Home > opinion > online-views > Andhra Pradesh: boxed in by bauxite, maoists

The kidnapping by Maoists of three Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leaders in Andhra Pradesh on 6 October has underscored the matter of industry and people’s rights. Specifically, the mining of bauxite for ill-starred and ill-planned projects, and years-old protests against these by the area’s tribal population.

For the Maoists it is cause multiplied by effect, and perpetuation of an old enmity with chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

The three local leaders were summoned by Maoists to discuss issues related to bauxite mining in the area they represented. When they did, the Maoists simply refused to let them go, and used them as bargaining chips in a bid to stall mining while claiming they were acting in the interest of the area’s tribal folk.

Irrespective of what happens now, the incident highlights a chequered history.

Andhra Pradesh has for long wished to exploit its bauxite deposits, the raw material for alumina and aluminium. According to the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corp. (APMDC) Ltd, these are distributed across East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts. This area adjoins Odisha and that state’s two most active Maoist districts, Malkangiri and Koraput. Even after the gradual retreat by Maoists in undivided Andhra in the mid-2000s as a result of massive police crackdown, the border areas of East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts, along with Vizianagaram and Srikakulam, have remained vulnerable to underdevelopment and the threat of Maoist resurgence.

Business came directly into play in 2005, when undivided Andhra’s government signed a memorandum of understanding with Jindal South West Holding Ltd, an arm of JSW Steel Ltd, for that company to establish an alumina and aluminium refinery and smelter, and for APMDC to supply bauxite. Following a pattern made infamous by Vedanta Resources Plc and Odisha’s government, business in Andhra simply presumed that bauxite mining clearances would quickly follow.

The memorandum was reinforced in 2007 to leave the onus of the dirty work such as citizens’ consent, environmental and forest clearances—the mineral-rich areas came under both reserve forests and notified tribal areas—to the state government agency. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy of the Congress was chief minister of Andhra at the time.

In 2007, Reddy’s government also signed a memorandum with the government of Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, to set up an alumina refinery plant and an aluminium smelter.

The following year, AnRak Aluminium Ltd, a Hyderbad-based subsidiary of an Emirati financial arm, signed a memorandum with APMDC for the state-owned miner to supply bauxite.

Protests have dogged the projects ever since. As in Odisha, people’s consent—primarily of the Konda-Dora, Noko-Dora and other tribes—quite separate from environmental concerns in a biodiversity hotspot and stressed water supply, was always seen as secondary. State-led violence has countered civic action.

Matters have escalated since June 2014, when Naidu assumed chief ministership of divided Andhra Pradesh after Telangana was formally carved out. Naidu’s government has made noises to supply bauxite to the stalled projects and other projects; and whatever resources any business requires.

Naidu’s pro-business talk isn’t new. Recall the public relations morphing of Hyderabad into Cyberabad during his earlier stint as chief minister of undivided Andhra from late-1995 to mid-2004.

Notably, he and his party lost elections that year largely on the perception of being anti-rural, anti-poor.

Meanwhile, the Maoists must be delighted to stick it to Naidu again. TDP founder, and Naidu’s father-in-law, N.T. Rama Rao, once described left-wing extremists as “desh bhaktulu"—patriots. Though rebels dismissively called him “Drama Rao" there was always a suspicion of a give-and-take relationship with rebels. After an attempted rapprochement in 2002, Naidu went the other way.

In October 2003, Naidu, whose security level was only a notch below the prime minister’s, was nearly killed when the convoy he was travelling in was wrecked by nine Claymore mines between the temple towns of Tirumala and Tirupati, 600 km south of Hyderabad. Naidu’s bulletproof car was mangled and flung on its side and he miraculously escaped with some cuts from exploding glass, a broken collarbone and a massively dented ego.

The stunning operation was conducted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, which a year later merged with Maoist Communist Centre of India to form Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist). It is today India’s pre-eminent left-wing rebel group—indeed, India’s largest and most widespread rebel group. It has been itching to reclaim its former influence in Andhra and Telangana. If Naidu blunders about, he could provide his old foes with more than a toehold.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear. Hold. Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India. His previous books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys Through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.

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