Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pench Tiger Reserve

Mist in the early morning woods

The rock python

Small green bea eater

Hanuman langur at a water hole

Sambar and fawn

Chital in the early morning mist

And the tiger...

Monday, November 19, 2007

The reality of climate injustice
A recent Greenpeace report highlights how the lifestyles of the rich encroach on the climate space of the poor in India.
The next time you reach for your electric mixie to whip something you could easily whip with an old-fashioned handheld twirl, or hop into your car to travel a distance you could easily walk or cycle, remember these two words: climate injustice.
This neat term encompasses a startling, though complex, reality: some people are more responsible than others for the warming of the earth’s atmosphere that is triggering catastrophic climate change. The biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are today’s industrialised countries, the United States topping the list. Countries like India are rapidly increasing their share; but each Indian citizen, on average, still emits a fraction of what each American and European does. So when the world started discussing what to do in response to climate change, developing countries demanded climate justice. They said they wanted to continue being able to ‘develop’, without being bound by actions needed to curb greenhouse gases, while industrialised countries were asked to immediately start such action. Thus emerged the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility”, acknowledging that all nations had the duty to act, but some could act later, or be assisted through funding and technologies if the world wanted them to act faster.
Sounds logical except for one flaw in the argument that a report by the NGO Greenpeace India, released last week, has starkly exposed. Climate injustice occurs not only between nations, but within them also.
Rich vs. poor
While average emissions per Indian citizen are way below the global average, some Indians — the richest — are already nearing this average. Worse, they are already well above levels considered sustainable. But this is camouflaged by the fact that the vast majority of Indians — the poor — are way below the average. In effect, poor Indians are subsidising the rich, allowing them a much greater share of the atmosphere than should be rightfully theirs.
Before we get further into climate injustice, let’s take a quick look at what climate change has in store for us. With even a 2°C rise in global average temperatures (now considered almost certain), we are in for serious trouble. Sea level rise will inundate vast areas of coast, pushing millions of people inland. Dozens of inhabited islands will disappear. Already many villages in Kachchh and the Sundarbans have been submerged, rendering thousands homeless or destitute. Drought and flood occurrences will increase manifold. Forest fires, like the one that just devastated California, will become more common. Agricultural production will fall in many tropical countries and vector-borne diseases will become epidemics in several areas. Several thousand species of plants and animals will face extinction. Worst affected
It is also instructive to note that while the poor are the least to blame for climate change, they will be the worst affected. Their dependence on Nature is much higher than that of the rich, and their ability to cope with disaster much weaker. If Mumbai is inundated, the rich will buy up houses in Pune; where will the poor go?
Greenpeace surveyed 819 households across several income classes, and calculated their carbon emissions based on energy consumption from household appliances and transportation. India’s average per capita carbon emission is 1.67 tonnes (compared to the global average of 5.03). But Greenpeace found that the emission of the richest class (those with income above Rs. 30,000 a month) is 4.97, just a fraction below the world average. In contrast, the emission of the poorest class (income below Rs. 3000 a month, almost half of India’s population) is only 1.11 tonnes. The richest in India produce 4.5 times more carbon emissions than the poorest.
More to the point, these emissions should be compared to the 2.5 tonnes per capita limit that scientists consider is necessary if we want to restrict the temperature rise to below 2°C. All Indian classes that earn above Rs. 8000 per month are already above this limit!

What explains this gross difference in emissions? Greenpeace found that the biggest difference was in the extent of household appliances using electricity. While general lighting, fans, and TVs are common to all classes (though much more in use by the rich), several appliances were found only in rich households… air conditioners, electric geysers, washing machines, electric or electronic kitchen appliances, DVD players, computers, and the like. Secondly, much greater use of transportation using fossil fuels, including gas-guzzling cars and airplanes, characterised the rich.
Greenpeace’s fingers point unwaveringly at India’s rich for cornering much more of the atmospheric space that all citizens should have equal right to. It warns that the rich are denying development possibilities for the poor. It is among the first studies in the world to look at climate injustice within a country, and therefore a crucial breakthrough in discussions relating to climate change.
Tribal rights
The report’s findings put an interesting light on the raging controversy over the Forest Rights Act, which provides tribals and other traditional forest dwellers with the rights to land and forest resources that they have deserved for generations. A handful of conservationists are vigorously opposing the Act, claiming that it will destroy India’s forests and lead to much greater carbon emissions. There are elements of truth in both the claim that the Act will cause deforestation, as also that it will lead to greater stake among poor people in protecting forests. However, what is interesting is that those who are opposing it in the name of climate change, mostly belong to the richest classes that the Greenpeace report holds responsible for 4.5 times greater carbon emissions than the poor who will be the prime beneficiaries of the Act! Yet nowhere in the debate is there an acknowledgement of this, let alone voluntary action by such conservationists (or others who are less critical of the Act) to reduce their climate crunching consumption patterns.
Evidence of climate injustice within India also points to the utter bankruptcy of the Indian government’s development policies. These have continued to push a carbon-intensive economy, and also promoted the kind of consumerism that has allowed India’s rich classes to become global climate destroyers. These policies have to be challenged, resisted, and replaced by much more sustainable and equitable ones. Partial answers
Greenpeace provides partial answers to this. It assures the rich that their lifestyles need not be sacrificed. The solution, rather, is in “decarbonising” the economy, moving towards replacing fossil fuels by renewable sources like solar, wind, and biomass, and towards greater efficiency in energy production and use. It advocates greater focus on public transport systems, mandatory fuel efficiency standards in cars, and high-speed trains to check the increasing use of air travel. It also proposes a “carbon tax” on use of fossil fuels, proceeds from which could be used to help the poor get access to cleaner forms of development, and to mechanisms to cope with the impact of climate change.
This is where I found the report to be surprisingly soft on the rich. At one point it admits that even with increased efficiency, the tendency to accumulate more and more electricity-run appliances will keep lifestyles beyond the sustainability limits. But it does not conclude from this that we have to curb such consumerism in the first place, through an appropriate system of incentives and penalties. This becomes imperative not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also because the lifestyles of the rich are ecologically destructive in many more ways… massive uses of minerals, timber, agricultural produce, and other materials well beyond the limits of the earth to sustain. A solar-powered car for every household in India may not cause significant carbon emissions, but imagine the amount of mining needed to produce 200 million of them? Climate injustice needs to be seen in the context of the larger issue of ecological and social injustice, which is pushing the earth and all its inhabitants to the brink of another massive phase of extinction.
Ashish Kothari is with Kalpavriksh, an environmental action group.


You don’t make a road in the river to solve a traffic problem just as you don’t blow a hole through your head if you have a splitting headaches, writes PANKAJ SEKHSARIA
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 45, Dated Nov 24, 2007

A RIVER IS meant for water to flow. Yes, the statement sounds absurd, because it states the obvious. Rivers carry water, and our earliest civilisations grew along their banks.
Even today human settlements all over the world — whether big or small — are usually situated along rivers and streams.I live in Pune, the cultural, educationaland industrial capital of Maharashtra, rich in history and tradition. Some believe the city was originally called Punya Nagari or Holy City when it was founded on the banks of Mutha river. Indeed, Pune is fortunate to have two rivers, the Mutha and the Mula, which meet here before flowing south to join the Bheema and then the Krishna river. It is therefore a matter of double shame for Punekars that the Mula-Mutha today is little more than a sewer into which huge amounts of industrial and domestic waste are thoughtlessly dumped every day.

This particular story goes back about six years, when a local court ordered the PuneMunicipal Corporation (PMC) to stop work on road construction inside the river. Yes, a road, not on the banks of the river, but inside, on its bed — that part where the water flows. The court’s ruling came in response to a Public Interest Litigation arguing that the road was illegal and damaged the environment. The road was being built at a frantic pace and a large stretch of it, which stands even today, had already been completed. A senior PMC official had made it clear that he wanted the project completed before environmental groups got into the picture and delayed it. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the city, environmental groups did find out and the court took cognizance of their complaint.
The PMC argued that the road was beingconstructed as part of the Mutha River Improvement plan and to ease the city’s growing traffic problem. So, a road was being constructed in the riverbed as part of a supposed “river improvement” plan. Could things get any more absurd? Pune does face a big traffic problem. Not because the river occupies too much area, but because the vehicle population here has grown astronomically. While Pune’s population has gone up five fold since 1960, the number of vehicles in the city has increased almost 90 times. The city’s public transport facilities are going from bad to worse and, currently, over 1 lakh vehicles are being registered here annually. It comes as no surprise then that the widening of roads has been the single biggest activity in the city in recent times. Trees, footpaths, shops, houses — all are being swept aside to make way for bigger roads. Conservative estimates suggest that at least 50,000 trees have been chopped down in Pune in the last five years, many for accommodating the increasing traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists, the two sets of people who occupy the minimum road space and causezero pollution, have become second-class citizens. There is little space left for them to navigate their way on the roads.
The river is the newest casualty of this breakneck car boom and the city’s administrators seem hell-bent on treating the symptom instead of the disease. The huge increase in the number of vehicles is the problem and reducing them the only viable solution. Anything else amounts to just tinkering around. River development plans, riverfront redevelopment plans, river improvement schemes, river beautification schemes — be it the Yamuna, the Sabarmati or the Mula-Mutha — are no longer aimed at improving the quality of water or helping the river life. They are merely euphemisms for real-estate development and promoting commercial activity. Pune has reportedly been allocated Rs 200 crore for river beautification under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
IT IS hard to believe that in our zeal to “modernise” we have forgotten something as elementary as the fact that rivers are meant to carry water, not roads and cars. They are complex ecosystems performing vital hydrological and ecological roles — like recharging ground water, flushing and breaking down our waste, and enabling clean air to come into the city. Unfortunately, many people seem unaware of just how vital rivers are to our well being. Here is an example from the blogosphere: “The environmentalists are holding up this plan [for the road] saying it will harm the ‘oxygen channel’ running along the river. My foot. Any sane person wouldn’t call it a river in the first place…”But the fact is, even today, the Mula- Mutha supports a large diversity of microscopic floral and animal life. Thousands of migratory waterfowl still visit the river every winter, flying from places as far away as Siberia. Even a hopelessly polluted river can be alive and throbbing with life. The least we can do is not destroy it further.
You don’t make a road in the river to solvea traffic problem, just as you don’t blow a hole through your head if you have a splitting headache.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tata in troubled waters

India – Tata in troubled waters

Tata’s good name is threatened by the plight of a rare species of turtle

Tata, the Indian conglomerate with annual revenue of $22 billion, has for three years been locked in a dispute with environmentalists over the damage a seaport project could have on endangered turtles.

The Dharma port project, on the Orissa coast, would create India’s largest all-weather deepwater seaport. Its 13 berths could handle 80 million tonnes of cargo a year, mainly importing coking coal for Tata’s steel plants.

The project is being run by the Dharma Port Company, a joint venture between Tata Steel and Indian engineering giant Larsen & Tubro. Tata Steel sees the port as central to its expansion plans, as it will streamline its supply chain. The Orissa government backs the project, which it says will improve the state’s infrastructure and boost local economic growth.

The project should have been completed this year. But construction work is yet to start. Court cases, campaigners and financing troubles have all stalled the project.

Greenpeace has recently stepped up its campaign against the project. It points out that the port’s proposed site is just 15 kilometres from Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, the world’s largest mass nesting site for the rare species of migratory Olive Ridley turtles. Every year in the six months from November to May, about 500,000 turtles congregate in Gahirmatha to mate and feed.

Artificial lights from the giant port and populated areas would disorient the turtles and their hatchlings and eventually force them to abandon the Gahirmatha beaches, campaigners say. They also fear pollution from the port would contaminate the turtles’ offshore habitat.

An expert committee appointed in 2004 by the supreme court to assess the port’s likely environmental impacts recommended that the project site be shifted, as the proposed location would seriously affect nesting turtles. The case is still pending in the court. Another lawsuit filed by the Wildlife Protection Society of India in the Orissa high court is also pending.

Greenpeace India’s lead campaigner, Ashish Fernandes, says the group is not against the port, but its location. “By pursuing the project, the Tatas would have no moral right to claim to be a responsible company.”

Tata continues to reject the activists’ claims. Tata Steel’s managing director, B Muthuraman, stuck to the company’s line in September in Singapore, saying: “Allegations against the project are not based on any scientific evidence. We will not cow down to any pressure.” The company would “make sure that turtles are not harmed,” he added.

Firm government support means Tata’s project ultimately looks set to go ahead, despite environmentalists’ concerns. The company’s real test will come in finding a way to manage growing activist scrutiny in a way that does not threaten its reputation as a responsible company.

Upcoming Ethical Corporation conferences & events:

Corporate Responsibility Reporting & Communications,
13-14 November, London
Ethical Employee Engagement & Responsible Business,
3-4 December, London
The Climate Change Summit 2008
12-13th February, London
The Global CR Reporting Summit 2008
3-4 March 2008, Berlin
The Responsible Business Summit 2008
13-14 May 2008, London

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Betrayal of Niyamgiri


Krishna Srinivasan, Econet Pune


Dear Friends,
By this time some of you might have already heard about the murder and mayhem to be executed agaisnt one of the best primary forests, and wildlife in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa. i am pasting below a short note which paints the supreme court's handing over of the death knell of forests and wildlife and the dongriya kond tribe who have protected the Niyamgiri hills as they consider it sacred.

A clear cut message being sent by the supreme court of India that you throw money and cooly walk away with our foersts wildlife and people's lives. Indian forests and wildlife are for sale all are invited with large chunks of money!!

Read on …

Betrayal of the Law at the Supreme Court :

Taro Karma, Amaro Dharma (His the action ours the Law)

On Friday 26th October 2007, the Forest Bench of the SC, consisting of India's Chief Justice K.G .Balakrishnan, Arjit Passayat (from Orissa) and S.H.Kappadia, took the decisive step of "reserving for judgement" the case of Vedanta/Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC)'s application for mining Bauxite on the summit of Niyamgiri. They made it clear they have decided the case in favour of granting Clearance for mining, against the strong recommendations against this by their own advisory body the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), and over-riding the extensively documented Objection represented yesterday by the Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh. This means there will not be another hearing, and after 3 years of delay, commissioning detailed studies and largely ignoring them, the case is decided in favour of Vedanta. Only the details are to be worked out, a process likely to take 2-4 weeks. But reports from Lanjigarh and Muniguda last night indicate that Vedanta supporters were celebrating with fireworks, and brand new mining vehicles are already moving to the area.

What this implies is something that was obvious to anyone at the SC yesterday: that the Judges had already made up their minds before hearing all the evidence. The Judges have suppressed all proper argument and consideration about the costs of mining this area. The whole subject was dismissed by the Chief Justice's comment near the beginning, questioning the validity of data on the negative impacts of mining by saying that it is unclear and unscientific. Attempts yesterday by both the Amicus Curiae U.U.Lalit (on behalf of the CEC) and Sanjay Parikh (on behalf of the petitioner Siddharth Nayak from Kalahandi who brought a petition on 5th October on behalf of the tribal people of Niyamgiri) to present the arguments against mining the mountain were prevented yesterday by an extraordinarily violent display of intolerance on the Judges' part. This should make everyone question: are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are, and the present bench is known for throwing the contemptible "Contempt of Court" rule at anyone questioning the SC's proceedings, with a jail sentence, to stifle dissent. This needs to change if people are to have any faith in the Law and Justice situation in India. For witnesses to proceedings in Court No1 yesterday that faith was badly undermined.

The main part of the hearing yesterday was taken up with the advocate for the OMC reading out a text about "the user agency"'s plans for mining, and their assurances to give large sums of money for "tribal development," afforestation, and a "wildlife management plan", based on the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) report which was presented by the Attorney General at the previous hearing (5 th October).

This is an outrageously flawed document, which is why Sanjay Parikh had prepared over 200 pages of documents demonstrating its errors, with several thousand pages of supplementary documentation. Before he could get up to articulate this, the Judges spent over an hour questioning the OMC advocate as well as Vedanta's advocate Venugopal quite closely about the large sums being promised for development, and the difference between Sterlite (registered in India) and Vedanta (registered in London, Sterlite's holding company since Dec.2003). Basically Vedanta has offered 120 million rupees per year of their profits for "tribal development" in the area. This appears very generous (equivalent to the entire sum paid by the Orissa Govt for tribal development over 19 years) until one realizes that tribal people have not asked for this or even been consulted and do not actually want this money – as the Dongria and Majhi Konds demonstrating outside the Supreme Court yesterday made very clear.

From their perspective this discussion inside the SC had mainly revolved around how much to sell their mountain for. The Government, represented here by the Judges, has, in tribal people's view, no right to sell it, and is ignorant of its value, selling it simply out of greed. The corruption that takes place in the name of "tribal development" is notorious (amply attested e.g. in P.Sainath's book "Everybody loves a good drought"), and comes without any democratic controls or even input from tribal people themselves in deciding what development they want. As the Adivasis on the street said: the Judges have committed a sin that sooner or later they will pay for. "What wealth (sampatti) is there here in Delhi?" they asked. "Could we plough this street?" Referring to Arjit Passayat (who played the main role suppressing discussion despite coming from Orissa) they said "Taro Karma, Amoro Dharma" – his is the action/sin, ours is the law/truth." Tribal people have an intrinsic belief in Justice and Law, and still tend to look to the Courts to uphold its fundamental principles. This case, involving the "Lord of the Law" Niyam Raja (presiding deity of Niyamgiri in whose name the summits have been kept inviolate) is deeply symbolic for tribal people.

After a long discussion about sums and guarantees, Lalit got up, and with prompting from the CEC representative, started to put the case strongly against mining Niyamgiri, pointing out the irreversible damage it will cause, and summarizing the CEC's excellent report of September 2005 which showed in detail (covering several hundred pages) that mining would devastate an area of outstanding forest, along with its water sources. The Amicus Curiae also showed that Nalco's existing Bauxite reserves on Panchpat Mali, can last for 100 years at the existing rate of exploitation, and could be shared with Vedanta so as not to harm Niyamgiri, which has unparalleled ecological importance, while other other reserves like Pottangi could provide alternative sites. The Judges cut him short, after which he remained standing in dignified silence.

Almost 2 hours had passed when Sanjay Parikh stood up and presented the Objection to mining which the female advocate Indira Jai Singh had so forcefully registered at the 5 th October hearing. He was cut off immediately and extremely rudely by Arjit Passayat. When Sanjay said he was representing the Dongria tribal people of Niyamgiri, Arjit shouted "How many are there? How many people do you represent ? No, I'm not going to allow this. The case is over. Your writ petition is now an Interlocutary application. Whatever you want to say, we have heard it from the Amicus Curiae. Tribal people have no place in this case." When the 3 Judges were each handed a new copy of Mihir Jena's book on the Dongria Konds, the Chief Justice actually threw this down in a gesture of contempt, while Arjit attacked Sanjay, viciously shouting at him to stop raising his voice (when Arjit himself had first done so saying "I am not agitated at all!"). While Sanjay was still trying to make his points and initiate a proper discussion, the Judges and whole court stood up and the Judges left.

It was then clear to everyone that they had engineered the whole discussion about sums and Sterlite-Vedanta simply to prevent any time for discussion of the Objection and its 2,000 pages of careful argument, which they had been presented with the day before. Impartial observers had assumed that this material, with its evidence assessing the real social and environmental impacts of bauxite mining, would be taken seriously by the Court. This assumption was wrong.

To summarize this material briefly and demonstrate the main errors in the MoEF report, on which the Judges are basing their Judgement :

1. It misrepresents the extent of forest and bio-diversity on top of Niyamgiri and the other Bauxite-capped mountains. Under "impact of bauxite mining on the flora" it says that all the bauxite deposits are located on plateau tops "with practically no vegetation/scanty vegetation on the mineralized zones", which is completely untrue, even according to their own statistics ( p.2) which state that nearly half the total lease area on 10 bauxite mountains is classified as Forest (67 sq kms out of 141 sq kms).

The forest on Niyamgiri's summit is the most extensive of that on all Orissa's bauxite mountains (some of which are mostly bare on top). The reason is that this mountain range has its own tribe, the Dongria Konds, who hold the mountain summits as sacred and have maintained a taboo on cutting trees up there for hundreds of years. Of all the mountains within the Niyamgiri range, the lease area is on the best forested, north-western range, called Niyam Dongar, which stands at 1,306 metres.

The MoEF document says that "Once permission to undertake mining operations is granted in these forest areas...., equivalent non-forest area will be taken up for compensatory afforestation & will be declared as Protected Forest This afforestation activity will ensure a stretch of green cover of indigenous, desired, fruit bearing & small timber species as per the choice of the local population" - a virtually meaningless offer since plantations bear no comparison with primary forest in terms of the complex eco-system that gets destroyed by mining. In addition reclamation of mined areas will be afforested "which will increase the forest cover in the district.... & enhance the quality of the forests" – a transparent impossibility to anyone who understands the difference between primary forest still existing on a mountain and a plantation (which on bauxite-mined areas is nearly always largely eucalyptus as this is the only tree that will grow in such disturbed and sterile ground).

2. "Impact on water regime" contains a similarly outrageous claim: "Due to Bauxite mining micro cracks are likely to develop along the walls of the hill slopes which will help seepage of water and augment ground water recharge and consequently stream flow. Hence the streams originating from the hill slopes will maintain their flow and will be benefited due to the mining operations in contrast to the pre-mining situation." It is obvious that the cracks will speed up run-off during the rainy season and have a seriously drying effect on the streams during the hot summer months. It is well-known that Bauxite has a strong water-retaining capacity, which is damaged by mining.

3. Under "impact on wildlife" the report claims there will e no serious impact, as there will be "controlled blasting during daylight hours (maximum 2 blasts per week)", when mining experts say that a bauxite mine like this would only be viable if there were at least 3 blastings per day. No mention is made about the impact of the mining road up the Mt side (which is through deep forest), nor of the timber & hunting mafias which invariably enter along such roads, nor of the elephant reserve which this area forms part of. Evidence that elephants do come up to the summit produced by the Wildlife Institute of India is ignored, as is well-documented evidence of unique & rare species and new discoveries in Niyamgiri's forest, such as the golden gecko .

4. The MoEF reports lists just 10 bauxite reserves on mountains in the Kalahandi-Koraput area, leaving out at least 4 major deposits, namely Deo Mali (Orissa's highest mountain, which Nalco is trying to get permission to mine), Bapla Mali (Bat Mt, due to be mined by Utkal), Sassubohu Mali ("Mother-in-Law Daughter-in Law Mountain", mentioned in the press within the last week as the applied-for mining site of a new project by the IMFA company), and Ghusri Mali (where several companies have applied). All these mountains have richly diverse wildlife and flora, where recent surveys have discovered new species of snakes, plants and insects, as well as bears, leopards, elephants, monitor lizards, king cobras and other endangered species.

5. On Adivasi society the document's "Impact on Tribal Life Habitations" displays gross insensitivity and ignorance. The gist is that Vedanta's project will offer development similar to Nalco's bauxite-mining and refinery project, operating at Damanjodi for the last 20 years. "The Nalco bauxite mining project in Koraput Dist of Orissa has made significant positive impact on tribal life by way of providing direct & indirect employment, service & support opportunities......The envisaged bauxite mining projects in these districts will bring about economic prosperity in the area. The project authorities will be required to undertake special tribal development programmes to take care of the health, education, communications and sustainable livelihood of the tribals living around these bauxite bearing areas. Such a scheme will reduce biotic pressure and help forest conservation." The distortions here are truly mind-blowing. Parikh's documents included material from the Orissa Assembly report on Nalco, Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) & the Planning Commission that shows over 73% of people in the Damanjodi area live below the poverty line, and a catalogue of environment as well as social devastation from Nalco's activities, with employment promises not fulfilled etc etc. Michael Ross' "Extractive Sectors & the Poor" (Oxfam 2001) documents the Resource Curse over many countries, while the CSE studies show that all the poverty indices in Planning Commsission statistics are invariably worst for mining-affected Districts. In other words, all the evidence shows that mining increases poverty rather than diminishing it, and this is particularly so in the Nalco area, cited repeated in the MoEF document as a positive example.

Also it is significant that the MoEF document makes no mention of 3 tribal villages sited on top of two of the ten bauxite capped mountains, Siji & Kutru Malis. Also that it mentions the Kutia Kond Development Agency (which is located in Kandhmahal/Phulbani district - a different area), but NOT the DONGRIA KOND DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (DKDA), which works throughout the Niyamgiri range & is directly relevant. In other words, on tribal issues as on environmental issues, the MoEF report is full of inaccuracies and omissions, and certainly no basis on which to grant Clearance for mining Niyamgiri.

6.The safeguards in the document are completely useless & unenforceable:


1. demarcate lease area with concrete pillars......

2. compensatory afforestation........

3. mutation & transfer of equivalent non-forest land to Forest Dept....

4. forest land only to be used for stated purpose [which is mining - the worst!]....

5. rehabilitation of project-affected families.....

6. as far as pos all overburden shall be used for backfilling....

7. fencing of safety zone area....

8. overburden dumps shall be managed scientifically....

9. NPV of forestland sought for diversion for mining....

10. The user agency shall prepare a comprehensive plan for the development of tribals in the project impact area [no mention of even making them part of the decision-making process!!!]

11. Controlled blasting only may be used in exigencies wherever needed to minimize the impact of noise on wildlife....

12. user agency to provide free fuel/firewood... to labourers & staff to avoid any damage/pressures on adjacent areas...

13. The user agency shall undertake the development of a Green Belt by way of plantation in all vacant areas within the project [this is very revealiong - compensatory afforestation will almost certainly be predominantly eucalyptus, jatropha, acacia etc, whatever mention has been made of indigenous species......]


i. reclamation of mines to be carried out concurrently & monitoird by forest dept...

ii. Wildlife Management Plan modified acc to WII & monitored.....

iii. all efforts to prevent soil erosion & pollution of rivers/streams....

iv. user agency to undertake comprehensive hydro-geology study....monitored by Bhub office....

v. User agency to spend 5% of profits for local development.......

7. The data on the externality cost of bauxite mining and the aluminium industry finds no mention in the MoEF document. Briefly, according to documents from the Wuppertal Institute of resource management (Germany) & UK Govt figures, producing one ton of aluminium consumes over 1,000 tons of water, and 85 tons of CO 2, which imposes a cost estimated at $1,700 (per ton of aluminium) on the local environment where it is produced. Saying that aluminium is a "green metal" (as the attorney general claimed on 6th September, on the basis that aluminium use saves trees) is a gross distortion.

Vedanta was listed in the London Stock Exchange on 5th Dec 2003 with the help of J.P.Morgan (US) as sponsor and financial advisor, along with HSBC, Cazenove (UK), Citigroup (US), ICICI (US), and Macquarie (Australia), & subsequent major investments from Barclays (UK), Deutsche Bank (Germany) and numerous other foreign financial institutions. The comprehensive report which J.P.Morgan commissioned for the London listing (dated Dec 2003) mentions the Lanjigarh refinery & Niyamgiri mine as a principal project, while documenting the inevitable environmental costs in some detail – unlike the MoEF report. Among these impacts cited in the J.P.Morgan report are the polluting conditions in which Red Mud toxic waste and fly ash are stored at Vedanta/Balco's Korba refinery, significant in light of recent news that within a month of starting production, the Lanjigarh refinery has already polluted the Bansadhara river near its source from Niyamgiri, where it has been declared unfit for drinking and use by the villagers who have always used it.

This carelessness, as well as the oppression of tribal protestors, the corruption and "briberization" evident all around Lanjigarh now, represent just the first stages of this mining project's costs to Orissa's environment and society, including future generations, while the profits are set to accumulate with the foreign banks and metal traders.

The Objection registered on 5th October, whose hearing was suppressed on 26th, was made on the grounds of the fundamental rights of tribal people to their religion and its structures, which include Niyamgiri. The aluminium industry is being imposed in Orissa with a ruthlessless and insensitivity towards tribal people amply documented in Robert Goodland's report on the Utkal project in Kashipur, and several carefully researched human rights reports from the area by the PUCL etc. The way tribal people's interests and voices are being marginalized was all too evident yesterday, and Sanjay Parikh admitted afterwards he felt himself treated like a tribal in the way Arjit had humiliated and silenced him.

To summarize: of all Orissa's Bauxite-capped Mountains, Niyamgiri is the last that should be mined, due to the thick primary saal forest covering at least 80% of its summit and its spiritual significance to the Dongria, whose religious taboo on cutting this forest has maintained it in a uniquely unspoilt condition. There are alternative Bauxite reserves within Orissa which could and should be granted, according to the OMC's original agreement with Sterlite, in preference to Niyamgiri. By giving Clearance for Niyamgiri, the SC is responible for sending all the worst signals to mining companies and investors: namely that India's best environmental assets are for sale if enough money is given to the right people .

krishna, ECONET, Pune

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Immortalising the Andaman Tribes

What I am pasting below is a compilation of a very interesting discussion on the, a egroup dedicated to issues of the A&N islands. It is obviously a very controversial topic and opinions in the matter are bound to be polarised and the following posts show.


Immortalising vanishing tribes
Pallava Bagla
Friday, October 26, 2007 (Hyderabad)
Indian scientists have been trying to preserve the genetic lines of the country's fast vanishing ethnic tribes in the hope that even if the tribes get wiped out their unique genetic material could still be available as human heritage to search for medical cures.

But the scientists seem to have hit a real roadblock and are unable to get blood samples from the hunter-gatherer tribes of the Andaman islands. India is home to over 500 tribes, of which 70 are classed as primitive. But none of them are as endangered as the Jarawas, the Onges and the Sentinelese, known to be the world's oldest inhabitants after humans migrated from Africa.

In the Andaman islands, the Jarawas number only 200, living north of Port Blair. The Onges are down to double digit figures and the Sentinelese, who resist any contact with outsiders, are believed to number only 250.

These tribes could soon be extinct as their homes are slowly being encroached upon by today's civilization. But modern day biology has a way of immortalising them. Dr Lalji Singh, who pioneered DNA finger printing in India, and helped crack the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case wants to save this unique human heritage.

His laboratory has blood samples of over 100 tribes and 11,000 individuals preserved for posterity. He wants access to the vanishing tribes to collect their blood samples but red tape is holding him back.''We are desperately trying through the Government of India to provide us permission to collect the blood samples in such a manner that the day we collect the sample we arrange its transportation by air to CCMB where we have fully established the procedure to develop transformed cell lines and we can immortalize them for sure.

''Since last two years we are waiting for permission from the government and have the money sanctioned for making the film but have not got permission from local authorities to collect blood samples,'' said Dr Lalji Singh, Director, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology.

In mainland India where tribes have faced a similar fate science has come to their rescue. By collecting blood samples and processing them scientists have created immortal cell lines. Even if the tribals get extinct, at least their hereditary material is safe.


Madhusree Mukherjee


I can’tt be the only one who finds the tone of this piece extraordinarily offensive. In what

sense does an immortal cell line come to the rescue of a tribe? Is that all there is to a people and their extraordinary complexity? Can any sane person imagine that a bunch of cells in a petri dish even remotely approximates a human being, let alone an entire tribe and its culture? And what about the individuals, their lives, their loves, their dreams, their futures? We take away their land, their means of survival, we kill them off and appropriate their genetic information for our use... and call that a rescue?

I never thought I'd say this, but thank heavens for the red tape that keeps Lalji Singh from rescuing the Andamanese.


Couldn't agree more. It seems Lalji and CCMB has a tendency to go after
these outlandish schemes, whether for funding or publicity or other reasons,
I remember the cheetah cloning project that hit the headlines some years
ago, no idea at what stage that is now...
neither the andamanese or the cheetah would be better off, as long as the
forces that destroyed and are destroying their habitat are checked... the
millions these projects would cost would be better poured into protection!

Ashish fernandes


I too feel that the so called biological Science wallas are quite pretentious as ones who can save. Lalji and his group has had the samples already worked upon along with bunch of others who have added to the genetic knowledge and often the samples have been collected in dubious manners. Not to forget being stolen from museums. And ofcourse now ASI has it's own set up to work with genetic material right in Port Blair. I think that the Administration has taken a right step by not letting things just push the agenda of certain kind of science. In fact what and how have they been proactive in relating to the problems of the A&N tribes beyond doing sample and data collection. Has the knowledge increased for all? Has it contributed to the policies? In fact it is a shame that even the AAJVS has not been monitored but atleast in it's lathargey has kept some science wallas away. Often we tend to describe the existence of problems but we never focus on and debate the possible
I am happy that Madhushree feels the way I do too.

Vishvajit Pandya.


To protect Andamanese requires first to protect and preserve their living land, to respect their living culture, lifestyle and more importantly their indegenous Identity. I do not think any precise molecular biological analysis of the cells of the Andamanese can help in protecting them from the threats of modernisation and cultural invasion.

Santosh Sahoo

Conservation Himalayas


Madushree Mukherji has raised the only correct issue involved. One surely wants to know how does genetic code save a tribe? Till now tribes were thought of as museum specimens. With the advent of genome they are being reduced to sequence of bases in some lab. The genome research may be useful from anthroplogical point of view in tracing the movements of people but let us not think that this is tool to save the tribes.

Sushil Joshi


I agree. What's particularly pathetic is that the reporter apparently didn't bother switching on their critical thinking, simply reporting the hype as news. I am also suspicious of the ASI genetic lab recently reported. Are these genes going to be collected, patented and sold to some multinational when they turn out to have a commercially viable health benefit?

Neil Tangri


hallo madhushree and others,
i was just looking through the mails and i was furious to read that a advanced DNA lab has been established by ASI . and then that CCMB is looking for blood samples of the hunter gatherer tribes of Andaman to save the genetic lineage of these adivasi communities even if they are destroyed! really good to read your mail and those of others who also feel indignant about all this politics of hightech science.

all this once again brings up the question, to defend the remaining hunter gatherer communities and to stop genocide and destruction globally dont we have to confront civilisation as such with all its toxic ideology ?

warm greetings

shankar narayanan


Dear Friends,

Can there be anything more vicious than a group of scientists wanting to examine blood of tribes to "save them from extinction"? Had they been suffering from some mysterious ailments this might have been order, but this? It is a cruel joke. The question is, what can be done other than expressing our anger on the 'net?

Lavkumar Khachar.


Lets be clear about one thing. Andaman tribals are going extinct, not because ASI has set up a lab to study their DNA, but because of the refusal of the A & N Administration to follow their own guidelines.
A little DNA sampling from some museum is not going to make any difference of the survival or otherwise, of these tribals. And I, for one, would be fascinated by any light shed on where these people originated from. ASI is to be commended and not slandered for making this effort.

In despair,

Rauf Ali

PS You can start flaming me now.

I agree with Mr Rauf on this one. Who said that tribes will be killed to extract blood sample from them? It is going to open a new world of scientific and anthropological study. Can anyone shed light on how the DNA study will make the tribals extinct.



I am not ASI man myself but criticism of ASI in this matter seems to be point less .. can any one dare say that ASI has powers to protect the tribes over and above the Govt ?..We need to understand roles played by each agency .. and lastly Why the Moderator is not able to clarify these for the benefit of all, it is difficult to understand ..

Narayan, Port Blair


Dear friends,

A few years ago at the Inter-governmental meeting of Biodiversity Convention - a preliminary run up to RIO Summit ( I was representing an Aian NGO there) - an imposing American native Indian NGO delegate from one of South American countries stood up and pointed out that a clandestine operation by US government agency had taken blood samples from his tribal community without informing them why the sample were taken from them or even taking their consent. He suspected that the samples were to do some secret experiments to develop drugs form certain qualities in the serum to treat AIDS and /or cancer. He was clearly apprehensive that IPR was being violated by US ( which was not a signatory to Convention at that time) As usual there was no response from the large US delegation present !




I agree with Rauf too. I too would be delighted if any one can throw some light on the antecedents of this tribe. ASI has been trying for years to get this underway and Iam glad its finally in place.

Lima Rosalind