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Out of this Earth : East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel | Raphaël Rousseleau - 8 September 2011

Review of book by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, Out of this Earth : East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel , New Delhi, Orient Blackswan, 2010 (742 p. with bibliography)

Felix Padel is a Welsh historian/anthropologist who studied in the London School of Economics. His thesis (recently republished) concerned the war led by the East India Company against the Kond tribe (accused of practising human sacrifices) in XIXth c., and the continuity between these colonial structures of domination and those imposed then by the missionnaries and the latter development agencies. Established in its region of study, in Orissa (henceforth Odisha, in Eastern India), he began to follow the contemporary projects of exploitation of bauxite, the ore of the aluminum there. In the course of the investigation, he met Samarendra Das, a film-maker and Indian socialist activist. This book is a sum of their skills and access to sources at the same time very local and international (the board of the Vedanta company, in London, by eg). It is a real mass of data and precise facts on the history and the structure of a mining company, as well as its strategies to exploit the massif of Niyamgiri, both place of life and residence on the main divinity of the Dongria Kond subgroup (the ’ mountain dwellers ’) that lives there.

The first part presents the context (the State of Odisha, Konds, discovery of an exceptional ore of bauxite, called ’ Kondalite ’) and a history of the mining projects and the dams – the second supplying the electricity necessary for the first - in the State, at the same time as popular movements of resistance (Gandhamardan, Kashipur) to these projects, without forgetting the repressions (firings on the crowd to Kashipur in December, 2000). In this context, the Vedanta affair appears only as a symbolic case in a much larger process. The chap. 6 is the heart of the argument: the history of the construction of the Sterlite-Vedanta refinery in Lanjigarh (the North of Niyamgiri), which began (in 2003) following an industrial agreement between the company and the State government. The authors detail the numerous developments of the process, among which the intimidations, the ’consultation’ of the local population and the systematic launch of the works before the agreement of the federal bodies (in particular the ministry of forests, responsible for the massif), to force them to accept. They also draw up a prosopography in brief of the company’s leaders.

The IInd part begins with an inventory of the living conditions ’ under the mining law’, treating the Samatha judgement (1997, p. 190) which set a legal precedent, but also the strategies of companies to by-pass such federal limitations, the intimidations at various levels contradicting the principles of the Free Prior Informed Consent, etc. The authors go back then to the thread of the networks of the aluminum industry, at first in India, then worldwide. The chap. 9 so raise a history of the intervention of this industry (in particular American) in the States politics, from Guyana to Jamaica, from Ghana to Australia (the Weipa case, in Cap York) and Brazil, from Iceland to Vietnam…

The IIIrd part explains why the aluminum industry has such a weight: by its key role in the military-industrial complex, since the 1st world war. The authors remind us how the United States managed this strategic, but obviously destructive, industry: ’by externalizing’ the production while establishing a cartel to guarantee the reasonable price of the ore. So, the financial, ecological and human costs of the production rest on the populations and the local governments, which the companies put into debt for a long time (p. 266). Padel and Das shows then that the " schemas of reinstalment and rehabilitation " are insufficient, and do not take into account the scale of the corruption in these processes. Compared to the ecological destructions, the promised development, as well, turns into in a pure and simple " cultural genocide ", through the destruction of the economic, social, religious system, but also the structures of power of the concerned populations.

Part IV shows the hierarchical and authoritarian character of the neoliberal structures, democratic States being able to pass under the control of companies aiming at their only profit more than the well-being of the citizens. The authors redraw then the role of the World Bank, " system of colonialism of moneylenders " ( chap.7 ) and of the British Department For International Development in the debts and the rapid industrialization of India and Odisha in particular. They remind us that the neoliberal doctrine spreads thanks to the systematic transfer of persons from big companies’ post offices to governmental posts, leading to a " global governance without global government " (Stiglitz on 2002). Also, numerous political leaders are former of the Economic Development Institute, which trains the members of the World Bank in Washington. Two chapters are still dedicated to the NGO (appropriation of funds, ambiguity of Tribal Development Agencies not recognizing the native local knowledges), and in " the profoundly hierarchical ideology " of the mining companies behind their facade of ecological and social responsibility.

Part V, finally, shows that the movements of opposition to mining projects are diversified (among which naxalites, p. 571), although they can unify in the fight. The last chapter summarizes the ’philosophy’ of the authors: they contrast the mountain treated as a god by the relatively equaliterian Kond community, to " the greediness as the god " of the hierarchies of multinationals, qualified as " economic fundamentalists ". In spite of some repetitions, this work is profoundly masterful, fascinating and terrifying!

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