The paradigm of development ought to change, says Samantra who won the Goldman Environmental Prize
Prafulla Samantra, a social activist from Odisha has bagged the Goldman Environmental Prize, described as the Green Nobel Prize, for his long struggle to save the Niyamgiri hills from bauxite mining. He received the award in San Francisco in April 2017. He had fought the Niyamgiri issue right up to the Supreme Court.
Samantra spoke to Pradeep Baisakh about his struggle, if inclusive business is possible in India and the future of people’s movement in the world. He also charts out the course to fight the global climate change.
What does your winning the Goldman Environmental Prize mean for the people who have struggled to save Niyamgiri hills against the proposed bauxite mining?
The award comes as an international recognition of a democratic people’s movement against corporatization of the natural resources and state repression. People who are associated with various people’s struggles like the Niyamgiri movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan etc, who are termed as anti-development by the state, are happy and emboldened by this award.
Briefly narrate the importance of Niyamgiri and what is your role in the Niyamgiri struggle?
Niyamgiri hills is an ecologically sensitive area in the Eastern Ghats. It is full of bio-diversity and has a spectacular green cover. It’s the mother of two rivers - Bamsadhara and Nagabali. The source of these two rivers is the area where bauxite minerals are present in the hills. It’s the home of particularly vulnerable tribes like the Dongria Kondhs and Kutia Kondhs. Therefore, Niyamgiri should be protected not only for the tribals but also for the humanity.
I am part of the Niyamgiri movement from the beginning. There are several friends who have struggled to save Niyamgiri. My special role was to take it to the Supreme Court and fight till the end. On our petition, a Centrally Empowered Committee was constituted by the court, which gave a very eye-opening report. The SC has ruled that the Gram Sabha is supreme. And finally, as you know, the Gram Sabhas in Niyamgiri hills rejected the proposal for mining. Therefore the people’s struggle along with the legal struggle brought the victory to the Niyamgiri Surakshya Andolan (Niyamgiri protection movement).
Do you think Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s efforts made a difference to the Niyamgiri struggle?
I appreciate the leadership of Rahul Gandhi and his support to the cause. This might be his political strategy to win over the tribals, but his support is noteworthy.
Is the struggle for Niyamgiri over or there is still threat to it?
Threat is still there to the hills. After the rejection of mining by the Gram Sabhas, the state government has explored the possibilities of mining again. As long as the Vedanta Alumina refinery is there in Lanjigarh, off and on the government and the company will keep trying to mine the bauxite there.
The recently adopted Agenda 2030 lays thrust upon businesses reckoning with the rights and interest of people, particularly the vulnerable groups like the indigenous communities. Is inclusive business possible in India?
It is possible if the UN agenda is made mandatory for the member nations. Unfortunately that’s not the case. US dominance on the UN system is too much.
There is a necessity of strengthening the independent character of UN. Nevertheless, such UN agendas show the direction to the nations. These resolutions and guidelines provide moral support to the people and the development actors to counter the state repression.
What is your definition of inclusive business?
Global capital is dominating the development process of the world and it has proved to be detrimental to the interest of common people. It demands increased use of natural resources and has raised inequality. The grip of global capital over the democratically elected governments, including India, is so strong that the governments hardly care about the human rights violation resulting from business activities. This is a crisis in democracy. Therefore, the paradigm of development ought to change. Unless the role of global capital is made accountable to subserve the larger interest of the society and people, inclusive business is not possible.
In today’s consumerist world, there is an increased demand for resources resulting in the necessity of more mining. On the other hand, you are saying ‘no to mining’. Then where do we end up?
Look, before 1990s in India, the demand was dictating supply. But after liberalization, the supply is creating demand. This phenomenon landed us in a consumerist nation.
More than 70 percent people in India do not have enough to live a dignified life, but we are creating such a market and situation to foster luxurious life styles for those who have resources. Unless these unwanted goods, which are created with the loss of natural resources is stopped, achieving sustainable development is not possible.
Global capitalism is responsible for global climate change. Unless the rich nations and rich people reduce their consumption level, the issue of climate change cannot be addressed.
What are the causes of violation of human rights of the indigenous communities?
Wherever there are natural resources, there are indigenous communities and vice versa. The government and corporates have been taking over the natural resources and have displaced the tribals. The way corporate capture is going on in the name of development, it is bound to cause severe human rights violations, which is prominent now.
Do we have enough laws in India to protect the interest of the tribals?
We have laws, but not enough. India has not accepted the term indigenous communities. This is because such an adoption would lead to adhering to several UN provisions and guidelines to protect their rights, which the government is not willing to do.
Over and above that, the protective provisions and laws like the provisions of schedule V and VI, PESA (Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996) and FRA (Forest Rights Act) are being violated by the state.
No government has a good track record in protecting the tribal rights, be it the UPA or the NDA or even the current Naveen Patnaik (BJD) and earlier Janaki Patnaik (Congress) governments in Odisha. But the same set of people are being elected. Your comment?
There was a failure of democracy in 1975 during emergency. I am a product of Jaiprakash movement and I was then jailed. We fought to protect democracy. Even though we are a democracy, the political parties are not democratic in their functioning. Therefore, in the end you have people in authority who have come through an undemocratic process within the political party. Democracy stands crippled. So larger electoral reforms, including reforms in the political parties, are needed to make democracy a true people’s democracy.
What is the future of people’s movement in the light of aggressive capital-intensive development being pursued across the globe?
I have interacted with several leaders of people’s movement from different countries. I see a bright future of the people’s movement across the globe as they are all fighting against corporatization and are willing to come together.