Bowing to the massive protests by the residents of Katikela region in Odisha’s Jharsuguda district against Vedanta’s proposed expansion of its aluminium smelter plant, the company has ostensibly assured rehabilitation and jobs to those who have been displaced.
The protest took place outside the company’s doors on Tuesday, with hundreds of women leading from the forefront and protestors blocking the entry of the plant for over 12 hours. Later, the company, in a handwritten note accessed by the Down to Earth website, assured the protestors that their demands would be met. With many agreeing to stall the protests for now, activists on the ground are highlighting bigger concerns.
Speaking to NewsClick, Prafulla Samanta of the National Alliance for People’s Movements said, “The larger issue here in the region is the fly ash the plant produces and the leeway it is getting in the hands of the state administration and how voices of those who question the permissions granted to the plant are being suppressed.”
Samata further added, “The public hearing for the expansion of the plant was absolutely flawed. On September 30, the public hearing was held barely for 10 minutes after the Odisha High Court issued an order modifying its earlier decision of an interim stay on the event. Many are accepting some bargains with the company in terms of jobs etc, but it will not hold water for the time to come.”
Image credits: Down to Earth
With haste from the state’s side, legal interventions are now being undertaken to stop the expansion of the smelter plant that generates enormous amount of fly ash--a byproduct of coal burnt at the plant. Vedanta Limited has invested in two aluminium smelter plants at Jharsuguda, Orissa. Phase 1 of the smelter plant at Jharsuguda has a capacity of 0.5 mtpa and Phase 2 has a capacity of 1.1 mtpa.
For the villagers, the prime concern is the pollution the plant has been generating and the displacement it has caused.
Kumari Seth, a villager staging protests outside the plant, said, “We have faced serious problems because of the waste generated by the company. There is nothing for us in it as long as we are not given rehabilitation or jobs; all we want is to get rehabilitated.”
NewsClick had previously reported on the concerns raised over a rushed public hearing on the expansion project and the generation of waste by the plant.
Allegations of air and water pollution from Vedanta’s aluminium smelter and its captive power plant had been reported by a fact-finding team of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that conducted a field visit to Jharsuguda in the first week of September. The field visit was conducted barely a few days after the notice for the public hearing was issued.
The BJP team submitted a memorandum of its findings to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik, amongst others, demanding a high-level enquiry into the illegal dumping of fly ash by Vedanta. The team reported, “Fly ash had been dumped even behind the offices of the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police of Jharsuguda. Fly ash was also found to be dumped in forest lands, agricultural lands and near water bodies.”
The indegenous population of Odisha has led long-standing resistance to highlight structural inadequacies and destruction caused to the environment by big industries.
Read More: Did Odisha Govt Rush Through a Public Hearing for Vedanta’s Aluminium Smelter Expansion?