Indian conundrum over mining vs social development resurfaces

Date of publication: 
31 May 2013

KOLKATA ( – The Indian government’s conundrum over the linkages between mining, social development and tribal extremism has resurfaced, with a Minister questioning the sanctioning of mining in forests.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has raised questions over the approval of iron-ore and mining projects in the Saranda forest in the East Indian state of Jharkhand, by the apex Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In a communication to the Prime Minister, Ramesh said that mining projects in the forests would jeopardise massive government-funded social developmental projects and mining would not be acceptable to tribes and forest dwellers in the region, a hotbed and command centre of violent extremism.

He pointed out that sanctioning the mining projects was a reversal of the government’s stance that no new mining projects would be permitted in forestland to avoid alienating tribes and locals.

Iron-ore and manganese mining projects planned by JSW Steel and Jindal Steel & Power Limited had been approved by the CCI, and took up mega investment projects stuck at present with various Ministries, while another two mining projects were awaiting go-ahead from the CCI’s.

According to the Minister, alienation of locals, owing to these mining projects, would seriously impact the $53-million worth of social development projects currently being implemented under the stewardship of the Rural Development Ministry. The projects have the aim of discouraging local support for the extremists, stemming from poverty and the absence of social infrastructure.

Ramesh has found support within government from Tribal Affairs Minister K C Deo, who said that tribal discontent over exploitation of resources by large corporates and the government should focus on the provision of social services such as healthcare, roads and education in areas plagued by extremism.

Deo’s statement was made in the wake of an extremist ambush on a convoy, which killed 27 last week, including top Congress party leadership, in neighbouring Chattisgarh, another mineral-rich province, in central India. The Congress party heads the coalition Indian federal government.

According to government information, as many as 155 mining projects across 800 km2 have been planned by the provincial government of Jharkhand and were expected to be placed before the CCI for speedy approval.

Ramesh noted that the Saranda forest had been the centre of extremism up until two years ago and that violent cadres had been cleared by use of paramilitary forces; but he claimed new mining projects would ravage the area and damage his Ministry’s housing, employment and basic amenities projects, which were much more important to the locals than mining activities.

The Saranda development plan projects have been very successful in wooing extremists to the mainstream of economic and political development, which should not be derailed. This had been pointed out to the Prime Minister, the Minister said.
Edited by: Esmarie Swanepoel


Tribal Minister KC Deo says ill-treated tribals playing into Maoists’ hands

CL Manoj & NIDHI SHARMA, ET Bureau –

30 May 2013

NEW DELHI: Last week’s Naxal massacre in Chhattisgarh that wiped out the state’s Congress leadership was a blowback for the Salwa Judum movement and must not result in retribution supplanting development in tribal areas, Union minister Kishore Chandra Deo has said, exposing fissures in the government on how to tackle Left wing extremism.

Deo, a veteran parliamentarian from Andhra Pradesh who holds charge of the central tribal affairs ministry, also advocated soul-searching by the country’s political class in the wake of the attacks and urged an investigation into what he said was a secret nexus between corporates and Maoist groups for illegal exploitation of tribal resources. He also sought a complete ban on the private sector mining in the scheduled areas.

“All this is a fallout of Salwa Judum… What you saw in Bastar over the last two weeks – first Sarkeguda and then another incident and then this massacre – this is nothing but chain reaction of Salwa Judum,” Deo told ET in an interview, referring to Saturday’s attacks that killed 27 people, including Congress’ state chief.

Salwa Judum, a civilian militia that was created and deployed with government support to combat Maoists in Chhattisgarh, became controversial for alleged human rights abuses.


The controversial Salwa Judum was subsequently censured and ordered to be disbanded by the Supreme Court. Its founder Mahendra Karma, on the hit-list of Maoists for years, was also killed in last week’s attacks. Deo, a tribal leader himself, warned against paying heed to suggestions for adopting a hawkish policy of retaliatory attacks in Maoist strongholds, saying such a course of action could tip India into a bloody civil war.

“Once again we have heard some sections advocating hawkish retaliatory attacks, using Army, Air Force, carpet-bombing… Such methods, let me tell you, will only push India into a bloody civil war in the tribal areas against our own people. It will only create a situation in which America found itself in Vietnam… It is not in India’s interest to commit another mistake in the name of hawkish retaliation,” he said.

Deo’s comments run counter to sentiments being expressed elsewhere in the party and the government. The mood in Congress, which has historically treaded carefully on tackling Naxalism with dominant view emphasising development over tough policing, has turned more hardline after the attacks. On Tuesday, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, long considered a votary of a development-first approach, called Maoists ‘terrorists’ and advocated a four-pronged method in which tough security and police action should be coupled with deeper political engagement, sensitive development and redressal of past grievances.

Other Congress leaders, notably party general secretary Digvijaya Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Deo feel that Naxalism is not purely a law & order issue and the government should employ a dual approach of development and security. However, others such as Finance Minister P Chidambaram have advocated a stronger approach.

Deo on Wednesday again pitched for a development-first approach, saying lack of development and years of exploitation had led to a feeling among tribals of being wronged. “Development should precede combing operations… It is a chicken-and-egg situation. But you have to go to the root of the problem, which is exploitation and lack of development,” he said. He also said the need of the hour was to unitedly fight the Maoists with political and administrative imagination. “For that, the political class must collectively do much-needed but much-delayed soul-searching on how we as a nation have been so callous in treating our tribal population, in addressing their aspirations, in redressing their grievances vis-a-vis the nation’s development and advancement. If we do that, it will be easy to learn why the Maoists have established their strongholds in tribal areas.”

The government’s own estimates state that some 106 out of 640 districts are affected by Left wing extremism. Nearly 6,000 people and 2,000 security personnel have died since 2001 in Maoist violence, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once described as India’s top internal security threat.

Deo said India’s 10 crore or so tribals have been exploited for several decades, their resources systematically and illegally looted, and they have been forced out of their lands. “They are even deprived of their basic right to own their lands. And the Maoists exploited this criminal neglect of tribals to establish their bases in those areas. We need to address these issues rather than overlooking them,” he said, adding that a “United Front” of corrupt politicians, corporates and Maoists was cynically and illegally exploiting tribals and their resources.

Calling for an investigation into the so-called corporate-Maoist nexus, Deo urged a complete ban on private sector mining in scheduled tribal lands.

“Let only the state governments, by making tribals as stakeholders in development, do the mining in scheduled lands. Political parties should join hands to resolve that tribals are made stakeholders in our development process, they are politically empowered through genuine participation in panchayat system and that they live a dignified life as others. Only when we restore the tribals’ faith and confidence in our nation state can we deliver a lasting and crippling blow to the Maoist challenge,” he said.


Why Orissa mining may not go the Goa way


14 May 2013

Three weeks ago, when the Supreme Court reopened the iron-ore mining door some more in Karnataka, miners in Orissa breathed a Rs 50,000 crore sigh of relief. Also in the dock for some offences of a similar nature, Orissa’s iron-ore miners, who produce a third of this mineral that is critical to steel, had been dreading their fate, which lay in the hands of a Central government panel.

The last time the Shah Commission ”whose remit is to study violations in iron ore and manganese mining in India and recommend changes” submitted a fact-finding report, made public in September 2012, it led to all iron-ore mining in Goa grind to a halt. So, as it prepared to submit its report on Orissa, by July, there was a gnawing sense of fear among miners, user companies, and government functionaries and politicians at both the Centre and the state levels, that this eastern state could go the Goa way.

For companies with steel units in the neighbourhood, like Tata Steel, Jindal Steel and Power and SAIL, it would mean losing access to their key input. For the Centre, it would mean another blow in its efforts to shore up industrial growth. For Orissa, it would mean the loss of its economic engine.

Most of all, for iron-ore miners, it would mean the loss of a lucrative business stream. Already smarting because of a Rs 65,000 crore recovery claim raised by Orissa, they were bracing for the worst. But now, feels senior advocate Ashok Parija, who is contesting these claims on behalf of some Orissa miners: “Mining will not stop. After this (Karnataka) order, it is clear that most leases here beat the Karnataka test.”

The ‘Karnataka test’ is a 10% straying limit. Cancelling 43% of iron-ore leases in Karnataka, the SC allowed the remaining, which had not strayed beyond 10% of their boundary (15% in certain cases), to reopen. “The nature of violations in Orissa is different in nature,” adds a member who has worked closely with the central empowered committee (CEC), the panel doing the fact-finding for the SC on illegal mining. “Further, unlike Karnataka or Goa, Orissa, for whatever reason, has been doing its bit to correct the situation,” he adds, on the condition of anonymity.


Since 2010, much before the Shah Commission was set up, the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa has been putting in place checks and balances to detect illegal mining. Even the CEC noted this in its April 2010 report to the SC: it said that “...the state has taken corrective steps, though rather belatedly…”, but also added that “serious shortcomings” still remain. Orissa asked miners without valid clearances to stop mining. It initiated inquiries against companies allegedly doing illegal mining and suspended several state government officials. “Since 2009, we have suspended nearly 200 mines working on a ‘deemed extension’ (a much abused contingency provision for renewals) without statutory clearances,” says Deepak Mohanty, director of mines, Orissa.

The state government, further, made public data on leases, permits and status. It made registration compulsory for traders and truckers, removed stockyards outside a 40 km radius of a mine, issued e-permits that enabled real-time tracking of all consignments and asked the railways to check permits before allowing rakes to be loaded. “That is one kind of theft that would go completely unaccounted: trucks that loaded 20 tonnes, declaring half as much, and bribing their way through weigh bridges manned by class four employees,” says Rabi Das, whose petition in the Supreme Court brought the CEC to Orissa.

According to Das, the state had not turned a new leaf; its hand was forced when the case – now famously known as the ‘RBT case’ (after Ram Bahadur Thakur, the lease owner) – of two people claiming rights to mine a piece of land neither had the approval for rocked the state assembly. Since both the accused were reportedly associated with the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the state had to initiate an inquiry. “If this (the RBT case) hadn’t blown up, it would have been difficult to take action,” says a former state mining official, on the condition of anonymity.

While those corrective measures may yet avert a shutdown, three other subsequent steps taken by Orissa – many say to save its face with the Shah Commission – has caused recrimination among miners, hurled the state into a legal standoff with the Centre and cast shadows of uncertainty in iron-ore mining in Orissa. And untangling all this will be a long, legal battle.