‘Giving tribals jobs could have saved Vedanta’

If it was the inability to resettle 450 families that sealed the fate for Korean steelmaker Posco in Orissa, the failure to give jobs to another 500 families in and around the Vedanta project in Niyamgiri put paid to the aluminium major’s plans, said National Advisory Committee member NC Saxena, who wrote the report that resulted in cancellation of Vedanta’s project.

On being asked about the contradictions between development and growth, the subject of a front-page series in FE over the past few weeks, Saxena, who was speaking at The Express Group’s Idea Exchange on Wednesday, said the issue was being exaggerated out of proportion. He said the issue was actually one of complete apathy, on part of both the government as well as private sector developers.

“I am in favour of growth,” he said while citing figures to show how this would generate more jobs. One hectare of land in some of these areas, he said, would generate around two jobs. However, giving the same land to industrial projects could result in jobs for 20-30 persons once you take into account the economic activity that gets generated.

So why did he come down so heavily on the project in his 123-page report last August?

“When I first visited the Niyamgiri area in 2001, it was well known that a bauxite refinery was going to come up there… When I visited again in 2010, I found there had been no attempt to recognise the rights of the tribals under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. I found that people protesting had done so with thumb-prints, which suggests no attempt was even made to educate them, to provide them with basic skills.” Of the 7,952 tribals who live in the area, around a fifth live in villages in and around the proposed mining area. Would giving them jobs have helped ensure the refinery got its permission under various statutes, considering there were environmental issues as well? Saxena admitted there were several issues, but felt that giving families livelihood would have played an important role.

“You can’t pass a law only to bypass it later,” he said in a rare display of humour in an interaction that lasted well over two hours. India passed too many laws, he said, that were impossible to implement and then got used to collect bribes. Even the FRA, he said, had several inconsistencies – despite this his job was to ensure that the Act was implemented in its current form, he added.

Section 3(1) of the Act, which recognised forest dwellers’ rights, lays down the criterion for doing so. “Going by this, around 60-70% of the forest area of 70 million hectare gets covered. Are we in a position to deal with the rights of people on 50 million hectare, more so when we have done this for only 20,000 hectare so far,” he asked.Courtesy:IndianExpress.com

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Author: madhubaganiar

Madhubaganiar loves to write on social issues especially for downtrodden segment of Indian society.

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