(By Pavan Korada)
The Andhra Pradesh government is showing great enthusiasm for encouraging bauxite mining in the Vishakha Agency area. It has issued a government order (GO No 97) permitting the APMDC (Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation) to mine bauxite in 1,212 hectares in the Jerrela village area in Chintapalli Mandal.
This even as a strong debate has been underway for nearly a decade on the wisdom of bauxite mining in the area. Not only have Adivasi populations been vocally opposed to mining projects, even the people from the plains in Northern Andhra have expressed support for their protests.
Protestors have argued that bauxite mining would threaten Adivasi livelihoods as well as prove detrimental to the local environment and thus to the health and lives of Adivasis. The mining process will result in air pollution that will degrade the breathability of air in the region, affecting both human and animal life. Mining will also affect a rich variety of forest and plantation produce including coffee, rajma, turmeric, areca leaf, ginger, vegetables, soapnut, tamarind, condiments, and spices, thus affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of villages depending on forest produce. Also, water bodies in the forest like the Suvarnamukhi and Gosthani rivers and the Sileru reservoir will become polluted, as will rivers flowing in the plains like Thandava and Sharda.
An unsuspecting mind may have mistaken these to be the very reasons for which the now incumbent Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had opposed the same mining proposal when he sat in the opposition less than 24 months ago. Yet, just two years later his government has issued the GO, suggesting that the earlier opposition may have been an opportunistic one.
In giving this nod to bauxite mining, Andhra Pradesh is not alone prioritising “development” concerns, despite the protection accorded in the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution for Adivasi people living in scheduled areas or agency areas, across nine states from alienation of their lands and natural resources to non-tribals.
However, the manner in which the entire process of licensing of bauxite mining in the Visakha Agency area has been undertaken suggests that more may be at play than developmental concerns. A number of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to set up alumina plants were signed by the erstwhile Y S Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) government between 2005 and 2009. Under these MoUs, the AP government would, together with private companies, extract and refine bauxite ore. However, while the proposed Jindal South West (JSW) and Nalco projects have hit roadblocks, AnRak Aluminium Ltd (AAL) has secured all clearances for its refinery and smelter complex in Makavarapalem in Visakhapatnam district.
In February 2007, an MOU was signed between the AP government and the government of Ras al-Khaimah (RAK), a member of the United Arab Emirates, for mining and refining bauxite under which the AP government promised to supply bauxite via the AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC), a public sector entity owned by the AP government, to the alumina refinery to be established by AAL. APMDC would mine the bauxite in the Jerrela Hills of Visakhapatnam district, a scheduled area, and supply it to AnRak Aluminium Ltd (AAL)’s refinery, which would be built outside the reserved tribal area. In the process, this set-up did not attract prohibitions of tribal land transfer legislation that ban private ownership of land in the scheduled areas of the state.
However, in 2012, the AAL website stated, “AnRak Aluminium Ltd commenced as a joint venture between Penna group of industries and Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority with 70:30 ratio (85:15 later apparently).”
The Penna Cement group was founded by P Pratap Reddy, treasurer of the AP Congress during the YSR years, described as a close associate of the former CM. Further, other AP Congress members are also alleged to have invested heavily in the project, which was accorded extremely high priority, enabling it to catch up with the JSW project in implementation. In such a context, the initial secrecy surrounding the deal and the subsequent speed with which it has been processed, raise questions.
Chandrababu Naidu opposed it all the way, but from the CM’s chair he has now given the go ahead for the deal. What has changed, is the project any less of a controversy now?
Without the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Gram Sabhas (constitutionally mandated), the current TDP government’s undemocratic passage of GO No. 97 stands ultra vires. Although it has been temporarily put in abeyance, this is a mere decoy to rework the corporate’s strategies to ultimately mine, market and monetise people’s resources for private gains.
(Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.)