What you've read about the recent Vedanta hearing was wrong

19 August 2014

On 30 July, in the town of Lanjigarh in the district of Kalahandi, Odisha, district authorities and the Odisha State Pollution Control board organised a public hearing to discuss the potential expansion of an alumina-producing facility in the town. Sesa Sterlite, a subsidiary of the Vedanta group, was seeking environmental clearance to expand its 1 million tons per annum (MTPA) refinery to a capacity of 6 MTPA. The public hearing is a mandatory step in this process, and is the only formal space for local participation in a project’s clearance.

After the meeting, government authorities and company officials rushed to declare the hearing for the expansion “a success,” and told journalists that villagers supported the expansion. This was duly reported through news agencies, such as Reuters and PTI, and carried in leading papers, such as the Economic Times and the Business Standard, within hours of the hearing. A video news story uploaded to YouTube—on a channel called “Lanijigarh News,” where that video is the sole upload—a few days later reinforced this perception, asserting that the hearing had been a smooth affair.

But the Bhubaneswar-based web outlet Odisha Sun Times told quite a different story, reporting that the meeting had, in fact, been stormed by local Dongariya Kondh villagers, who

snatched away the microphones, raised slogans against Vedanta and questioned the purpose of holding such public hearing in the absence of locals and stage managed by the ruling BJD and company officials.

Contrary to official claims that the meeting was a success, the report notes that as a result of the protests, the meeting “had to be abandoned midway.”

Chitrangada Choudhury is an independent journalist and researcher, working on issues of indigenous and rural communities, land and forest rights, and resource justice. She is on Twitter @ChitrangadaC

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