Toxic Red Mud Doesn't Seem To Improve Livelihoods in IndiaJune 18, 2011 • By Govind Acharya
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.
Your action now can push the Orissa and Indian governments to ensure that Vedanta respects the human rights and environmental concerns of those who live near its refinery, by working to prevent spills and to fairly and properly clean-up leaks and compensate those effected.
About a day’s drive away, on the Bay of Bengal, is Jagatsinghpur district – another human rights flashpoint. This is the proposed home of India’s largest foreign investment project – the $12 billion POSCO steel plant (opens as a pdf). The problem is, residents don’t want to leave their land to make way for the South Korean company’s new plant, nor were they consulted before plans to take their land were made. Orissa’s government has forced about 200 farmers off common lands at gunpoint, but thousands of villagers – women and children at the front lines – have refused to leave. Support their brave stand by acting now to press for an end to forced evictions at the site and a thorough review of the environmental and human rights concerns related to the POSCO plant.
Not to be outdone, the government in neighboring Chhattisgarh has also punished opposition to untrammeled industrialization. Two environmental activists have been jailed for voicing concerns about the expansion of a Jindal Steel and Power plant there. Dr. Harihar Patel and Ramesh Agrawal have been arrested on false charges of “circulating defamatory material,” “disrupting public order” and “causing alarm and panic among the public.” Dr. Patel sits in jail, while Mr. Agrawal, being treated for hypertension in a local hospital, is chained to his bed – a clear case of cruel and inhumane treatment. Call for the government in Chhattisgarh to release them both and to ensure that peaceful activists can work without fear of violence or harassment in the state.
With your action on these cases we can send a strong message that economic development in India must not come at the expense of human rights.
Follow twitter.com/JamesMutti for updates on human rights issues in India