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  OPINION  
     
 
   
  Nothing Vedantic
     
  Meetu Tewari  
     
  A FEW months ago this e-newspaper ran a story on the ambitions of a UK-based mining company, Vedanta, and the fight of the tribals of Orissa to save their way of life. Vedanta was planning massive mining in Niyamgiri Hills, which are seen as sacred by tribals like the Dongria Kondh.

Besides, a report by Amnesty International had shown how the activities of the company were polluting rivers and destroying the land, which would invariably endanger the way of life of the tribes living in the area.

Two days ago the Indian Government reached a landmark decision and withheld environmental clearance to the company, effectively halting their mining plans. Jairam Ramesh, the minister for environment and forests, has stated that the company will be issued a show-cause notice and the government would initiate action against Vedanta Resources for their poor performance in areas of human rights and environmental protection.

The shares of the company plummeted as soon as this was declared by the Indian government. Vedanta, which ironically claims on its website that "sustainable development" is the key, was pulled down for their lack of just this. The company headed by Anil Agarwal, has always attracted criticism, whether it is for lack of respect for human rights and the environment or their acquisitions in India and abroad, notably of public sector utilities in India like Hindustan Zinc.

Last week it was again in controversy regarding a deal to purchase 60 per cent of Cairn's Indian arm for 9.5 billion dollars. Though Agarwal is the epitome of the rags-to-riches story, he must bear in mind the consequences of his decisions which impact the lives of many, as we saw in Orissa. A firm cannot exit as a solitary unit in a society and he needs to take the criticism, also by the shareholders of Vedanta, seriously.

After the ruling of the Indian government, Rahul Gandhi visited Niyamgiri which had formed as the center of the struggle of the tribals against Vedanta. He received a rousing welcome and said that for him his religion was equality and he would "fight with anyone who is being oppressed."

Gandhi further mentioned that he was impressed by the "non-violent" nature of the struggle. He stressed the Centre was not against development but all development must take into consideration the rights of the people.

Blaming the careless attitude of the Naveen Patnaik government in the state, Gandhi said the Congress would never ignore the rights of the people in its states. Though the support of Rahul Gandhi is noteworthy, one can casually wonder at the show of solidarity after the government has halted the plans of Vedanta and the marked silence during the years of struggle when the tribals vainly tried to be heard.

This issue certainly raises important questions on the nature of development when it is not sustainable and all inclusive. Though the tribals have won a resounding victory, it took over two long years for them to get this far. State governments should learn now that any project cannot be awarded in the name of development without taking into consideration its overall impact.

Quite surprisingly, the BJD government of Orissa is planning rallies to protest the halting of development in the state. Clearly, they are yet to realize that they are rallying against the victims and in solidarity with the corporate culprits.

Large corporations and multinationals, too, should have understood that in the era of accountability and public awareness, they cannot force their decisions simply on the basis of profits. A little humanity and understanding go a long way in building value and respect for large companies and call for admiration though clearly, firms cannot be depended upon to make the right decisions at all times and the public needs to remain vigilant too.

In this struggle, however, all admiration goes to the people of the Kutia and Dongria Kondh tribe who kept up resistance against all odds and the support which came pouring in from all corners of the world which ensured that they finally won their struggle.

Whether it was the support from celebrity campaigners, international news coverage, solidarity by the Church of England or the 10,000+ letters sent to the Indian government by supporters of Survival International, this remains a cause for celebration when public outcry forced justice to happen.
 
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