Battle for the Future of India

Jagatsinghpur district in the eastern Indian state of Orissa is a poor rural place. But it is at the crucible of a battle for the future of India.

In 2005, state and national governments approved a massive steel plant here, and the South Korean steel company POSCO prepared to sink $12 billion into the project. Yet from the beginning, local residents objected to this top-down development, which would push them from their farmland and fishing spots, depriving them of their homes, land, and livelihoods (if history is any guide, they were likely to end up in distant urban slums).

After hundreds of villagers were forcibly evicted last summer opposition stiffened locally, across India and around the world. By late 2011, the Orissa government began resorting to jailing peaceful protest leaders on false charges. First it was Abhay Sahoo – who had also been jailed for 10 months in 2008-9. Then, it was Narayan Reddy.


Toxic Red Mud Doesn't Seem To Improve Livelihoods in India

The Indian state of Orissa is where the Vedanta Aluminum Company (Indian-based subsidiary of a UK multi-national) runs a refinery in Lanjigarh. This refinery is home to a nearly overflowing 92 billion liter (24 million gallon) pond of rather innocent sounding red mud. Already this year, video shot by local residents show the walls of the pond being breached and streets being flooded.  Compared to what is to come, the leaks have been relatively small.

When the monsoons come however, over 4,000 families in 12 villages will be threatened.

And red mud is not as innocent as it sounds. It is the leftovers of the aluminum refining process that includes highly toxic alkaline chemicals and radioactive materials. When the pond overflows its walls, red mud will contaminate drinking water, farmland, and homes, leaving environmental devastation in its wake and threatening the health and lives of thousands of people. This may sound familiar. Just last year a red mud spill in Hungary did the exact same thing.