Odisha’s anti-mining struggle has intensified with over 40 women and 12 children being arrested from the Baphlimali village, a hub of bauxite mining, situated in the Kashipur block of Rayagada district. The villagers allege that the women and the children were wrongfully arrested when they were taken under the pretext of meeting officials from the Aditya Birla Group’s Utkal Alumina International Limited (UAIL).
The bauxite mining project, owned by the Hindalco Industries, has been facing criticism and resistance by the locals since 2013. Bauxite from the mines feeds the company’s 1.5 million tonne alumina refinery at Doragurah, about 60 km from the district headquarters town of Rayagada and 12 km from the mining site.
Speaking to NewsClick, Motilal, a local from the Duimundi village, said, “Over 40 women and 12 children are currently languishing in Rayagada jail. The company had given them a proposal stating that they will be paid Rs. 4,500 per month. The arrests were made by tricking the women on the pretext of a meeting with the company officials in the presence of police personnel.”
The company’s plant is causing enormous pollution making day-to-day activities of the residents impossible, allege the locals. Motilal added, “The factory is eroding natural resources, we are living in the bauxite dust. My house is 10 metre away from the factory. The company told us that we will be displaced. We were lathi charged brutally inside the company’s premises.” Previously, in November 2019, 14 people including Motilal were arrested for participating in the protests.
The land for the project was acquired by promising jobs to the locals in the factory and the development of the region. While the company claims it is conducting “award-winning Corporate Social Responsibility” by launching a programme to eradicate girl child weddings, locals feel betrayed.
Baghban Majhi, a tribal leader belonging to the Prakrutik Suraksha Sampad Parishad, said, “The people were promised jobs and development of the region. Despite resistance, the project was cleared. Now people have been left in the lurch, without livelihood.”
The UAIL project, among many others, was delayed due to the resistance by the locals from early 2000. However, it became operational by 2013. In December 2000, conflict over mining of bauxite in the Kashipur belt took a violent turn with armed police opening fire in the Maikanch village and claiming lives of three tribals. Eight others had sustained serious injuries in the incident.