Saturday, June 07, 2008

Niyamgiri and Ramar Setu: A study in contrast

Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh has written an interesting article in Tehelka exposing the Supreme Court's double standards in the cases of Niyamgiri and Ramar Setu. The author begins with this pointed intro: "ONE MIGHT BE a bridge long held to be a part of Hindu beliefs.(Ramar Setu/Sethusamudram project) Another, a forest that has for centuries been part of the active spiritual beliefs of an ancient tribe (Niyamgiri in Kalahandi, Orissa). Yet, when called upon to pass judgement on “development” projects that threaten both, the judges of the Supreme Court signalled that while they considered the first to be important, the latter was expendable."

The author writes: "This tract of dense forests and grasslands (Niyamgiri) has a number of streams and provide sustenance to millions of people. It is also home to the Dongriya Kondh (classified a “primitive tribe”) who consider Niyamgiri a sacred hill, crucial to their culture and their well-being. For them, Niyamgiri is equivalent to a church, temple, or mosque. Except that it is a fully functioning ecosystem." The Supreme Court has permitted Sterilite Industries India Limited, a subsidiary of Vedanta Aluminia Limited, to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri, overruling environmental objections and the tribals' right to their sacred forests.

The author observes: "A physical land formation in the sea is given so much importance that the judges question the construction of what the government considers a project of national importance. A sacred forest, threatened by the greed of a private company, however, has no such relevance. Clearly, a dominant religion backed by powerful groups and individuals is able to move the highest court of the land, but an ancient tribal faith gets no such consideration." The author is equally critical of Sethusamudram project on environmental grounds, which he claims, were unjustifiably ignored by the Supreme Court.
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