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Mining protest in Andhra Pradesh: silence, then bursts of noise October 16, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Oskarsson, Patrik , trackback

Patrik Oskarsson

Bauxite mines in the so called Jerrela group of hills received environmental approval by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 2009 to provide ore for the upcoming aluminium complex of ANRAK Aluminium nearby in the foothills of Visakhapatnam District. But the opposition to mining is significant in the local area with a lot of support in larger civil society as well as from certain parts of the national government such as the Tribal Welfare Minister Kishore Chandra Deo. Despite all statutory clearances having been received, apart from a final approval to remove forest, it is this pressure which continues to prevent the mines from opening or even preparatory work from commencing. A day before our visit to the nearest town Chintapalli and Jerrela in June 2012 Maoists rebels (usually known as Naxalites) had added to the otherwise peaceful protests by beating up road workers who were in the process of widening a road to allow ore trucks to carry their heavy loads from the mines to the refinery.

Protesting CPM activists in front of the APMDC mining office in Chintapalli, Visakhapatnam

Protesting CPM activists in front of the APMDC mining office in Chintapalli, Visakhapatnam. Source: Photo published in the Andhra Pradesh newspaper Eenadu, Visakhapatnam rural edition on 1 July 2012

The Jerrela mines are spread across a remote part of Andhra Pradesh on its North-Eastern border with Orissa. But trying to get anyone to accompany us to Jerrela village, still far from the actual proposed mine site, and then meeting anyone with something to say on the mining plans turned out to be major challenges. Despite working via many different contacts among civil society and getting support from various political party leaders in the area, those supposed to help us declined to do so, refused to answer their phones when we called or simply disappeared. This is something which has never happened before anywhere in India during extensive fieldwork. Usually people will be ever so welcoming and even seek out researchers to discuss their various concerns. Jerrela village where we wanted to go is not even particularly remote – given the frequent bus services which connect it with Chintapalli and the rest of the state – meaning a cultural explanation of shyness to outsiders cannot be used. Is it the Maoists which make local people go silent? Or is it the heavily armed police? Or both? We never figured out the reasons behind this silence on our brief visit which was interrupted by monsoon rains.

In Chintapalli town a project office for the proposed government mining company APMDC (Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation) has been established in order to organise sales of bauxite ore to the ANRAK Aluminium refinery once mining commences. The office is a tiny two room building in the backyard of the local revenue office. Inside a geologist has sat for the last two years without the possibility to do any work due to protests against the Jerrela mine. If he goes anywhere near the proposed mines he will be at least tied up by local activists and possibly even beaten. There is also seemingly no useful work which can be done in the office which lacks computers or even any files or documents other than the attendance sheet that all the staff fills in with great attention to detail, possibly since it is indeed the only thing they have to do all day. The geologist admits that there is not going to be any work for him to do at least for the next two years since the roads required for the mine and other infrastructure is far from being completed, apart from the mentioned regulatory issues and the protests.

On this day political activists from the Communist Party of India (Marxists) (usually abbreviated CPM) have gathered outside the APMDC project office and start shouting slogans against the mining. Finally there is some noise to liven up the office which has no work to do. And at least the office with its non-working staff has provided the activists somewhere to direct their anger when they are not being heard by faraway state and central governments. The local papers dutifully record the protest after which the group returns to its meeting to discuss what the latest MoEF expert report on mining actually means for their struggle. Similarly, outside visitors come to Jerrela from time to time to add some additional noise. Brinda Karat of the top CPM Polit Bureau is planning a visit on the 9th of July which is why the CPM group has got together on this particular day to plan ahead. At an earlier protest in December 2011, during which time the mentioned MoEF report was being prepared, a general strike was called in the area and 500 people including the ex-legislator of the Communist Party of India climbed up to the proposed mine site on top of Jerrela Hill to wave their axes and bows against the helicopter which the government experts tried to use to bypass the angry protesters on the ground. The protest was successful in that it prevented the helicopter from landing. In terms of getting heard the protesters will have to keep struggling for some time still.

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