Vedanta Aluminium was recently denied permission to set up a $1.7-billion plan to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa. Located in Kalahandi district of Orissa, these hills are inhabited by the Dongoria, Jharnia and Kutia tribes who participated in a public hearing on April 9, 2012 and opposed the mining of bauxite from their sacred hill. A report in the April 12 issue of Tehelka highlighted thus – ‘Tribals said that they have a birthright on the Hills and they won’t allow mining to their sacred mountain whatever the repercussion may be.’

And soon enough, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, turned down Vedanta’s proposal on the grounds of non-compliance with Forest Right’s Act. He further denied being moved by the sentiments of the locals and stated that the decision was utterly based on facts. In the month of June, several newsletters were issued by Vedanta for local residents about its policies for redevelopment of the local zones where their mining plant would be established.

People did not fall prey to Vedanta’s numerous efforts that included boasting about its plans of expansion in field of education, health and other perks to local residents. Their constant refusal as well as not succumbing to the aggressive advertising campaign of Vedanta in month of April contributed to the denial of permission. The government had turned down their proposal as this development wasn’t sustainable; it also violated the Environmental Protection Act.

One may now very validly ask a question, ‘If a certain area is mineral-rich, is it not meant to be extracted?’ Fair enough. A mineral-rich area, often classified as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is meant to be extracted as long as the people displaced from that land are given adequate rehabilitation. Not just on paper but in reality as well.

Setting up plants, mining ores in remote villages fills up the conglomerates’ coffers and renders the poor, poorer. The ever-widening vacuum of disparity once again becomes visibly important when the locals’ land is taken away in lieu of small money with no other land rehabilitation measures. They eventually have no land, no deposits, and no job security. Even the health and educational prospects claimed by the company get buried deep under tender notices and signed deals. It gets worse if the family’s head count is appalling or/and the earning member is an alcoholic.

This does not imply that development should be curbed; development is primal to a country’s economy. But so are its people. Poverty, unemployment, hunger,  still remain as major concerns for the country and require immediate action.

Now consider another case unlike this one. In May 2012, JSW Steel completed paperwork with the West Bengal government for land transfer. This steel plant in Salboni has not only bought land from locals but also provided them with jobs and shareholding in the company, minimizing disparity and maximizing security for every family. So, even if the family is left with no money, they have shareholding and an earning member whose job will suffice the family.

To conclude, development is indeed important but so are people who belong to the country. And as are those who choose their representatives with the belief that this disparity will be diminished. Recently, Mani Shankar Aiyar in a panel discussion, very rightly articulated, “Development is important, so is justice and inequality. But development with dignity is the solution to all problems.”