Thousands may lose jobs because of activists’ mania – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

The Law of Karma is inexorable. Whatever is said and done, whether in our personal lives or in the public domain, has consequences. The unfortunate part is that often those who suffer the consequences are not the ones whose actions resulted in suffering. The feared, if not imminent, closure Vedanta Aluminium Limited’s (VAL’s) 1 million tonne alumina refinery in Orissa’s Kalahandi district seems to be following the eternal Law. The people who stand to lose their livelihoods are not the bleeding-heart activists, garrulous intellectuals, and scheming politicians who waged a war against the mining major but the local people who have benefited because of industrialization―and in whose name the war has been waged!

Things have come to a pretty pass because of the acute shortage of bauxite. Problems for the refinery at Lanjigarh block have been mounting since August 2010 when the Union Environment Ministry withdrew the Stage II forest clearance. Thousands of jobs are at stake because of the ore supply crisis.

It was a well-orchestrated show by the politician-intellectual complex (PIC), which is the bane of India. Intellectuals create a climate of opinion to promote big state measures and torpedo the private sector; politicians oblige intellectuals as such conventional wisdom helps them chalk out a policy regime that is conducive for rent-seeking and other shenanigans. Like vultures eager to loom on a ravaged site, our political masters always look for opportunities to wreak havoc and then offer succor to the sufferers.

So, public intellectuals of all kinds conjure up myths. One of them is that the Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta Resources Plc., which owns VAL, is a monster determined to exploit the poor tribals, devastate their environment, and trample little traditions and local creeds. I don’t know if Vedanta broke any laws or ill-treated people, but that is beside the point. For the opposition of intellectuals and activists to private enterprise is a priori and not fact-based: whatever Agarwal or any other businessman may do, professional radicals would oppose them anyway.

Vedanta has lost investments and reputation over such allegations against it. The allegations became sexy at the London-headquartered company’s AGM in August 2009, in which cause carpers Arundhati Roy and Bianca Jagger presented a Dongria Kondh tribal from the Niyamgiri hills near Lanjigarh as an exotic specimen. The celebrity viragoes claimed that Vedanta’s proposed bauxite mine on the hill would destroy the place which is sacred to the tribe; for it Niyam Raja was a god.

Roy and Jagger presented a narrative, not much different from James Cameron’s execrable movie, Avatar. In an article in The Guardian on July 27, 2009, Roy wrote, “Bauxite mountains are part of a very delicate ecosystem. The mining of bauxite and the process by which it is turned into aluminum is among the most toxic, environmentally devastating processes imaginable. If Vedanta is allowed to go ahead with its plans for mining the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, in India’s east, for bauxite it will lead to the devastation of a whole ecosystem and the destruction of not just the Dongria Kondh tribal community, but eventually all those whose livelihoods depend on that ecosystem.”

By this logic, bauxite―or, for that matter, any ore―should not be mined anywhere in the world. The ideal world, in Roy’s scheme of things, would be the one that existed during the Stone Age. In this world, the man would live in the natural condition and life would be, to use Hobbes’ words, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Obviously, Roy does not stop to ponder over the consequences of such life. She moves on from the tribal arcadia to the other theme of Avatar: pillage of the Garden of Eden and exploitation of hapless creatures. “The battle lines are very clearly drawn. On the one hand the Indian government with all its might, its judiciary and its police has aligned itself with the mining cartel of several corporations, led from the front by Vedanta. On the other side are India’s poorest forest-dwelling people who stand to be displaced from their homes and lose their livelihoods and their way of life.”

Jagger added more sentimentalism, religious flavor, and baloney to the issue. In an article in the same newspaper on the same day, she wrote, “The lush forests of Niyamgiri mountain are a pristine ecosystem of great conservation significance. So important is the local environment to the Kondh that they consider the mountain to be a living God and claim that their spiritual, cultural and economic wellbeing are embedded deep within it. They say that if the mine goes ahead, it will undermine their collective identity and way of life. In other words, it will strip them of their basic human rights, enshrined in national and international law. These are fundamental rights, which we would all fight for. Oppressed people around the world know this all too well.”

In less politically correct times, the modus vivendi of the Kondh would have been considered medieval, backward, and in need of social and religious reform. But we live in an era in which the postmodern mingle with the pre-modern―with disastrous consequences. So, incorrigible fantasizers like Roy are taken seriously; their views pass off as gospel truth in international forums and in the political arenas all over the world, particularly in India.

Unsurprisingly, such views find favor with the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, that platform for dirigisme, idiocy, mischief, and worse. It was NAC member and former bureaucrat N.C. Saxena who headed an official committee that practically torpedoed VAL’s plans. The bonus was that―or so the Congress thought―the affair gave Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi opportunity to get some political mileage. Intellectuals were happy; politicians were happy; both had scored goals―at the expense of the economy and locals, as it is becoming evident now.

Thanks to the machinations and spitefulness of the Congress, the NAC, and glib intellectuals, VAL, the country’s largest aluminium manufacturer, is facing a severe of bauxite shortage. After a 10-day break, VAL recently resumed its alumina refinery in Odisha. However, it may be temporary relief; the company has to ensure supplies by December. The 1 million tonne per annum refinery had shut on October 12 because of the lack of raw material.

The silver lining is that the affected people―employees and others who stand to lose if the plant is shut down―are now campaigning that mining rights be given to VAL. They observed a bandh on August 29 demanding bauxite for the company. But they, and others, have a long way to go and a lot many things to do, for the evil empire that the PIC has spawned is too entrenched to be shaken easily or quickly. The        PIC’s bad karmas, however, have begun to come to fruition.

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