Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Andhra mining plan new Naxal flashpoint

Sreenivas Janyala Posted online: Tuesday , Jun 16, 2009 at 0259 hrs

Hyderabad : Maoists in Visakhapatnam and the Andhra Pradesh Government are headed for a violent confrontation over mining of bauxite in the forests of Jeralla and Galikonda tribal areas on the Eastern Ghats, barely a week after the state Government agreed to supply raw bauxite to Jindal and RAK Aluminum Limited from the area.

The Government agreed to supply bauxite to Jindal’s alumina refining plant at S Kota Mandal in Vizianagaram district and RAK’s plant at Makavarapalem in Vizag through the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC). RAK Aluminium Limited is the incorporated Indian company of the Government of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. Bauxite would mainly be mined in Jeralla and Galikonda areas in the Integrated Tribal Development Agency in the scenic Eastern Ghats, estimated to contain around 500 million tonnes of deposits. Maoists, backed by tribals and environmental NGOs, oppose mining in these parts. Mining, they say, would destroy the pristine forests and affect the livelihood of the tribals.

Maoists have threatened violence and made their opposition known by attacking workers of the Roads and Buildings Department who were laying a road connecting the quarries with the refining plants and set some machines on fire. The workers, however, were later released “with a warning”. Posters warning the government of dire consequences have also come up in the area.

The NGOs, too, are unhappy with the proposed mining project. “Disturbing the forests means disturbing the socio-economic structure of the tribals. Their livelihood would be affected and they would eventually be displaced from the villages. Besides, these forests are home to the Forest Spotted Owl and the Golden Gecko,” said Ravi Rebbapragada, Executive Director of Samata, an NGO. The area is home to tribals of Bhagat, Khonda, and Konda Reddy communities. Mining, he said, would also destroy the ecosystem in this area as it had about 25 km across the border in Orissa, “Mining there has left a trail of destruction. It has disturbed the fragile ecosystem in the region.”

In 2005, the Supreme court, hearing a case filed by Rebbapragada, ordered a stay on the project. The SC observed that tribal land could be leased out only to government agencies, public sector companies or tribal societies and not to private companies. The Government, however, worked around this order by bringing in the APMDC to supply bauxite to the two companies infuriating Maoists, tribals and NGOs alike.

Though Visakhapatnam Superintendent of Police, Akun Sabharwal, termed the Maoist threat of violence as serious, the government is undaunted. It has started laying approach roads to mining areas from the two refining plants. V D Raja Gopal, Managing Director, APMDC said the government had obtained environmental clearances and there was no threat to the tribals and their livelihood. In order to win over the tribals to its cause, APMDC is training about 200 tribals in mining and allied activities and pays them Rs 3000 per month.

The government dismissed the environmental concerns as Maoist propaganda.

“This is the Maoists’ last bastion in the state and they want to hold on to it. The Andhra-Orissa border with its seamless topography is a good hideout for them. They are not allowing roads to be laid because then the police and security forces can easily access the area. By inciting the tribals against the government they are ensuring that they have their sympathy and support,” SP Sabharwal said.

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