The law of the land contested: Bauxite mining in tribal, central India in an age of economic reform

Abstract: This thesis explores the contestation over a bauxite mining project in the State of Andhra Pradesh which includes a number of factors that may be seen as producing conflicts over both the physical environment and equitable, inclusive development for very vulnerable people. A key issue at stake is an alternative use of land in the constitutionally protected Scheduled Areas for mining rather than low intensity cultivation and extraction of forest products. The strategic policy choice is either to prioritize the protection of tribals from absolute poverty or to promote economic growth through mining, reflecting alternative visions of development and justice. In the background to the current conflict is the Supreme Court ‘Samatha Judgement’ of 1997, at the time hailed as re-affirming the right to land for Scheduled Tribes in central India. But this judgement has been restricted on appeal to only the State of Andhra Pradesh. And not only has its jurisdiction been limited, since 2005 new attempts are being made to open up this land for large scale mining in joint ventures between the State government and private investors in Andhra Pradesh itself. The contestation over what should happen to Scheduled Area land is analysed using Fraser’s ‘three moments in the politics of needs’ which focuses not only on achieving certain outcomes in terms of the distribution and control of land, but also takes into account the struggle to get recognition for identified needs of particular groups of people, in this case the Scheduled Tribes, and how the implementation process itself modifies the sought after outcomes. Current attempts to mine have been made by what appears to be a powerful alliance formation of industrial and political interests likened to Kohli’s characterisation of the larger political economy of India. But this research reveals a very slow process of implementation, in which the mining promoters have been frustrated by a complex set of opposing forces making use of local civil society, regional mass media and, national and regional political parties and juridical institutions that characterise the political economy of India at State level. Indian democracy thus continues to offer spaces for political deliberation and representation for civil society organisations and actors at the sites of implementation but also at higher levels including via the courts and the media. The main method employed, and an original aspect of this research, is document analysis based on the many bureaucratic and other planning documents which have become available via the recent Right To Information Act. In addition key informant interviews and livelihood analysis connects the people at the project sites with project opposition members in especially coastal Andhra Pradesh, and the planning and bureaucratic procedures of the further distant capital cities of Hyderabad and Delhi. The final outcome of the mining project remains to be seen as it is still under implementation. This outcome will depend not only on the relative material resources of the opposing parties; if this was the case, then the State government and its private business partner would have already won decisively. Instead we are seeing a drawn out process of contestation where the discursive resistance to tribal dispossession from land has strong historical roots and many active supporters. It is found that rather than relying on direct authority, the advantage of the project promoters rests on their ability to obtain and control information, though that control is far from hegemonic and has actually been diminished by the freedom of information legislation.