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12 Jul 2014

Bhubaneshwar, Odisha: Workshop on business & human rights, 14-15 July 2014

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The women of Khamar Village, one of the communities visited by workshop participants, describe the impacts of decades of opencast coal mining on their lives.

Note: Videos in which participants reflect on this workshop are here.

On 14-15 July, 2014 Business & Human Rights Resource Centre hosted a civil society workshop in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India, in collaboration with University Law College, Utkal University.  Odisha is a mineral-rich state that has seen frequent conflict between local communities and the companies that are present, or wish to develop projects, on or near their land.  These range from the high-profile cases involving Vedanta Resources plan to mine and refine aluminia in the Niyamgiri hills and POSCO's project for a major steel plant and port, to many less-reported projects.

The workshop brought together local community organizations, lawyers, academics and experts from throughout India.  It helped to raise awareness of the various ways communities can bring complaints against companies for alleged human rights abuses and seek redress, before appropriate local, national and international forums.

The speakers included: Professor Surya Deva (City University of Hong Kong); Dr. Usha Ramanathan (Researcher and social activist); Tapan R. Mohanty (National Law Institute University, Bhopal);  T. Krishnendu Mukherjee (Doughty Street Chambers); Aruna Chandrasekhar (Amnesty International India); Komala Ramachandra (Accountability Counsel); Harpreet Kaur (Business & Human Rights Resource Centre).

In the afternoon of the 14th, the participants visited four sites of community struggle in Odisha.  The participants split into groups to visit Angul district, home to mining sites for companies including National Aluminium Company, Mahanadi Coalfields Limited, National Thermal Power Corporation Jindal Steel and Power Limited Talcher, Indian Aluminium Product Ltd, Bhusan Steels Ltd.

Participants met with communities affected by: GMR power plant in Kamlang village; opencast coal mining by Mahanadi Coalfield (village - Khamar); Bhubaneswari coal mine in Hensmul Village; and Machhakata coal block at Chhenedipada (Adani group).  At the open cast coal mining locations, community leaders, including the heads of self-organized "self-help" women's groups, spoke of decades of suffering from intense air pollution from the extraction and transport of coal, increased temperatures, loss of land and livelihoods, destruction of homes caused by mine blasts, and the increasing incidence of pregnancies among single women from sexual relations with transient and migrant workers.  They also spoke about a recent incident in which villagers were arrested for staging a protest demanding for more jobs in the mines for local people. Villagers at the site of the power plant that processes the coal in Kamlang Village mentioned health impacts that they face due to severe air and water pollution. They also mentioned issues about inadequate compensation and livelihood.

The second day of the workshop was spent discussing national and international accountability options for communities.  Participants also explored networking options, and future capacity building efforts for communities in India facing the adverse impacts of business activities, foremost of which are the Odisha communities that the participants visited.

"They left nothing for the future," says Chaitanya Pradhan about companies that have been mining for coal in their village for decades.

A law student at Utkal University talks about her experience during the site visit. The workshop also aimed to expose law students to business and human rights issues.