dash of Orissa-based NGO Vasundhara states that while both the projects are set to affect large population of tribals, it is the Supreme Court intervention that has protected the rights of Niyamgiri tribals. “In the case of Posco, the procedure of recognising and identification of the rights of the people and getting their informed consent through gram sabhas before the clearance process has not been carried out,” says Dash. He fears that after the approval for the steel plant, the port and mining proposal may also be cleared.

Kohli of Kalpavriksha hopes that it won’t be such a fait accompli as even after the delinking, “Posco can’t go ahead with the construction on the ground as another case is pending before the green tribunal from where it is clear that the Section 2 order for forest diversion has not been issued by the state government.” The environmental activist reveals that the Orissa government has just two days back recommended to the Centre that the Khandadhar mine be given in favour of Posco to source iron ore. However, we are far from environment clearance process there as well.

With many more clearances still awaited and the issues of agitating people still unresolved, there is a wait on the side of both Posco and the government to hasten the $12 bn project. It is not as yet clear whether Posco will move ahead with the construction of the steel plant sans the mine and port project clearance. “This is not the final clearance for the project. Even now the forest clearance is under challenge before the National Green Tribunal, which has stopped it from felling any trees. This has been on since April last year. The next hearing is on January 21,” says Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer.

Dutta points that the government decision of giving the steel plant a go-ahead is flawed as without the captive mine, it does not make sense for Posco to set up a mega plant in Orissa with the current supplies of iron ore produced in the state being committed. Moreover, procuring iron ore on commercial terms may mean paying four to five times more for raw input.

But try telling that to a government hell-bent on symbolism. Ahead of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India in December 2010, the environment ministry (under Jairam Ramesh) had similarly given its go-ahead—albeit with 35 conditions and safeguards—to the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, even before the MoU was signed. Jairam Ramesh, the then environment minister, had said, “Economic growth, fuel mix diversification, global dip­lomacy and environmental protection were the key objectives while giving the go-ahead.” As the French put it so well, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


Posco Players

Manmohan Singh The prime minister personally, repeatedly, enquired about the progress of the clearances for Posco; was keen to send a signal to woo back disenchanted investors on the eve of elections. Veerappa Moily Energy minister holding the green ministry portfolio? The speed of Moily’s clearances has green lobby worried on ‘conflict of interest’.

Jayanthi Natarajan The haste with which projects are being cleared since her “resignation” from the environment ministry fuels talk about ‘Jayanthi tax’ Narendra Modi Gujarat CM’s attack on Natarajan has exposed his close links with the Adanis, whose SEZ project has run afoul of farmers and green rules.

Rahul Gandhi Decries slow clearances but his identification with Niyamgiri tribals has ensured that Vedanta’s mine proposal is turned down yet again. Naveen Patnaik The Orissa chief minister’s strong support of the Posco project is believed to have waned in recent years; will have to walk the talk.


Posco Ticker

  • 2005: MoU signed between Posco and the government of Orissa. Original proposal for 5,300 acres (currently 4,004 acres, according to Posco).
  • 2007: Posco seeks and gets environmental clearance for four million tonne plant capacity (down from original proposal of 12 mt) when Manmohan Singh is in charge of green ministry
  • 2008: Supreme Court okay for “forest conversion” of site
  • 2009: Orissa government makes recommendation to Centre for giving prospecting licence to Posco for Khandadhar mines
  • 2010: Jairam Ramesh sets up four-member panel, headed by ex-environment secretary Meena Gupta, to look into environmental clearance
  • 2010: Orissa govt loses case of mines recommendation at HC; N.C. Saxena committee finds major violations of Forest Rights Act. MoEF stops land evacuation work.
  • 2011: MoEF gives final approval for “forest conversion”; Orissa HC orders status quo on private land acquisition
  • 2012: National Green Tribunal orders MoEF to conduct fresh review. (SC rules in La Farge case that environment clearance cannot be given without prior forest clearance.)
  • 2013: Final SC verdict on mining licence case in favour of Orissa govt and Posco; but no
    movement since then. Green tribunal halts land acquisition for Posco. NGT questions the two-stage forest clearance given to the project. Despite this, Posco completes land acquisition and begins boundary wall construction at plant site.
  • 2014: MoEF gives Posco environmental clearance.

Read more here —

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#India – Attack on an Adivasi community near LB Nagar, Hyderabad- Call ACP

Call or sms – Asst.*Commissioner of Police*: Cell No : 09490617103
History has proved time and again, that the marginalized groups of the
society continue to be tortured by the wealthy class. The violent incident
at the Adivasi Melchi Sedak society behind Kamineni Hospital at LB Nagar in
the wee hours of January 4th was nothing short of yet another gruesome act
of violence perpetrated against the Adivasis. The preliminary investigation
done by the Human Rights Forum (HRF) suggests a clear nexus between the
political establishment and the police department.
*History of the Adivasi colony:*
The Adivasis, most of whom had migrated to the city from Nallamala forests
and other forest areas of Rayalaseema and Telangana regions more than 30
years ago. A majority of the Adivasis belong to Nakkala (Pittalollu) tribe
and they manufacture beautiful artificial-plastic floral arrangements and
‘Gulers’ which are used to hit birds.
They claim that thirty years ago, Ramulu, a freedom fighter, had given them
permission to live on his 10 acre land, which is now known as the Adivasi
Melchisedak Society. However, te extent of land occupied by the tribals
kept shrinking with the passage of time. Thanks to corruption in the
system, the 10 acre land has now shrunk to merely 2 acres, as private
individuals had somehow managed to take ownership of almost 8 acres of
land. Tall buildings were constructed in the periphery of the slum.
There were about 300 Adivasi families living in the slum most recently.
*The political drama to evict the Adivasis:*
For the past several months, the tribals have been alleging that they were
being threatened by J Prabhakar Reddy (local Congress leader), K Narasimha
Reddy (local TDP leader) and some other influential leaders, to alienate
the land. They said that the leaders were claiming ownership of the land.
Most recently, according to the Adivasis, the so-called leaders brought
about a split in the community by offering money to the families for
leaving the property.
Several families left their homes and went to an alternative location shown
by Prabhakar Reddy at RK Puram, not too far away from the slums. The
families who shifted there were assured ‘Pattas’ for the new land they were
being relocated to. However, the families who didn’t vacate claim that the
land where their friends were relocated was a government land which was on
‘Lavani Patta’ and that it couldn’t be sold to a private party legally,
according to the revenue officials. Therefore, they didn’t shift to RK
At present, there are about 60-70 families still living in the Adivasi
However, they say that the so-called leaders continued to harass and
threaten them with dire consequences if they didn’t leave the slum
immediately. Last month, several huts in the slums were demolished by
Prabhakar reddy at ‘gun-point,’ according to the Adivasis.
*Conspiracy about re-settlement:*
When we visited the re-settlement colony at RK Puram 2 weeks ago, there
were more than 1000 people who said they had come from the Adivasi colony
and that they were promised Pattas by Prabhakar Reddy. They seemed fearful
and didn’t divulge many details about the displacement. They said that the
entire Adivasi colony had relocated to RK Puram though. They seemed happy.
The Adivasis at Adivasi colony alleged that the families who relocated had
also invited their friends from the rural areas to take positions at RK
Puram, so that the owner could misguide the revenue authorities, saying the
entire Adivasi colony was rehabilitated ‘in numbers’.
*The Fright Night:*
It was 2 AM on Saturday night, January 4. The Adivasis were in deep sleep.
Hundreds of men and women (from Lambada and Eruka communities) were brought
by the land sharks from Falaknuma area, to attack the Adivasis and to force
them to vacate the land. The following information is echoed by every
single Adivasi victim affected by the inhuman acts of the so-called ‘reddy
leaders’ on Saturday night.
The scene was not much different from the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. The
only difference was that stones, boulders, sticks and knives were used here
instead of bullets and that fortunately, nobody died.
Hundreds of Lambadas and Erukas entered the Adivasi colony through two
entrances, when the two constables deployed to protect the Adivasis that
night went on a mysterious break. Many of the attackers were stationed in
the periphery, where they were put-up to make sure nobody escaped from the
Several attackers were assigned to individual huts so that they could
demolish them and beat-up the sleeping Adivasis. The attackers entered the
huts, woke the Adivasis up and sprayed pepper-spray in their eyes. As the
Adivasis struggled with the unbearable pain, they beat them up black and
blue. The attackers didn’t even leave the children and mothers out of their
violence. They hit the kids with stones and the women with sticks and
knives. At least 6 people were seriously injured on their heads, including
the pastor of the church, which is located in the slums.
Then the attackers dumped them inside the vans they came-in, by holding
their hands and feet and by literally throwing them inside the vans. The
Adivasis were taken to Choutuppal area where they were dropped. On the way,
the attackers tore-away the clothes of a few Adivasi teenage women and
tried to rape them. That is when they jumped-off the moving van. Several
Adivasis were beaten-up badly and were dumped in the Choutuppal forest area.
The Adivasis returned and tried to file a complaint against the so-called
leaders. However, according to the victims, the policemen were reluctant to
register the FIR against the political leaders.
It is still a grey-area as to what is in the FIR. Despite several attempts,
the Sub-Inspector of Police, Sudhakar Naik, the in-charge of the case was
unavailable. The Adivasi women said that the Sub-Inspector, Sudhakar Naik,
had wondered why the Adivasis preferred ‘DEATH’ to relocation.
*Attack on Christianity:*
The attack was not just on the Adivasis. Many of them were
converted-Christians, who had built a Church in the Adivasi Colony slums.
As the Adivasi women hid inside the Church, the attackers broke-open the
door and took away the money inside the ‘safe’ and destroyed the interiors
of the Church. They stole the amplifiers as well. They also broke-into the
room which was adjacent to the Church where the Pastor, Israeli was
sleeping. About 40-50 attackers barged-into his room and attacked him with
iron rods and hit him repeatedly in the head. The Pastor received serious
head-injuries and was admitted to Gandhi Hospital. He received 10 stitches
on his head.
Surprisingly though, the ACP, instead of assuring him safety, tried to act
as a mediator between him and the so-called leaders and tried to convince
him to make his people relocate.
The Church had played a major role in unifying the Adivasis in their
difficult times. Therefore, the attackers targeted it and the Pastor, with
an intention of weakening the movement. The Pastor maintains that he has
not played any role in the political matter. He is not a permanent resident
of the slums and stays elsewhere. Unfortunately, he had decided to sleep in
the slums that fateful night.
Support for the Adivasis:
From what has come in the media, it can be understood that MP Sarve
Satyanarayana, Former MP Aziz Pasha and Ram Mohan Goud (local Congress
leader) have been supporting the Adivasis.
Campaign for Housing and Tenurial Rights (CHATRI), Human Rights Forum
(HRF), Civil Liberties Committee (CLC) and other organizations have
resolved to stand-by the Adivasis during their difficult times.
Questions which are emerging:
· How come a war was waged on the Adivasis when there were
policemen deployed to protect them? Why did they have to go on a break at 2
· Why has Sudheer Reddy, MLA, LB Nagar, not responded to the
· Why is the police department insensitive towards the Adivasis?
· Has SC/ST Atrocities Act or Communal Violence Act been imposed on
the perpetrators of the crime?
· What about the provisions of the Nirbhaya Act?
· Why is there an effort to protect the so-called perpetrators of
the crime from getting arrested immediately?
There are several other doubts, which would be communicated at an
appropriate time.
HRF requests every ‘HUMAN’ to stand by the side of the Adivasis in fighting
this blatant violation of ‘HUMAN RIGHTS’ in a city which claims to have
become a ‘Global Village’. Will our so-called civilized society at least
give a chance to the indigenous population amongst us to live peacefully in
a so-called Global Village?
Vivek Bhoomi

Read more here — B.Karthik Navayan,

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Kayapo- The amazon tribe that fought for 40 years #mustread

Picture of a Kayapo girl with an orphaned spider monkey

Kayapo Courage

The Amazon tribe has beaten back ranchers and gold miners and famously stopped a dam. Now its leaders must fight again or risk losing a way of life.

By Chip Brown
Photograph by Martin Schoeller

It was tempting to think we were going back in time, slipping the bonds of the modern world for tribal life in one of the last great bastions of indigenous culture, chronically jeopardized but still vital, intact, unvanquished. The outsiders who first ventured into the southeast Amazon Basin centuries ago—missionaries, El Dorado seekers, slave traders, jaguar-skin hunters, rubber tappers, wilderness explorers known as sertanistas—traveled by river on laborious boat journeys. We had a single-engine Cessna and good weather on a September morning late in the dry season.

The plane clawed through the haze of forest fires around the Brazilian frontier town of Tucumã. After half an hour heading south and west at a hundred knots, we crossed the twisting course of the muddy Rio Branco, and suddenly there were no more fires, no more roads, no more ragged clear-cut pastures stippled with herds of white cattle, nothing but trackless forest wreathed in mist. Below us lay Kayapo Indian country, five officially demarcated tracts of contiguous land that in sum make up an area about the size of Kentucky. The reserve, which is among the largest protected expanses of tropical rain forest in the world, is controlled by 9,000 indigenous people, most of whom can’t read or write and who still follow a largely subsistence way of life in 44 villages linked only by rivers and all-but-invisible trails. Our National Geographic crew was headed to one of the most remote, the village of Kendjam, which means “standing stone” and which took its name from a dark gray mountain that now appeared before us, arcing some 800 feet above the green canopy like a breaching whale. A little past the mountain lay the glittering braids of the Iriri River, the largest tributary of the Xingu, itself a major tributary of the Amazon. The Cessna swerved down on a dirt airstrip slashed through the forest between the rock and the river and taxied past small garden plots and thatch houses arranged in a circle around a sandy plaza.

When we got out, a dozen or so kids wearing only shorts or nothing at all swarmed around, crouching in the shade of the wings. If you caught their eye, they giggled, glanced away, then peeked to see if you were still looking. The ears of the youngest among them were pierced with conical wooden plugs as thick as a Magic Marker. Kayapo pierce their infants’ earlobes as a way of symbolically expanding a baby’s capacity to understand language and the social dimension of existence; their phrase for “stupid” is ama kre ket, or “no ear hole.”

The kids watched closely as we unloaded our gear, including some gifts for our hosts: fishhooks, tobacco, 22 pounds of high-quality beads made in the Czech Republic.

Barbara Zimmerman, the director of the Kayapo Project for the International Conservation Fund of Canada and the United States–based Environmental Defense Fund, introduced us to the village chief, Pukatire, a middle-aged man wearing glasses, shorts, and flip-flops.“Akatemai,” he said, shaking hands, and adding the bit of English he’d picked up on a trip to North America: “Hello! How are you?”

Kendjam looks timeless, but it was established only in 1998, when Chief Pukatire and his followers split off from the village of Pukanu, farther up the Iriri River, after a dispute about logging. “Fissioning,” as anthropologists call it, is often the way Kayapo resolve disagreements or relieve the strain on resources in a particular area. The village’s population is now 187, and for all its classic appearance there are additions that would have boggled the minds of Pukatire’s ancestors: a generator in a government-built nurses’ station; a solar panel array enclosed in a barbed wire fence; satellite dishes mounted on truncated palm trees. A few families have TVs in their thatch houses and enjoy watching videos of their own ceremonies, along with Brazilian soap operas. Pukatire showed us to a two-room schoolhouse built a few years ago by the Brazilian government—a pistachio-colored concrete structure with a tile roof and shutters and the luxe marvel of a flush toilet fed by well water. We pitched our tents on the veranda.

The heat of the day began to build, and a drowsy peace settled over the village, broken now and then by squabbling dogs and operatic roosters rehearsing for tomorrow’s sunrise. The ngobe, or men’s house, was deserted. At the edge of the central plaza, or kapôt, women sat in the shade of mango and palm trees, shelling nuts and cooking fish wrapped in leaves and buried in coals. Some headed out to the charred earth of their swidden gardens to tend crops of manioc, bananas, and sweet potatoes. A tortoise hunter returned from the forest, loudly singing in the Kayapo custom to announce his successful quest for the land turtles that are a vital part of the village diet. Toward evening the heat ebbed. A group of young warriors skirmished over a soccer ball. About 20 women with loops of colored beads around their necks and babies on their hips gathered in the kapôt and began to march around in step, chanting songs. Boys with slingshots fired rocks at lapwings and swallows; one stunned a white-throated kingbird and clutched it in his hand—the yellow-breasted bird glaring defiantly like the peasant unafraid of the firing squad in the famous Goya painting. Families filtered down to the Iriri for their regular evening baths, but there were caimans in the river, and they did not linger as darkness fell. Eight degrees south of the Equator, the blood orange sun sank quickly. Howler monkeys roared over the dial-tone drone of the cicadas, and earthy odors eddied onto the night air.

At first glance, Kendjam seems a kind of Eden. And perhaps it is. But that’s hardly to say the history of the Kayapo people is a pastoral idyll exempt from the persecution and disease that have ravaged nearly every indigenous tribe in North and South America. In 1900, 11 years after the founding of the Brazilian Republic, the Kayapo population was about 4,000. As miners, loggers, rubber tappers, and ranchers poured into the Brazilian frontier, missionary organizations and government agencies launched efforts to “pacify” aboriginal tribes, wooing them with trade goods such as cloth, metal pots, machetes, and axes. Contact often had the unintended effect of introducing measles and other diseases to people who had no natural immunity. By the late 1970s, following the construction of the Trans-Amazon Highway, the population had dwindled to about 1,300.

But if they were battered, they were never broken. In the 1980s and ’90s the Kayapo rallied, led by a legendary generation of chiefs who harnessed their warrior culture to achieve their political goals. Leaders like Ropni and Mekaron-Ti organized protests with military precision, began to apply pressure, and, as I learned from Zimmerman, who has been working with the Kayapo for more than 20 years, would even kill people caught trespassing on their land. Kayapo war parties evicted illegal ranchers and gold miners, sometimes offering them the choice of leaving Indian land in two hours or being killed on the spot. Warriors took control of strategic river crossings and patrolled borders; they seized hostages; they sent captured trespassers back to town without their clothes.

In their struggle for autonomy and control over their land, the chiefs of that era learned Portuguese and were able to enlist the help of conservation organizations and celebrities such as the rock star Sting, who traveled with Chief Ropni (also known as Raoni). In 1988 the Kayapo helped get indigenous rights written into the new Brazilian Constitution, and eventually they secured legal recognition of their territory. In 1989 they protested the construction of the Kararaô Dam project on the Xingu River, which would have flooded parts of their land. The original plan calling for six dams in the basin was dropped after large demonstrations in which conservation groups joined the Kayapo for what is known today as the Altamira Gathering. “At the 1989 rally at Altamira, Kayapo leaders made a brilliant translation of the Kayapo warrior tradition to the tradition of the 20th-century media spectacle,” says anthropologist Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund. “They changed the terms of the discussion.”

The Kayapo population is now rapidly growing. From shotguns and motorized aluminum boats to Facebook pages, they have shown a canny ability to adopt technologies and practices of the cash-based society at their borders without compromising the essence of their culture. With the help of noted anthropologist and Kayapo expert Terence Turner of Cornell University, they have embraced video cameras to record their ceremonies and dances and to log interactions with government officials. One small example of their ability to incorporate elements of the outside world into their culture is a pattern now fashionable with Kayapo bead workers: It is based on the logo of the Bank of Brazil. Much to the dismay of some conservationists, several village chiefs formed partnerships with gold mining companies in the 1980s and in the 1990s sold mahogany logging concessions—alliances they came to regret and now have largely ended.

Mostly the Kayapo learned to organize and to put aside their sometimes fractious relations to cultivate unity of purpose among themselves. As a result, they are perhaps the richest and most powerful of around 240 indigenous tribes remaining in Brazil. Their ceremonies, their kinship systems, their Gê language, and their knowledge of the forest and conception of the continuum between humans and the natural world are intact. What may be the most crucial of all, they have their land. “The Kayapo aren’t entering the 21st century as a defeated people. They aren’t degrading themselves,” Zimmerman told me. “They haven’t lost a sense of who they are.”

At least for the moment. It’s one thing to teach the skills and ceremonies of traditional culture; it’s another to inspire a sense of why knowledge of how to make arrow-tip poison (from herbs and snake venom with beeswax as an adhesive) or stack tortoises or stun fish using oxygen-depriving timbo vines might be valuable to a generation beguiled by iPhones and the convenience of store-bought food. Interest in traditional dress, beadwork, and ancestral practices is still strong in Kendjam, but it’s not uniform, and even if it were, the threats from outside are daunting.

“The Brazilian government is trying to pass laws saying indigenous people don’t need to be consulted for their rivers to be used for electricity or mining or even if the boundaries of their lands need to be redrawn,” said Adriano “Pingo” Jerozolimski, the director of a nonprofit Kayapo organization that represents about 22 Kayapo villages. Last June in the village of Kokraimoro, 400 Kayapo chiefs avowed their opposition to a raft of decrees, ordinances, and proposed laws and constitutional amendments that would gut their ability to control their land and prevent them, and any other indigenous group, from adding to their territory. The measures, which echo the dismal history of betrayal and dispossession in North America, are widely seen as part of a campaign to enable mining, logging, and agricultural interests to circumvent indigenous rights, now inconveniently guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution. Among the many facets of this political struggle, perhaps the most wrenching at the moment is the effort to stop a project the Kayapo thought they had scotched more than two decades ago. The Kararaô project is back under a new name: the Belo Monte hydroelectric complex.

On our second day in Kendjam we went down the Iriri River with two Kayapo marksmen: Okêt, a 25-year-old with three daughters and four sons; and Meikâre, a 38-year-old with two boys and five girls. (In Kayapo villages the division of labor falls along traditional lines. The men hunt and fish; the women cook, garden, and gather fruits and nuts.) Meikâre wore yellow-green beaded armbands and a long blue feather tied to a headband. We pulled away on two aluminum skiffs powered by Rabeta motors that enable shallow-water travel during the dry season. In places the river was black and still as a midnight mirror; in others it looked like tea flowing over the brown Brazilian shield rock, purling through gentle rapids or weaving among gardens of granitic Precambrian boulders.

When we reached a wide, bay-like stretch, Okêt steered for an open area on the west side of the Iriri and cut the engine. We clambered ashore. Okêt and Meikâre slipped into the forest gracefully; Meikâre had a bow and arrows over his shoulders, Okêt a shotgun. After five minutes of ducking and twisting and wriggling past a riot of thorny ferns and fallen limbs, stopping constantly to unhook myself from vines and to disabuse my adrenal glands of the conviction that venomous pit vipers lurked under every pile of leaves, I had no idea which way was east or west, no sense of where the river was, no hope of getting back to the boat on my own.

We picked up a faint game trail. Meikâre pointed to the scat of a collared peccary, a small wild swine, and then just off the trail, a trampled area where the peccary had slept. It was as obvious to Meikâre as the meat department of a Stop & Shop would be to me. He and Okêt darted ahead. Fifteen minutes later a shot rang out, then two more.

When I caught up, a collared peccary lay dead on a bed of leaves. Meikâre fashioned some twine from a swatch of bark and bound the animal’s feet. He cut another belt-shaped length of bark and lashed it to the fore and hind legs. He slung the load over his shoulder, moving with 30 pounds of peccary on his back as if it were no heavier than a cashmere shawl.

The Kayapo we’d left behind had been busy fishing. First they had plugged the escape holes of a mole cricket nest in a sandbank and then had dug up and captured a batch of mole crickets, which they used to bait fishhooks and catch piranha. They chopped up the piranha on a mahogany canoe paddle and used the pieces as bait to catch peacock bass and piabanha. They started a tidy wood fire on the riverbank with Bic lighters and cooked the lunch on freshly whittled skewers.

In midafternoon we motored on toward Kendjam against the light current. Meikâre reclined in the bow, back propped against a mahogany paddle, feet up, hands laced behind his head, gazing out at the hypnotic water like a commuter heading home on the train after a long day.

That night Chief Pukatire wandered over to our camp with a flashlight. “The only things we need from the white culture are flip-flops, flashlights, and glasses,” he said amiably. I wondered if he’d heard how skillfully I’d negotiated the forest that afternoon, because he said he had a new name for me: “Rop-krore,” the Kayapo word for spotted jaguar. He had a good humor about him; you never would have guessed that two of his children had died of malaria not long after the founding of Kendjam.

The village census lists the year of Pukatire’s birth as 1953, and notes the names of his wife, their 38-year-old daughter, and their three grandchildren. He said he was born near the town of Novo Progresso, west of Kendjam, in the time before contact. When Pukatire’s village was attacked by Kayapo from the village of Baú, his mother and his baby sister were killed; Pukatire and his brother were taken away and raised in Baú. Pukatire was around 6 or 7 at the time, he said, and it was not until he was 12 or 13 that he was reunited with his father. “We were happy. We cried,” he said.

Pukatire learned some Portuguese from missionaries and was recruited to help with the program of pacification by the Indian Protection Service, a forerunner of the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI, the government agency that today represents the interests of Brazil’s aboriginal people. “Before contact we were clubbing each other to death, and everybody lived in fear,” he said. “Without a doubt things are much better today because people aren’t hitting each other over the head with war clubs.”

But Pukatire sounded a lament I heard over and over: “I am worried about our young people who are imitating whites, cutting their hair and wearing stupid little earrings like you see in town. None of the young people know how to make poison for arrows. In Brasília the Kayapo are always told they are going to lose their culture and they might as well get it over with. The elders have to speak up and say to our young people, ‘You can’t use the white man’s stuff. Let the white people have their culture, we have ours.’ If we start copying white people too much, they won’t be afraid of us, and they will come and take everything we have. But as long as we maintain our traditions, we will be different, and as long as we are different, they will be a little afraid of us.”

It was late; Pukatire got up and said good night. Tomorrow would be a big day. The Kayapo leader Mekaron-Ti and the great Ropni, who’d traveled the world in defense of the forest decades ago, were coming to Kendjam to resume the battle against the dam that wouldn’t die.

After four decades of plans dating back to Brazil’s military dictatorship, four decades of studies, protests, revised plans, court rulings, court reversals, blockades, international appeals, a film by Avatar director James Cameron, and lawsuits, construction finally began in 2011 on the $14 billion Belo Monte. The complex of canals, reservoirs, dikes, and two dams is located some 300 miles north of Kendjam on the Xingu, where the river makes a giant U-turn called the Volta Grande. The project, which will have a maximum generating capacity of 11,233 megawatts and is slated to come on line in 2015, has divided the country. Its supporters defend it as a way of delivering needed electricity, while environmentalists have condemned it as a social, environmental, and financial disaster.

In 2005 the Brazilian Congress voted to revive the dam on the grounds that its energy was essential to the security of the rapidly growing nation. The Kayapo and other tribes affected by the plans reassembled in Altamira in 2008. A project engineer from Eletrobras, the state-owned power company, was mobbed and suffered a “deep, bloody gash on his shoulder,” according to news accounts at the time. Claiming that the project’s environmental impact statements were defective and that the region’s indigenous people were not adequately consulted, Brazil’s federal Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a series of lawsuits to stop the complex, essentially pitting one branch of the government against another. The cases went to the country’s Supreme Court, but judgments have been deferred, and construction of Belo Monte has been allowed to proceed.

Even a complex consisting of just two dams will have an enormous impact on the Xingu Basin, thanks to roads and the influx of an estimated 100,000 workers and migrants. The dams will flood an area the size of Chicago. Official estimates project that 20,000 people will be displaced; independent estimates suggest the number may be twice as high. The dams will generate methane from inundated vegetation in quantities that rival the greenhouse gas emissions of coal-fired power plants. The diversion of some 80 percent of the water along a 62-mile stretch of the Xingu will dry up areas that depend on seasonal floodwaters and are home to endangered species.

“The key now is what comes after this,” says Schwartzman. “The government has said only the Belo Monte project will be built, but the original proposal was for five other dams, and there are questions whether Belo Monte alone will be cost-effective or whether the government will come back later and say we need to build these other dams.”

The morning of the great chiefs’ arrival in Kendjam, two dozen Kayapo women, bare-breasted in black underwear and ropes of colored beads, went through what seemed like a dress rehearsal, chanting and marching around the kapôt. Around 4 p.m. the sound of a plane drew a crowd to the airstrip.

Ropni and Mekaron-Ti disembarked with a third chief from the south named Yte-i. Ropni is one of five elder Kayapo who still wear the lip disk—a mahogany puck the size of a small pancake that extends the lower lip. He carried a wooden war club, shaped like a medieval sword. As he stood by the plane, a woman approached, held his hand, and began to sob. In a different culture bodyguards might have hustled her away, but Ropni seemed unfazed and in fact began sobbing as well. The anguished weeping was not the result of some fresh catastrophe but a form of ritual Kayapo mourning for departed mutual friends.

That evening in the men’s house, Ropni addressed the Kendjam villagers, vaulting across octaves with the glissading intonation of Kayapo speech. He stabbed the air with his hands and thumped his club: “I don’t like Kayapo imitating white culture. I don’t like gold miners. I don’t like loggers. I don’t like the dam!”

One of his purposes in coming to Kendjam was to find out why the chiefs of the eastern part of the territory had been accepting money from Eletrobras. Boxes of brand-new 25-horsepower boat motors were stacked on the porch of the Protected Forest Association headquarters. Ropni’s village and other villages in the south had steadfastly refused money from Eletrobras, money that activists said was an attempt to dampen indigenous opposition to Belo Monte. The consortium building the dam was investing in wells, clinics, and roads in the area and was paying a dozen villages nearby an allowance of 30,000 reais a month (roughly $15,000) for food and supplies, which Schwartzman describes as “hush money.”

The first Kayapo encounters with the grimy Brazilian banknotes led to the coining of their evocative word for money: pe-o caprin, or “sad leaves.” More and more sad leaves were a part of Kayapo life, especially in villages close to towns on the Brazilian frontier. In the Kayapo village of Turedjam, near Tucumã, pollution from clear-cutting and cattle ranching had wrecked the fishing grounds, and it was not uncommon to see Kayapo shopping in supermarkets for soap and frozen chicken.

For three nights Pukatire led Ropni and Mekaron-Ti and Yte-i to our camp, where they would sit on the schoolhouse veranda, lighting their pipes and drinking coffee and telling stories while vampire bats veered through the wan aura of a fluorescent bulb. “In the old days men were men,” Ropni said. “They were raised to be warriors; they weren’t afraid to die. They weren’t afraid to back up their words with action. They met guns with bows and arrows. A lot of Indians died, but a lot of whites died too. That’s what formed me: the warrior tradition. I have never been afraid to say what I believed. I have never felt humiliated in front of the whites. They need to respect us, but we need to respect them too. I still think that warrior tradition survives. The Kayapo will fight again if threatened, but I have counseled my people not to go looking for fights.”

He barked for more coffee, and then, seemingly agitated, took his cup to the edge of the veranda, away from the circle of schoolhouse chairs. For a long while, he stared into the darkness.

On the day the chiefs left, there were letters they needed to sign—FUNAI paperwork authorizing various matters they had discussed. Mekaron-Ti, who was fluent in the Western world as well as the forest world, signed his name quickly like someone who had written a thousand letters. But Ropni held the pen awkwardly. It was striking to see him struggle with the letters of his name, knowing what esoteric expertise was otherwise in his hands, how deftly he could fasten a palm nut belt, or insert a lip plate, or whittle a stingray tail into an arrowhead, or underscore the oratory that had helped secure a future for his people. In the Xingu Valley there had hardly ever been a more able pair of hands. But in the realm that required penmanship, the great chief was like a child.

Six months later, 26 eastern Kayapo leaders met in Tucumã and signed a letter rejecting further money from the dambuilding consortium: “We, the Mebengôkre Kayapo people, have decided that we do not want a single penny of your dirty money. We do not accept Belo Monte or any other dam on the Xingu. Our river does not have a price, our fish that we eat does not have a price, and the happiness of our grandchildren does not have a price. We will never stop fighting… The Xingu is our home and you are not welcome here.”

Somehow word had gotten out. The paleface with no holes in his ears was heading up Kendjam Mountain. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and before our hiking group was halfway down the airstrip, we’d picked up a tail of kids, 15 or so, a cluster of teen and preteen girls and boys with painted faces carrying water in old soda bottles, and even one ebullient little fellow who couldn’t have been more than four: barefoot and unsupervised with no parent hovering about to make sure he didn’t get lost or eaten by a jaguar or poisoned by a pit viper or pierced by the thorns and spines on every other plant.

He was wearing just a pair of shorts—in contrast to me, in boots, hat, shirt, long pants, sunglasses, SPF three million sunblock, and three bandannas to mop up biblical torrents of sweat. We walked single file for a while, and then the kids rushed past, swarming around some tall shrubs; they pulled the branches down and chopped off seedpods of the wild inga fruit.

After 45 minutes the trail began to rise. The gray stone of the mountain loomed above: vertical walls, no fissures or obvious cracks. North, south, and west, its sides were seemingly unclimbable, but the eastern end sloped into the forest. The teenagers laughed and chattered up the steep grade, vaulting logs and swinging on vines. A narrow trail zigzagged up the side and cut through a cleft where you had to haul yourself with sweaty hands over a large boulder.

A long ramp led up to the summit dome. All the kids were sitting on the summit, backlit by a milky blue sky. I wheezed up after them. Brown-gray lizards scuttled around. The children scuttled around too, fearlessly flirting with the void where the rock fell precipitously for five or six hundred feet, maybe more. No handrails. No liability advisories. No adult supervision. The four-year-old boy capered at the edge of the abyss, laughing and exulting as if it was the most marvelous day of the year.

When we all started down, he ran on ahead, and I found myself thinking about the night after the big chiefs had gone, when one of our guides, Djyti, came to visit, and we asked him a crucial question. “Can you be a Kayapo and not live in the forest?” Djyti thought for a while, then shook his head and said no. Then, as if contemplating something unthinkable, he added: “You are still a Kayapo, but you don’t have your culture.”

In the past some anthropologists have fetishized cultural purity, fretting over the introduction of modern technology. But cultures evolve opportunistically like species—the Plains Indians of North America picked up their iconic horses from the Spanish—and strong traditional cultures will privilege themselves, making the accommodations they think will ensure their futures. We can question whether a man dressed in a parrot feather headdress and penis sheath is more valuable than one in a Batman T-shirt and gym shorts. But who can be blind to their knowledge of forest plants and animals or to the preeminent values of clean water, untainted air, and the genetic and cultural treasure of diversity itself?

It is one of the richest ironies of the Amazon that the supposedly civilized outsiders who spent five centuries evangelizing, exploiting, and exterminating aboriginal people are now turning to those first inhabitants to save ecosystems recognized as critical to the health of the planet—to defend essential tracts of undeveloped land from the developed world’s insatiable appetites.

My four-year-old friend—I never did learn his name—had run all the way home long before I staggered back to the easy walking of the airstrip. It was nearly dark. Maybe his mom had plunked him in front of a TV to watch a video of a Kayapo ceremony or a Brazilian soap opera. And maybe to him the day was no great lark either, nothing memorably distinct from all the other days. Still, it seemed hard to imagine a more perfect life for a kid his age than to be a free and footloose Kayapo at home in the forest. Long may he run.

Chip Brown’s most recent story profiled climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. Martin Schoeller’s portraits appeared in the October 2013 photography issue.
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#India – 29 Years On, Are We Any Better As A Nation? #Sikhriots #Sedition

By Puneet Bedi,

“Kahaan jaa rahe ho Sardarji,?” shouted a young man from the side of the road. I was born in the capital of a ‘Sovereign, Socialistic, Secular, Democratic, Republic’, to a mother born in a Hindu and father a Sikh family. I went to a school run by the ‘Sri Aurobindo Education Trust’. I had the privilege of going to a premier medical school named after one of the most respected Nationalist leader, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and lived in a large cosmopolitan city with people from all faiths and religions and indeed some atheists.

Photo Courtesy: LiveMint

photo courtesy- Livemint

I was brought up in a completely a-religious atmosphere by very liberal parents. I kept long hair and wore a turban more as a family tradition than a religious symbol. I responded to a few nick names, my first name and to ‘Doctor Sahib’, so it took me some time to register that he was asking me this question. I rarely looked at myself in the mirror since I did not even shave back then, so did not realize that I looked like a ‘Sardarji’ to others, even though I did not identify with any particular religion. “Home” I answered, making it clear by my tone that it was none of his business. Where are you coming from? Asked another young boy. By now hoping that the red light would turn green soon, I put my big Royal Enfield Motorcycle in gear, and ignored his question and his existence, but they were persistent. Looking at the ‘red cross’ painted on my motorcycle, a symbol we all used to show off, park anywhere in any hospital we liked, and to tell everyone that we were above the law and could not be fined by police for minor traffic violations, a third asked me if I was a doctor. I said I was almost as rudely as I could. They asked if I was coming from the hospital, I nodded again hoping that would end the inquisition. The light turned green but they did not let me go, and told me that it was best for me that I returned to the hospital Campus as I would be ‘Safe’ there.

It was about 7 PM on the 31st of October 1984 when I discovered I had suddenly become a “Sardarji” from “Doctor Sahib” and Delhi streets were not ‘safe’ for me! “SAFE?” I screamed, in my usual arrogant manner, and laughed at the concept of being unsafe in the city I was born and brought up in, the Home I Knew. I told them to stop wasting my time and let me go home as I was very tired after a long day in the operation theater. ‘Log Sardaaron ko maar rahe hain shahar mein‘ said one of them. By ‘maarnaa’ I thought that Sikhs were being bashed up, not burnt alive which I later discovered was the case. It all started on Safdarjung flyover and at the AIIMS crossing where I was headed on my way home in Hauz Khas. The light changed to green 3 times but these boys did not budge from the front of my motorcycle and in fact one of them switched off the ignition, and refused to let me go, they insisted that I take a ‘U’ turn and Go Back to the Maulana Azad Medical College Campus as it was ‘safe’ for me. I looked around and was surprised to see that I was the only Sikh amongst hundreds of people on the road. I was not fully convinced but the boys looked genuinely concerned. I was too tired and sleepy to argue after a long day in the hospital, and a night duty on the previous night, and took a ‘U’ turn and went to the hostel and literally dropped off to sleep.

It was around 11 PM that I got many messages from home asking me to call back, something that had never happened before. Fearing a medical emergency in the family I rushed to the Labor room, which had a privileged ‘direct’ phone those days, and called home. My father told me that they were relieved to hear my voice as they heard Sikhs were being killed on Delhi roads though the TV is showing nothing. He asked me to stay indoors in the hostel to be on the safe side, knowing we generally go out late night to eat out or for a movie show from the hostel if we knew the next day would be a holiday, as Indira Gandhi’s Funeral would have certainly been.

On the Way to the wards, I heard about fire and arson around town, but when we went to the top of the 8 storied ‘Boys Hostel’ next door to our hostel, and saw smoke rising all around. This is the first time I was genuinely worried, every story of the ‘riots’ during partition our parents had told us seemed to come alive! The rest of the week my parents were sleeping at a neighbor’s house. The phones were working sporadically and I was assured that all my married sisters were ‘safe’.

I will never know who those good Samaritans were who stopped me from driving to my certain death on 31st October around 7 pm at a traffic crossing a few KM before Jor Bag. I am not sure why I went back to the hostel instead of being burnt alive by the ‘mob’ on Safdarjung flyover?

Like me Every ‘Sikh’ in India has a story about those three days in 1984 except the thousands who did not make it. Where was ‘with you for you always’ Police, Our Self congratulatory and our forever claiming saviors, The Secular Army, the Pampered and Pompous Opinionated Civil Servants, The omnipresent Politicians, The NGOs, or indeed the forever tomtoming ‘we saved the Sikhs in 1984′ RSS ! Why was I not Safe?

One of my father’s friend in the home ministry called up to tell him to stay indoors and look after ‘Himself and his Family’ till Monday, and then it would all be OK. How did He know? Indeed all was back to ‘normal’ in Delhi on Monday, the 3rd of November 1984, All except SAFETY for its citizens, TRUST in the Government, and Hope for JUSTICE!

Yesterday, Like every year on 31st October, I Saw big ads in National Newspapers (paid for by the tax payers) in the memory of the ‘Martyred’ Indira Gandhi. It Always Brings a wry smile on my face.

NOW, 29 years later, I do not look like a ‘Sikh’ since I am completely Bald, I am not called a ‘Sardar’, except lovingly by old friends when I say something ‘very stupid’. I wonder if this is what the Indian state does to its citizens like me, the privileged amongst the teeming millions, in the National Capital, what all it must have been doing to the disenfranchised Tribals in the mining hinterland, to the workers in the industrial areas, to the ordinary people in Kashmir and the North East and to the other marginalized communities like the ‘Dalits’ in the country?

These days I often get taunted by Sanghis for ‘siding with the Congress’. In their world-view if you are not a ‘Fan of Hindutva or Modi’ you must be a supporter of congress.

I was a few KM away from being burnt alive on 1984 just because I was wearing a turban which to some looked like the one worn by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. Now in 2013, someone please explain to me who should I empathize with?

Please explain to me, in the 2002 pogrom, should I have empathy for those who were burnt alive because of their religion or for those who burnt them alive in the name of religion? After each patakha like Patna patakhas, should I have empathy for ‘the suspected terrorists’ or with Cops. In each case the Cops who cannot find a pen or a pencil on their own desk, were actually actively involved in killings of innocent civilian in 1984 and 2002, within hours find the culprits with ‘incriminating evidence’ like a pressure cooker at home and POSTERS of IM and SIMI (and the most incriminating of course is a Muslim name). And all these suspects provide within minutes all gory details of how they were just about to kill every politician in India, especially our Wannabe PM ? Should I have empathy for the Kashmiris in the Valley, People in the North East or the ‘Indian’ Army? In Madhya Bharat should I be on the side of the Tribals or the Police and Vedanta?

I know I am being seditious but would like some answers.

Puneet Bedi is a Delhi based Gynecologist and work on Medical Ethics and Women’s Health.

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