Keep the Bauxite in the Mountains

Mining in the Age of Terror

The aluminium industry occupies a vital position in the military-industrial complex. Supply links between mining companies and arms companies are at the heart of this complex, along with the financial institutions that invest in both. In a context where state violence, as well as the terrorism it targets, is escalating in many countries, the “war against terror” has created a climate where too few are questioning the arms industry, and its role in promoting war.

Among many other issues, the greenhouse gas emissions of arms factories are massive, yet barely studied, and conspicuous by their absence from most climate change debates. This is also true of metal production in general, when compared to attention given to the oil industry and individuals’ carbon footprint. What about our metal consumption? And who calculates the carbon footprints of our wars?
The mining industry needs to be understood as intrinsically destructive to human life (if not life on earth) at both ends of the production line: the invasion of greenfield mines and factories onto indigenous communities and some of the world’s last pristine environments, that these communities have preserved; and the end result of metal consumed in weapons systems and wars, at exorbitant economic as well as human costs (our theme in “Double Death: Aluminium's Links with Genocide” 2006). Producing one ton of steel consumes an estimated 44 tons of water. Producing one ton of aluminium consumes a staggering 1,378 tons of water, so the expansion of aluminium plants threatens to disrupt water access for future inhabitants of Orissa and bodes ill for Orissa’s cultivators (Ritthoff et al 2002). Producing one ton also emits an average of 15 tons of CO2.

Among India’s most significant people’s movements are those resisting new mining/metals projects in Orissa and neighbouring states, and the dams that feed them. In places, violent repression of these movements threatens a state of civil war. To put this another way, a number of “resource wars” are escalating in several parts of India. Examples are south Chhattisgarh, where the Salwa Judum militia’s battle against Maoist insurgents has involved burning and displacing hundreds of tribal villages, in a context of vast new iron/steel projects; and the Lalgarh area of West Bengal, where police suppression of Santals protesting against Jindal’s steel plant plans has sparked another war zone between Maoist-supported tribal villagers and state security forces. This follows the success – at high human cost – of the Singur and Nandigram movements in defeating plans for vast factories on cultivated land. In these areas of West Bengal, as in Orissa, protest is often erroneously branded as Maoist-led, justifying increasingly harsh repression. The Orissa Government is even copying the Salwa Judum model, training several hundred tribal youths as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in Maoist-affected districts.

This brings closer a danger of civil war, in a context where neoliberal orthodoxy views most of India’s cultivators as “inefficient” and in need of removal from the land, to make way for bio-tech models of large-scale farms. India is repeating the pattern of European history in which subsistence farmers are removed by enclosing and clearing the land.
Already, an unequal war is being waged in India, with the Prime Minister speaking of Maoists as India’s biggest security threat (Al Jazeera news 17th August 2009, In a typical incident, police on 12th August killed 6 villagers in Dantewara district – the epicentre of the war on terror since 2005 (

“Aluminum for defence & prosperity” – the scene in Orissa

This text by Dewey Anderson by the Public Affairs Institute in Washington in 1951 (sold for 50 cents but now hard to access) is perhaps the only time a top aluminium expert has written frankly about the industry:

Aluminum has become the most important single bulk material of modern warfare. No fighting is possible, and no war can be carried to a successful conclusion today, without using and destroying vast quantities of aluminum[…] Aluminum making is dependent on vast continuing grants of low cost electricity[…] Aluminum reduction is no great maker of employment, uses little skilled labor, and adds little to the independent development of an area […] the US cannot any longer afford to make aluminum if it can be obtained in large enough quantities and on favourable price terms from other sources. (pp.3, 10, 21)

New aluminium projects in East India, based on plans for mining some of the biggest mountains in south Orissa and north Andhra, are on a huge scale. Already Sterlite/Vedanta has built a new refinery and smelter, and Hindalco/Utkal is constructing the same, while other companies have advanced plans for more refineries. In the words of a leader of the Kashipur movement against Utkal, Bhagaban Majhi:
To destroy the millions of year old mountains is not development. If the government has decided that we need alumina, and we need to mine bauxite, they should oblige us with replacement land. As Adivasis, we are cultivators. We cannot live without land… If they need it so badly, they need to tell us why they need it. How many missiles will our bauxite be used for? What bombs will you make? How many military aeroplanes? You must give us a complete account. (quoted from A & S. Das: Matiro Poko Company Loko, 2005)

Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery was constructed right next to Niyam Dongar, in the Niyamgiri range, one of the best forested mountains in India, due to the protection of primary forest on the summit by the Dongria Kond tribe. Following the Supreme Court case (2004-8), which basically granted clearance for mining on Niyamgiri, Vedanta is trying to construct a mining road and conveyor belt up this mountain, despite opposition from Dongria and other villagers. The Supreme Court case excluded Dongria opinion – one of the judges said that “tribal people have no place in this case”. But the judgement did extract a promise from the company to commit huge sums for tribal development, reforestation and wildlife management. Considering that tribal development is notorious for its corruption (P.Sainath 1996), and that tribal leaders have often said “Don’t flood us out with money”, these plans are not in line with the wishes of most tribal people. The timber mafia is known to have been extremely active on new roads built into the Dongria hills to co-ordinate with Vedanta – and operates along new roads built for mining projects as a matter of course. Moreover, the plantations planned, or used to “rehabilitate” bauxite mines by Nalco, Balco and other companies, are mostly of foreign species such as eucalyptus – no substitute for the biodiversity destroyed. As for wildlife management – a leopard photographed on top of Niyam Dongar (shown in Down to Earth) has already been shot.

Most Dongria strongly oppose the mine, but some have been bought up by the company, or believe its promises. A classic tactic of mining companies, as of colonial powers throughout history, is to divide the people like this, and the situation replicates the scene in Kashipur, where massive construction of Hindalco’s refinery is under way. Each mountain is a sacred entity for local Adivasis, who remain active against the mining companies, which include Jindal, Larsen & Toubro, and companies from the United Arab Emirates, while BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Alcoa are waiting in the wings.

Though Vedanta and Hindalco have built (or part-built) their refineries in south Orissa, as well as smelters in north Orissa, neither have yet been able to start mining bauxite, while mines of Vedanta’s subsidiaries Malco and Balco have been closed or forbidden to expand by government orders, due to negative impacts on the environment and local communities. The smelters, which are designed to draw huge amounts of water from the Hirakud reservoir, face repeated protests from farmers who were promised water from this reservoir’s refurbishment, only to find that their canals are running dry, since most of the water is going to factories (POKSSS 2008). These movements against these bauxite-aluminium projects, and by Orissa’s farmers, are among the strongest in India.

Stronger than Steel

As with aluminium, so with steel. When Sir Ratan Tata signed a deal for a joint venture with Lockheed-Martin, India's main newspapers had a photograph of him smiling rather maniacally as he sat in the back seat of a F-16 for a test flight (8th Feb 2007).

A movement of tribal people in Jajpur district against Tata’s plans for a steel plant at Kalinganagar hit the headlines after police opened fire on protestors on 2nd January 2006. Local people’s ‘Platform Against Displacement’ kept up a blockade on the north-south highway for a year after this, disrupting the transport of iron ore for export from Paradip. Near this port, attempts by Posco (Pohang steel company of South Korea) to build a new steel plant-cum-port have faced strong, sustained opposition by betul vine cultivators and fishermen, one of whose leaders, Abhay Sahu (of the Communist Party of India), was arrested when he left his village of Dhinkia for a serious medical condition (e.g. The Hindu 31.5.09).

Many of the mountains of north Orissa are already ravaged by iron ore mining, while some of the last intact areas are under threat from Tata, Posco, Mittal and other companies. When a Public Hearing was held for Mittal’s iron ore project in Keonjhar, police arrested 250 tribal villagers to make sure they would not attend (Samaj, Bhubaneswar, 6.11.08). Near Kalinganagar the Sukinda chromite mines have been judged one of the ten most polluted places on earth (by the Blacksmith Institute, see The Independent, London 16 Sept 07 & This region contains 98% of India’s chromite, and is the reason for siting the Kalinganagar complex of steel plants nearby.

The spate of new steel plants in Orissa started in the mid-90s with a Tata plant near Gopalpur that has never been built, where resistance was Stronger than Steel (title of Vandana Shiva’s book, co-authored A.H.Jaffri 1998), yet several women in a Nari Sena (Women’s army) were killed in police charges, and several villages displaced.

In Chhattisgarh, iron min ing & steel plants by Tata and other companies``` are at the heart of the Salwa Judum war against Maoists. The state-sponsored militia has burnt about 600 tribal villages, and turned over 100,000 villagers into refugees (PUDR 2006, Padel 2007).

Resource Wars

These “resource wars” are driven by foreign investors keen to gain control of Eastern India’s “mineral assets”, with promises of a new age of prosperity once these assets are being “utilised”, even though the whole history of the “resource curse” shows that countries – and even more, regions of countries – that are rich in minerals or oil, far from benefitting from extraction, are launched into a cycle of poverty and violence worse than anything that came before. India’s mining regions are generally its most impoverished and conflict-stricken (Kalshian 2007, CSE 2008). Vedanta is driven by a range of the world’s biggest financial investors. For Tata, its recent acquisition of Corus, Landrover and Jaguar, and the oversize loans it took to finance this, are factors driving its India projects.

The aluminium industry’s influence in Iceland, Guinea, Jamaica, Australia, Brazil and other countries is one of economic mayhem and environmental devastation, whose history has not been taken into account (Padel & Das, forthcoming). In Vietnam, newly prospected bauxite deposits in the central highlands are about to be heavily exploited by Chinese and other foreign mining companies, despite strong protest from a range of respected citizens, including a 97 year old general who led resistance to the French and American invasions (International Herald Tribune 15.1.09).

The base rock of Orissa's mountains was named "Khondalite" after the Konds. The layer of Bauxite near the top of these mountains holds monsoon water throughout the year, releasing it slowly in perennial streams, which dry up when the bauxite is mined (as at Panchpat Mali, mined by Nalco since 1980). The industry claims, absurdly, that the groundwater is benefitted because "during bauxite mining, micro-cracks develop in the mountain sides which facilitate run-off, recharging the groundwater below." In other words, during the hot season, these streams run dry.

Aluminium forms 8% of the earth’s crust, and in the soil, it plays a vital, though little known role in holding moisture, by combining with H2O. Some of parts of the world richest in biodiversity are those rich in Bauxite, such as Brazil, West Africa, northern Australia and Orissa. Mining and metal factories reverse these life-giving properties.

As a metal, the element’s combinability gives rise to a huge range of alloys, and a vast range of applications, not least in aerospace, where the lithium range in particular is exceptionally polluting. Extracting and processing aluminium from bauxite, and turning it into the igniting agency, fuel and casing of missiles involves a transformation from life-giving properties to "double death" – an agent of war, and a cause of environmental conflict.

We cannot afford the war in Afghanistan, environmentally or economically let alone the human cost & counterproductive strategy, that creates “terrorists” out of citizens outraged at the killing of brothers and sisters, and the double standards that count the lives of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan, but not the – far more numerous lives - of civilians killed, let alone of Taliban or even Afghan government soldiers. The war against Maoists likewise fuels an already smouldering injustice.

So the movements against new industrialisation engulfing Eastern India is intimately connected to the war on terror, both because the metals’ apex use is in manufacturing arms, and because the attempt to set up new mining-metals projects is escalating conflicts over resources – the war on terror in India.

Felix Padel & Samarendra Das


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  • Centre for Science and Environment 2008. Rich lands, poor people: Is ‘Sustainable’ Mining Possible? Delhi: CSE.
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