CSR, as implemented by Arcelor-Mittal in Jharkhand, is more Conspiracy for Snatching Resources than Corporate Social Responsibility
These days, tribals are being tricked into parting with their remaining resources in Jharkhand. Recently, the village head Fula Marandi of Amgachi village of Dumka district in Jharkhand was offered Rs. 13 lakh cash, one vehicle and Rs. 20 thousand per month as honorarium by Nalin Soren, the agriculture minister of Jharkhand for convincing the villagers to surrender their land for the proposed thermal power plant at Kathikund in Dumka, which the villagers have opposed from the beginning. The Minister knew that only the village-head was in a position to convince the villagers to surrender their land for the proposed plant.
In another case, a tribal activist Dayamani Barla and villagers were threatened by global steel giant Arcelor-Mittal's middle men for raising their voices against the company in Torpa-Kamdara region in Jharkhand, where the company has proposed a steel plant with a production capacity of 12 million tones per annum, expected to start operations by 2012. The company has asked for 12 thousand acres of land for the project but setting about to acquire the land, it has run into the resistance of the locals.
In the recent development, Arcelor-Mittal has said it will spend about $300 million on rehabilitation and resettlement in Jharkhand. The money will be spent for the improvement of health, education, development, economic activities and women empowerment. The media has chosen to play up the hype that this will transform the state for the better. But one asks how this can be possible when corporate houses and the government of India could not do it for last 60 years. The company seems to be in a hurry to execute its research and resettlement plan in Torpa-Kamdara regions.
One must, however, trace back the history of Mittal in Jharkhand to understand that their corporate social responsibility, in fact, entails snatching resources from the tribals.
Arcelor-Mittal's tryst with the mineral-rich state of Jharkhand on October 8, 2005 with the signing of a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Arjun Munda then the Chief Minister of Jharkhand for setting up a steel plant with the capacity of 12 million tones per annum at an estimated investment of Rs 40,000 crore. In addition to the steel and mining projects, Mittal Steel has also proposed to set up a 2,500 megawatt mega power plant in the state. Delighted after signing the MoU, Munda had said that the proposed project of Mittal Steel would boost industrial development in Jharkhand.
Eight months after the MoU was signed, Laxmi Mittal again visited India in July 2006 to explore more investment prospects, but he was quite upset with the progress of the project in Jharkhand and warned the state government that mega project could be shifted to the neighbouring Orissa if the project continued at a snail's pace. "Though the Jharkhand government is co-operating with us, we are not happy with the progress on the ground. We are, therefore, weighing our options,' said Mittal. He also had a chat with the Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on the matter during July 7 trip to the state.
But by then, Arjun Munda had already made history signing MoUs with 43 companies. He could very well afford to tell Mittal he was free to choose between the two states. Munda knew that Orissa could never fulfill Mittal's demands and that he would be back in Jharkhand sooner or later. The people's resistance against the MOU was unprecedented, wrecking Munda's plans. Besides, Arcelor-Mittal, Assar Steel, Bhushan Steel and Jindal Steel were forced to leave from the Kolhan region of Jharkhand. This is when the idea of flaunting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) struck Mittal.
Soon, Arcellor-Mittal Foundation was launched with the objective of investing in social programmes, and promoting Arcelor-Mittal's commitment to society and sustainable development, focusing in particular on the communities where it operates. It is also said that the Foundation will seek to develop partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to drive the programme forward. But the hidden agenda of the foundation seems to be to use the local NGOs to find a foothold in the project areas. It was obvious from the start the foundation was going to pour large funds to enhance its public relations.
Arcelor-Mittal's activities gathered momentum with the appointment of Sanak Mishra as the CEO of the Indian project. The operational office was set up in Ranchi on April 8, 2008 and the announcement of CSR programmes started took the form of election campaigns. The first move was to launch an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) in Khunti, slated to open from 2009. 50 percent of the total candidates were to selected by the state government and the rest by the company. Half of the seats were reserved for tribal students and 50 scholarships were to be awarded on merit to deserving local students of the region. The ITI was projected as a catalyst of change for the tribal community.
Meanwhile, the Mittal was told about the tribals' love for hockey. Soon, Arcelor-Mittal was sponsoring hockey tournament for girls and boys of Khunti and Gumla districts. The training for boys and girls started with the support of the district and the state hockey federations. But the question that comes to mind is why is Mittal only concerned about the tribals of Torpa-Kamdara region of Khunti and Gumla district?
The next step was to lure NGOs with huge funds. It is a known fact that the NGOs had played a crucial role in mobilizing people for the successful people's movement against the Koel-Karo thermal power project at Torpa. Similarly, thousands of people started putting up resistance against the proposed steel plant in Torpa-Kamdara region. Not surprisingly, a seminar on "Development initiative for better tomorrow" was conducted in Ranchi on April 17, 2008 in the banner of Arcelor Mittal Foundation.
The purpose of the seminar was, really, to kill two birds with one stone. It took the local NGOs into confidence and had a peek into the strategies used in people's resistance, so as to develop its own strategy to counter it. 70 NGO representatives of the areas participated in the seminar but the irony is that neither the village-heads nor the organizations opposing the project were invited. Leader of 'Adivasi Astitwa Raksha Manch' (Tribal Identity Protection Forum) Dayamani Barla challenges the competence of outsiders to make plans to develop villages.' 'Why were local Parha Raja (head the tribal self governance) and Gram Pradhan (village-heads) not called for the seminar?' She asks. Now the foundation is on the look-out for getting tribal professionals skilled in the local language to run the CSR programme.
The final straw was the declaration of a $300 million Rehabilitation & Resettlement package for the state. Remi Boyer, Vice-President of Arcelor Mittal justifies it by saying that the company is very serious about welfare of the people, their ethnic needs and culture at the proposed site of the Greenfield project. "We are here to stay and for generations", he said. But he was visibly upset when landholders ask him to share the company's profit with them on an annual basis. He added, 'It's ridiculous to share profit with people who don't not know what to do with it'. Remi Boyer was also trying to convince the Church as it has a big say in the areas. All these activities clearly indicate that the Arcelor Mittal wants to acquire land at any cost and it is adopting every possible measure to convince people for the project.
A noted anti-mining activist and the spokesperson of "Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee" Xavier Dias said, 'Arcelor Mittal's CSR efforts in mining areas are a dubious attempt to hoodwink the local people and get a back door entry to grab their lands and resources. If they are really interested in CSR then let them implement it in areas and regions where they can pledge not to have commercial interest. If they are sincere about CSR, we ask them to acknowledge that the people's ownership over natural resources is paramount.'
According to Sanak Mishra, CEO of Arcelor-Mittal India Limited, the people of Jharkhand are for industrialisation. Therefore the rich mineral-state should lead from the front. Lakshmi Mittal,said Mishra, had asked for more social work in India and to model its CSR on the Jharkand Project.
Besides the media, which danced to Arcelor-Mittal's tune, the state government also went out of its way to convince people, alas, to no avail. The Deputy Chief Minister Sudhir Mahto, who is also in charge of the industries department, is extremely busy in incorporating suggestions of the corporate houses in his Rehabilitation & Resettlement Policy. The final draft of the R&R policy is ready. The government has been working on the R&R policy for last five years. The state government has also constituted a 14-member committee under leadership of another Deputy Chief Minister Stephen Marandi for finalisation of R&R policy, that will have its bearing on an estimated investment of Rs. 2,00,000 crore in steel, mining and power sectors.
But why are people reluctant to part with their land for development projects? 24,15,698 acres of land were acquired in the name of development, in Jharkhand alone, where 17,10,787 people were displaced. In every project approximately 80 to 90 percent of the locals were displaced. But how has this so-called development helped them?. A mere 25 percent of them were partially rehabilitated. Only the bigwigs - project officers, engineers, contractors, beaurocrats, politicians- and the outsiders benefited from these projects..
And there are numerous laws like the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act 1908, Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949 and PESA 1996, which provide protection to tribals lands despite their limitations but these laws were never enacted in the true spirit. Then, the roads were cleared for Special Economic Zones ( SEZs) within a year, alarmingly, without the necessary rehabilitation policy. Similarly, Jharkhand, soon after it came into being, had a Industrial Policy but does not yet have a rehabilitation policy. The people are therefore justified to harbour feelings of betrayal when the talk about development reaches them.
The corporate houses, in turn, are not ready to accept the subsistence economy of a tribal society rooted in agriculture and forest produce; that the natural resources to them are not merely a means of livelihood, but their identity, dignity, autonomy and culture are built on it. These communities will not survive if they are alienated from the natural resources. While implementing CSR, they fail to take these factors into account.
The corporates have sensed that the people are fed up with the rehabilitation packages, so they choose to fight them and the government across the country. To pacify them, they have adopted the new glamorous term 'Corporate Social Responsibility' (CSR). This is why CSR has been rightly called ' Conspiracy for Snatching Resources" instead of "Corporate Social Responsibility" by some people.
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist associated with the “Child Rights and You”. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org