Sunday, June 28, 2009
this is my new blog, where I'm going to be only sharing the pics that I've been taking all these years. As the name suggests, it's going to be only three pics every day, but a set that will revolve around a theme and story every day.

Here are links of monsoon related picture sets including one I have just uploaded

Rains in Secunderabad

This monsoon in Pune

Monsoon Clouds - Andaman islands

Do have a look and let me know what you'll think.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Plea to Save Jharkhand's North Karanpura Valley

His Excellency Shri Syed Sibtey Razi
Governor of Jharkhand
Raj Bhawan
Ranchi - 834001
Phone: 0651 - 2283465 / 66 / 67
Fax: +91-651 – 2201101
18 June, 2009

Your Excellency,


We are a coalition of groups and individuals, both Indian and international, who are concerned about the devastation being effected by the rapid expansion of opencast coal mining in the Upper Damodar watershed, also known as the Karanpura Valley in the Hazaribagh and Chatra districts of Jharkhand, a richly forested and agricultural landscape with hundreds of ancestral villages belonging to originally settled Scoieties. We respectfully ask that you order an immediate stoppage to mining operations and an open and transparent review of how mine clearances are granted.

The State of Jharkhand was formed in 2000 to address the historical discrimination and disenfranchisement of the original settlers who had lived in the region before the establishment of present State boundaries, who are defined by ILO Convention 169 as Indigenous Peoples. Instead of protecting the land rights of these peoples the State is sadly failing to live up to its objective. Instead, the first decade of the State existence has been a free-for-all for mining companies, at a terrible cost to the original people and the environment. The Damodar River has become further polluted. Forced displacements of people from their homes have been accelerated. The unique and ancient landscape of the Chotanagpur Plateau is being sacrificed in a short-sighted rush for profit.

As an example of this, we would like to draw your attention to the coal mining scheduled to start shortly at Pakri-Bawardih near Barkagaon and over thirty others which have been allocated in Karanpura region. The rape of Jharkhand’s indigenous rights, cultural and environmental heritage, is moving into a final stage. The fertile lands of the ancient Barkagaon landscape and the rest of the Upper Damodar watershed now slated for mining as Karanpura Coalfields are among the best agricultural land in Jharkhand and have been farmed since before recorded history. A unique palaeoarchaeological stonetool evidence of Early Man known as the Damodar Valley Civilization, prehistoric megalithic sites, and one dozen rockart sites, the pride of Jharkhand, dated to over 8,000 years back which have been recommended to UNESCO as a Threatened World Heritage Site by INTACH, and over 200 villages where the famous Khovar and Sohrai art being a continuation of the rockart tradition, and thousands of square kilometers of forests which are wildlife corridors for tiger and elephants and scores of rivers flowing through the peaceful green agricultural landscape will be gouged out into 300 feet mine pits running shoulder to shoulder down the Karanpura Valley, which will be in a stark lunar landscape incapable of supporting human or animal life. The famed forests which are reflected in the name of Jharkhand itself, the “Forest State”, will be gone. Many of the proud Adivasi people in whose name the State of Jharkhand was formed have already been reduced to being homeless beggars, unable to farm as their predecessors did. Many more will now be condemned to this fate, forced from their homes as has happened so often, sacrificed for the profits of a few companies.

This expansion has a considerable effect in terms of global warming, to which India is particularly susceptible. Carbon dioxide is the single greatest contributor to global warming leading to eco-catastrophic climate change, posing a severe threat to human life, including the expected loss of glaciers in the Himalayas supplying water to the Ganges river and extreme sudden rise of temperature in the sub-continent. Carbon dioxide particles in the atmosphere are already 50 parts per million in excess of world atmosphere danger levels and eminent scientists agree that the count-down to eco-catastrophe has already begun. The immediate reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has become a primary concern worldwide. In this regard new opencast coal mines and coal-fired thermal power plants, which are acknowledged as among the greatest producers of carbon dioxide, are unjustifiable.

Your Excellency, in accordance with your responsibility according to the Constitution Vth Schedule and PESA Act we request you to consider the above actions as violations of the following national and international Acts and Declarations,

1. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Articles- 8, 10, 26, 29, 31, and 32.
2. The Scheduled Tribes and other traditional Forest Dwellers Act 2008, Sections- 3, 4 (5), and 5.
3. Biological Diversity Act 2002, Sections- 36 (2) which requires directives to the State Government to take appropriate action, where any area rich in bio-diversity is being threatened, and 36 (4i) to asses the environment impact of projects which are likely to have adverse affects on bio-diversity.

We attach herewith the list of names of companies given allotments for coal mining in Karanpura. The Piperwar, Ashoka I & II mines have already destroyed a large, forested landscape ariginally being Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) and wildlife corridors used by tigers and elephants between Hazaribagh and Palamau. The Pakri Barwadih mine to our knowledge has received Environmental Clearance which requires to be investigated in view of its damage to bio-diversity. The cumulative effects will make Jharkhand one of the most tragic humanitarian and environmental disaster areas in the world.

Your Excellency, it is time for Jharkhand to live up to the vision of its founders and put a stop to this. We respectfully request that a line be drawn starting with this ill-conceived mine at Pakri-Bawardih, which we are informed has been given environmental clearance despite huge damage to the environment and that you order an immediate stoppage to operations. We also request that you order a moratorium on all new mining projects in the Upper Damodar watershed in the Karanpura region and establish an open and transparent review of the way mine environmental clearances are granted. In this way, you will be fulfilling your responsibility to future generations who will otherwise be condemned to lives of unimaginable misery and poverty. Your name will also be recorded by history as a leader who acted with vision, wisely considering the needs of the future both globally and locally. You will be acting in the finest tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, who said “the world provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Sincerely yours

Bulu Imam

Regional Convener
INTACH, Hazaribagh Chapter


============ ========
Bulu Imam
Director, Sanskriti Research Centre
Convener, INTACH Hazaribagh Chapter
"Sanskriti", Dipugarha
P.O.Hazaribagh 825 301
Jharkhand, INDIA
------------ --------- --------- --------- --
Tel: 06546-264820 / Fax: 06546-270815
Email: rch_buluimam@
Website: www.sanskritihazari
Blog: http://sanskritihaz aribagh.blogspot .com

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monsoon Pics - Andaman islands

Neil Island, September 2007

Neil Island, September 2007

North Bay, September 2007

Ross Island, September 2007

Clouds over Port Blair as seen from Ross Island, September 2007

Friday, June 19, 2009

An earth shaking event

post-tsunami impacts in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
By Pankaj Sekhsaria

Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXIX, No. 3, June 2009
Endless expanses of coral reefs that were once submerged even at low tide now lay exposed and dead, thrust by the forces of nature above the high tide line. Huge coral boulders studded with now-empty clam shells stood almost a metre in the air, with sand accumulating around them. We anchored that evening off the coast of the Interview Island Wildlife Sanctuary located towards the north of the Andaman group of Islands. I was with Harry Andrews and his colleagues at the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team (ANET) as they conducted a rapid assessment survey two months after the deadly December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami that had ravaged South and Southeast Asia. This was the sight we had seen as we sailed up along the west coast of the Middle and North Andaman Islands and it was an eerie experience to explore the almost lifeless, ‘moonscapish’reefs that now surrounded Interview.

Coral reef uplift on the west coast of the Interview Island Wildlife Sanctuary
(Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Located relatively close to Aceh in Sumatra, where it all began, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were particularly hard hit. Almost 3,500 people died, largely in the Nicobars. Huge coastal areas were submerged, basic infrastructure, schools, roads, power houses and thousands of homes were washed away. Post the event I visited the islands in February 2005 and was astounded to witness the brute force of the catastrophe.

Justifiably the loss of human life and the destruction to private and public property dominated everyone’s concerns, but we could see that significant ecological changes had also occurred. The coastal systems were most impacted, as were many species of rare flora and fauna. From what I could see and the many scientific and anecdotal accounts I read, it was the 9.1 magnitude earthquake (which triggered the tsunami) that actually caused the greater damage. With a pivot roughly located near Port Blair, the islands witnessed a huge swing, like that of a see-saw, on account of the tectonic activity. Scientific assessments indicate that the Andaman group of islands were thrust upwards by 1.2 to 1.8 m. while Car Nicobar went under by 1.2 m. At the southernmost tip – Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island – the submergence was almost 4.5 m.

Researchers who traveled to the devastated landscape around Great Nicobar Island reported that the small Megapode Island (a wildlife sanctuary) located west of Great Nicobar had been completely submerged. Coral reefs, beaches and low lying coastal forests across this island group were badly hit. The Nicobar reefs suffered a combination of submergence, increased turbidity and physical damage from tons of debris thrown back and forth by the lashing waves. Dr. R. Jeybaskaran of the Zoological Survey of India reported large-scale sedimentation on coral reefs around Great Nicobar Island. His post-tsunami surveys further revealed a reduction in the number of associated coral reef fauna, including nudibranchs, flat worms, alpheid and mantis shrimps and hermit and brachyuran crabs.

Submerged mangroves, littoral forests and paddy fields, Great Nicobar Island
(Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

The submerged settlement of Campbel Bay, HQ of Great Nicobar Island
(Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Interestingly, immediately following the tsunami, fishermen from Great Nicobar reported a sudden and massive increase in their milk fish Chanos chanos catch, which was relatively rare earlier. So much so that fishermen began to refer to milk fish as ‘tsunami macchi’. No one can explain the phenomenon precisely but speculation centres around the findings of post-tsunami ocean salinity and temperature studies carried out in the islands by scientists of the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research. This study found considerable thermohaline variability in the upper 300m column of ocean water and concluded that such changes could have a significant impact on primary production and fisheries.

Chanos chanos, Milkfish that has now become tsunami macchi in Great Nicobar
(Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

Early surveys conducted by ANET in the Nicobars also indicated huge losses of Pandanus Pandanus leram and the Nypa palm Nypa fructicans. The latter, in particular, was virtually wiped out from the estuarine regions of Little Nicobar and Great Nicobar Islands. Both plants are important for the Nicobari community as a source of food and materials such as thatching. An effort is now being made with the help of the local communities to replant the islands with these species.

Permanent submergence also saw most of the beaches vanish, including many vital nesting sites of the four marine turtle species found here – the giant leatherback, the green sea turtle, the olive ridley and the Hawksbill. But this change was short-lived, as new beaches had begun to form along the altered alignment within months. Sure enough, the nesting turtles too returned soon after.

The damage to low-lying coastal areas, coastal forests and mangroves was more permanent. Large tracts were completely destroyed. Every island in the Nicobars without exception was encircled by an endless brown wall of dying and decaying mangroves, pandanus and other littoral species. A remote sensing and GIS-based study of the Central Nicobar group of islands (Nancowry, Camorta, Trinket and Katchal) by the Institute for Ocean Management at Chennai’s Anna University assessed that the damage ranged from 51 to 100 per cent for mangrove ecosystems, 41 to 100 per cent for coral reef ecosystems and 6.5 to 27 per cent for forest ecosystems.

The late Dr. Ravi Sankaran of the S├ílim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) was the first to conduct a rapid impact assessment of the Nicobars after the disaster. His main interest was the Nicobari Megapode, a ground-nesting endemic bird that scrapes together a mound of earth as a nest in low-lying coastal forests. I had seen and photographed the megapode in 2002 near the turtle camp on South Bay at the mouth of the Galathea river and it was difficult to learn that nothing of that coastline remained. We feared the worst for the extremely vulnerable bird across its range in these islands. Sankaran’s report was therefore anxiously awaited and his findings turned out to be bitter-sweet. He reported that the permanent submergence had destroyed a huge part of the birds’ nesting habitat and that nearly 1,100 nesting mounds had been lost. He, however, reported sighting a few birds and also some active nesting mounds.

Subsequently, in early 2006, Dr. K. Sivakumar of the Wildlife Institute of India surveyed almost 110 km. of the coastline along 15 islands in the Nicobar group. He estimated that only about 500 active nesting mounds of the bird had survived and that the megapode population was down to under 30 per cent of the numbers estimated during surveys he had conducted around a decade ago. While the bird was badly hit, mercifully it was not wiped out. Little is known, however, of the other equally vulnerable, coastal forest-dwelling fauna, such as the giant robber crab, the reticulated python and the Malayan box turtle. There is almost no idea of how these have been impacted and there are indications that these may be worse off than the megapode.

Initially scientists worried that the giant robber crab had become locally extinct in the Nicobars as it inhabited one of the worst hit sections of the coast – a 100 m.-wide strip of forest adjacent to the sea. Reports that some were occasionally sighted were confirmed in late 2006 when Vardhan Patankar of Reefwatch sighted four individuals – two on Camorta Island and one each on Great Nicobar and Menchal.

Areas around Port Blair also experienced permanent submergence of about 0.6 to 0.9 m. It was a fate similar to the Nicobars and is best visible in the low-lying area of Sippighat just a few kilometres outside the capital town. Mangrove marshes that had been converted to paddy fields over the years were now permanently submerged. Comparative aerial images shot regularly from 2005 onwards, showed mangrove stands drying along the creeks at Sippighat. Today, the area is dominated by large expanses of water and one prominent waterbody. A study conducted by scientists from the Port Blair-based Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) found a similar impact on mangroves in the creeks of Shoal Bay, Chouldhari and the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor. This is probably on account of high salinity stress and permanent inundation. As in the case of the Great Nicobar, this also led to one dramatic, though short-lived change here. For the first few months immediately after the tsunami, the Sippighat Creek became a huge production ground for the best prawns that residents of Port Blair had ever eaten.

Ariel view of Sippighat, just outside Port Blair, that also experience subsidence and submergence like was seen in the Nicobar Islands (Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

CARI studies revealed that mangroves stands at Deshbandhugram, Laxmipur, Milangram and Swarajgram in North Andaman remained exposed even during the high tides. Sea water did not reach the mangroves at all and within a few months of the event they had started to wilt.

As far as the coral reefs are concerned, it was initially estimated that an expanse of nearly 50 to 60 sq. km. had been exposed and killed – the largest area being nearly 25 sq. km. west and north of Interview Island, which we too had witnessed. Similar impacts were reported from parts of Indonesia. Interestingly a report by Living Oceans, Reef Check and IUCN suggests that the most dramatic damage to the Aceh reefs was also caused by the earthquakes: “Hectares of reef flat at Pulau Bangkaru Island and Simeulue were uplifted to a level above the high tide mark resulting in total mortality of previously healthy and intact reefs.”

The situation for sea turtle nesting beaches appears to have turned up a mixed bag in the islands. Flat Island, a small outcrop on the west coast of the main Andamans, was, for instance, an important sea turtle nesting site prior to the tsunami. The uplift caused by the earthquake exposed the reefs around the island creating a barrier for sea turtles. Some beaches such as the ones in Little Andaman Island have become wider and the gradients more gentle. The ANET team also reported extensive damage to sea grass beds. This will affect green sea turtles and many carcasses were observed in the course of the ANET surveys.

While there has been concern on the negative impact of all these dramatic changes, experts and those working on the ecology of the islands have suggested that the best intervention would be no intervention at all. The magnitude of the change is so huge that little can be done anyway. It has also been argued that if seen in the context of geologic time cataclysmic events such as the tsunami may even have been responsible for the creation of the archipelago in the first place. Such natural events have been occurring cyclically and species and habitats are bound to respond suitably in the course of time. The conversion of Sippighat into a big, open waterbody, the reformation of beaches where they had been destroyed, filling up of sand in uplifted coral reefs and movement of the line of mangroves are evidence of such changes.
Nevertheless, the entire coastline of the islands has been altered and there is an urgent need to re-calibrate our own developmental plans in response. The area must, for instance, be resurveyed from the point of view of the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules.

Such mega-geologic events provide us with unprecedented opportunities to observe and understand the long-term changes that have take place naturally down the ages. These are the very forces that have shaped the coral reefs, coastal forests, mangroves and coastlines we see before us today. The dramatic increases in catches of specific fish species and the re-formation of beaches are only two of the many phenomena we should carefully study. Some may take years, even decades to reveal themselves. Hopefully, scientists will find the support they need to document such changes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Environment ministry to eject double agents

Chetan Chauhan and Rahul Karmakar, Hindustan Times

New Delhi/ Guwahati, June 17, 2009

A number of people serving on regulatory boards of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) will soon be sacked. The ministry has discovered they are also directors of companies whose projects the boards they are serving on have appraised.
“These are clear cases of conflict of interest,” Jairam Ramesh, environment minister, told Hindustan Times. “It was the duty of these people to keep the government informed.”
The most striking case is that of former power secretary P. Abraham, who has been heading the MoEF’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydropower projects for the past two years. Every hydel project needs this EAC’s clearance before it can start.
According to a complaint sent to the ministry by six NGOs last week, Abraham is also on the board of at least six power companies, including Lanco Infratech, Maharashtra Power Generation Company, GVK Industries Ltd and JSW Energy Ltd.
“There have been at least six occasions when a project of companies where Abraham is a director came for clearance before the committee he chairs,” said Neeraj Vagholikar of Pune-based Kalpvriksh Environmental Action Group on telephone.
Abraham reportedly stayed away from meetings at which projects of companies he was connected with were discussed. “But that is not enough,” said Ramesh. “I agree totally with the anti-dam activists and have initiated action.”
Despite repeated efforts by Hindustan Times, Abraham could not be contacted. “I’ve also been trying to contact him for the last two days,” said Ramesh.
MoEF sources claimed other EACs, notably the one on mining and another on coal-based power plants, also have members associated with private interests.
The National Biodiversity Authority has members who formerly worked for private companies like Syngenta, which has applied for patents from this very authority. They, however, refused to reveal names.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

He clears projects of his own firms

(Mail Today, June 16, 2009)
By Dinesh C. Sharma in New Delhi

Industry man hired as the chairman of eco appraisal body

THE MAN in charge of giving environmental clearance to new river valley and hydropower projects himself sits on the boards of almost a dozen private energy firms.

P. Abraham is the chairman of the expert appraisal committee on river valley and hydropower projects of the ministry of environment and forests. In that capacity, he presides over the approval of projects from private companies in which he is himself a key management member.

The government has been blind to this blatant case of ‘ conflict of interest’ involving the former IAS officer, who retired as Union power secretary a few years ago.

The expert panel was set up under the environment impact assessment ( EIA) notification issued in 2006 and is supposed to screen all applications for dams and hydropower projects for clearances at various stages.

In a sense, this is a regulatory body and it is being chaired by an industry person.

Pointing this out to the new environment minister Jairam Ramesh in a letter, green activists on Monday called for Abraham’s immediate removal from the post.

Abraham is on the boards of several power companies including Lanco Infratech, GVK Industries, JSW Energy, PTC Ltd, Flex Industries, Nagarjuna Construction, Himalayan Green Energy and Maharashtra Power Generation Company.

In the past two years, there have been at least six occasions when a project of one of the companies where Abraham is a director or holds another key post came up for consideration before the committee he chairs.

Last month alone, the committee considered two hydropower projects of GVK Industries — 170 MW Bogudiyar- Sirkari Bhyol and 200 MW Mapang Bogudiyar, both in Uttarakhand — for deciding on ‘ terms of reference’ of EIA. In January and October 2008, the committee recommended environmental clearance to two projects of Lanco — Phata Byung and Rambara Hydroelectric Project. Several other projects — including the 3000 MW Demwe hydroelectric project — of companies where Abraham is a board member came up before the panel in the past two years.

Curiously, Abraham ‘ abstains’ from meetings whenever these projects relating to private companies come up for consideration, as shown in the minutes of these meetings. But the reason for his abstention is never recorded in minutes. The agenda of these meetings is set in such a way that the cases of companies in which Abraham has an interest are taken up at the end to facilitate his abstention.

He is present for the rest of the proceedings.

“ This is an eyewash. He can significantly influence other members of the committee.

Even in his absence, decisions can be influenced, directly or indirectly,” pointed out Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

“ The committee deals with policies that could turn out to be beneficial to private companies.

His role on the board of these companies could provide them undue insights into the working of the committee and thus an unfair advantage in the decision- making process.” The committee held a meeting on Monday under Abraham.

When asked, Abraham replied: “ I don’t sit in the committee… I don’t chair when proposals from these companies come up before the committee.” Asked if his overall chairmanship of the panel constituted a conflict of interest, he said “ No, no… not at all.” Besides Abraham’s immediate removal, activists have demanded that all decisions taken by the committee be reviewed and the ministry develop guidelines for the appointment of members and chairs of such committees. The letter has been sent on behalf of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, Affected Citizens of Teesta ( Sikkim), All Idu Mishmi Students Union ( Arunachal Pradesh), Peoples Movement for Subansiri- Brahmaputra Valley ( Assam), Gopal Krishna and Waterwatch Alliance.

This is not the first time the issue of questionable EIA has come to light. In 2005, a score of green groups had pointed out serious problems in the process to grant environmental clearance for industrial and power projects. Various appraisal committees, they pointed out, were crowded by members who were engineers and the number of environment and wildlife experts was limited to just one or two.

All the chairmen then were former secretaries of government departments or ministries. In some cases they have been secretaries of departments or ministries that are proposing the projects coming to their committee.

Some panels had as members and office bearers of DMK — the party of the then minister of environment and forests. Most of the members of expert committees were either from Delhi, Noida or Tamil Nadu.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sham of an environmental award

Press Release

Vedanta gets award for environment management; Film on pollution by Vedanta’s refinery released

* Institute of Directors gives the Golden Peacock Award to Vedanta for its environment practices at a climate change conference in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh
* Former chief justices, former politicians and bureaucrats in the jury for the award.
* The company has violated environment and forest laws. Orissa Pollution Control Board served notices to Vedanta for non-compliance with regulations

New Delhi, June 11, 2009: Sham Public Hearing: The Real Face of Vedanta a film highlighting the pollution caused by Vedanta’s refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa was released today. This 30-minute film has been made by independent film maker Surya Shankar Dash and draws attention to the plight of the communities suffering from the pollution caused by the one million tonne per annum aluminium refinery plant of Vedanta.

The film also captures the public hearing held for the expansion plans where people lambasted the company for the pollution caused by it. Vedanta plans to expand its plant to 6 MTPA, making it the world’s biggest aluminium refinery. The public hearing was organised as part of the clearance process. Vedanta’s pollution is affecting more than twenty villages in its vicinity causing widespread skin and respiratory problems.

To add salt to wounds, Institute of Directors is awarding the Golden Peacock Award to Vedanta at the global convention on climate security at Palampur, Himachal Pradesh from 12-14 June 2009 organised by the World Environment Foundation. Vedanta is incidentally also the co-sponsor of the conference.

Unfortunately, the jury for the award includes big names. Former chief justices of India namely M N Venkatachaliah, A M Ahmadi, and P N Bhagwati, T K A Nair, the principal secretary to the prime minister and politicians like former prime minister of Sweden Dr Ola Ullsten are part of the jury that decides on the awards.

“This is yet another example of greenwashing and legitimising the ruthless corporatisation of natural resources impacting the bio-diversity and indigenous people dependent on it, “ says Dash.
In fact, the jury seems to have over looked the recent objections raised by the Orissa Pollution Control Board against Vedanta for non compliance with regulations.

Vedanta has a history of environment violations. Not only in India but also in countries like Zambia. In case of Lanjigarh, Orissa, the refinery has been polluting the river Vansadhara through its wastewater pond adjacent to the river. There is also clear indication of ground water contamination by its red mud (hazardous waste generated from the refinery) and flyash pond.

In fact, the Norwegian Government's Council of Ethics investigated Vedanta's records, and in its recommendations to the Norwegian Government wrote "The Council will, after the assessment of the substance of the accusations against Vedanta Resources Ltd …. recommend that Vedanta Resources Ltd, as well as its subsidiaries Sterlite Industries Ltd. and Madras Aluminium Company Ltd. be excluded from the investment universe of the Government Pension Fund – Global due to an unacceptable risk of complicity in current and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations."

The most infamous has been Vedanta’s plans to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills. Niyamgiri is an ecologically sensitive area and the source of water for the region. It is a specialized kind of wildlife habitat, dominated by grasslands and sparse tree communities. These kinds of sites are breeding habitat of many herbivores such as barking deer and four horned antelopes. Niyamgiri also falls in the elephant corridor between Karlapath and Kotagarh Wildlife Sanctuaries.

In its initial report to the Supreme Court the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had noted that “these plateaus are very productive with high occurrence of several herbivore and carnivore species.”

Niyamgiri is also home to the Dongaria Kondh tribals for whom Niyamgiri is of incalculable religious and cultural value. Mining of the top of Niyamgiri is akin to sacrilege for this colourful and endangered primitive tribe. This highly endangered primitive tribe with a population of 6000 will become extinct if Niyamgiri hills are diverted for mining.

Recently, in April 2009, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) cleared the mining project of Vedanta. This is despite widespread protests and the scathing report of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court questioning the integrity of the authorities involved. “The casual approach, the lackadaisical manner and the haste with which the entire issue of forests and environmental clearance for the alumina refinery project has been dealt with smacks of undue favour/leniency and does not inspire confidence with regard to the willingness and resolve of both the State Government and the MoEF to deal with such matters keeping in view the ultimate goal of national and public interest,” the CEC report said.

Vedanta had in 2003 applied to MoEF for environmental clearance for the proposed refinery in Lanjigarh. The application made no mention of the 58.9 ha of forestland it required. The clearance for this was filed in a separate petition for clearances under the Forest Conservation Act.

The CEC was in 2004 was petitioned by several activists to halt Vedanta’s operations in Lanjigarh after the MoEF granted it clearance. The CEC questioned the ministry’s approval, following which the ministry asked Vedanta to halt the operations. In its report, the CEC had ruled out mining in the Niyamgiri hills.

The apex court referred the matter to MoEF’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which in turn asked the WII and Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL), to assess the project for soil erosion and impact on water resources. CMPDIL, during Supreme Court hearings cleared the project of all water-related concerns.

WII, in 2006, submitted a unfavourable report initially but changed its stance later in the year adding a supplementary report, which included a Rs 42-crore plan for mitigation of impact on wildlife. Based on the two reports, FAC recommended diversion of forestland for the mining project.

For the press release and other information please contact Surya Shankar Dash on 09437500862, 41660901, or write to him at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vanishing Voices (of the Great Andamanese)

Vanishing Voices

By Pankaj Sekhsaria
GEO, June 2009, Indian Edition

The Great Andamanese community is one of the most threatened community in India today. In the mid 19th century when the British established the penal settlement in the Andamans it was estimated that there were at least 5000 members of the Great Andamanese Community that were divided into 10 distinct language and territorial groups. In just a century and a half the population of that community has come down to about 50 individuals, all of them herded onto the small Strait Island a short distance away from Port Blair.

‘Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese, is an unique project being led by Dr. Anvita Abbi, Professor of Linguistics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University to study the language of this threatened community. It has been suggested that the Andamanese languages might be the last representative of South East Asia's ancient pre-Neolithic languages.

Dr. Abbi’s project has created considerably new understanding of the Great Andamanese community – giving us a descriptive grammar of the language, a socio-linguistic description, an archive of their folklore, oral texts and video recordings and also a trilingual dictionary. “The biggest breakthrough,” says Dr. Abbi, “is that we been able to identify the Great Andamanse as the Sixth language family of India while Onge and Jarawa (the other two indigenous communities of the Andamans) constitute a different family altogether. No other Indian language has even a slight resemblance to the verb structures of the Great Andamanese langauge."

Another aspect of the language that fascinates Dr. Abbi is its terminology of the body. “The body,” she explains, “is divided into four basic zones. These are (1) the mouth and its semantic extension (2) the major external body parts (3) the extreme ends of the body like toe and fingernails etc and (4) the bodily products. A detailed study of the possessive constructions in Great Andamanese shows that ethnoanatomy and kinship share the same level of categorization and there is a parallel between certain body parts and kin relations.”

In the language therefore there is a parallel between major body parts of an individual and his/her spouse. Similarly parents and younger siblings are compared to one’s mouth cavity whereas a child and sweat are both considered products from the body.
Time is categorized as the honey calendar which is itself based on the name of the blooming flowers at that particular time. Honey, significantly occupies a special place in the pattern of subsistence and movement of the Great Andamanese and also the other communities like the Onge of Little Andaman Island.

An excellent benchmark of the status of a people is the status of their language; the converse is just as true and we get an excellent illustration of this when we look at the Great Andamanese people. “Only four of the original Great Andamanese languages are spoken today,” says Dr. Abbi and “there are only a handful of these people who can speak their ancestoral language today.” The number was eight a few months ago and is now down to six with the passing away of two of them. The language and the people are both on the brink.

Recent studies from around the world indicate that the extinction of one is followed by the other. When the nonprofit organization Terralingua, (Dr. Abbi is on the advisory board) mapped the distribution of languages against a map of the world's biodiversity, it found that the places with the highest concentration of plants and animals, such as the Amazon Basin and the island of New Guinea, were also where people spoke the most languages. "Wherever humans exist, they have established a strong relationship with the land, and with the biodiversity that exists there," says anthropologist Luisa Maffi. "They have developed a deep knowledge of the plants and animals, the local ecology, as well as a knowledge about how to use and manage the resources to ensure continued sustenance of biodiversity."

There is a deeper link between culture, language and biodiversity. There is a whole treasure house of knowledge and experience within these small communities that has the potential to benefit the whole of mankind. It's hard to quantify what is lost when an entire people and culture are subjected to the kind of slow but relentless extermination the Great Andamanese have endured. Extinction is a tragedy not only of plants, animals, birds and bees. It is also what humans to do other humans and in what they do to themselves as well. Every extinction, be it in the world of the wild or of something human, is the loss of a part of our very own.

You can hear sound recordings of more than 40 songs of the Great Andamanese online at