Orissa aluminium project breaking law to build, expand

Orissa aluminium project breaking law to build, expand the process followed to clear a proposed expansion of Utkal Alumina International Limited's (uail's) bauxite mining and alumina refinery project in Rayagada, Orissa, has raised disturbing questions about the legality of the project, the quality of the environmental impact assessments (eias) and the involvement of local communities in the decision-making process. Affected villagers are protesting what they see as a denial of their rights through state-sponsored circumvention of laws.

uail has put in an application to expand the capacity of its refinery plant from 1 million tonnes per annum to 3 million tonnes, and increase output from its bauxite mines from 3 million tonnes to 8.5 million tonnes, even though the project has barely taken off. That makes for a fresh set of legal complications.Despite efforts by the company, a joint venture of Hindustan Aluminium Corporation (part of the Aditya Birla group) and the Canada-based Aluminium Company of Canada (alcan), to win over the local people, its plans are facing strong resistance.

Anger was visible at the public hearing for the project held on October 17, 2006, by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board (ospcb) in Tikri, one of the villages affected by the project. People from nearly half of the 24 project-affected villages lashed out at company officials for reneging on promises.

Company officials are aware of the popular discontent, having dealt with opposition while acquiring land and getting consent for the project, ever since uail's inception in 1992. Some villagers say this is the reason the company did its best to stop the more vocal and persistent of the protesters from attending the public hearing, aided by the police. They also claim that the choice of location for the hearing