Maoists threaten iron ore mining in Bastar

August 28th, 2009 - 3:35 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sujeet Kumar
Raipur, Aug 28 (IANS) The growing activities of Maoists in Bastar in Chhattisgarh are threatening iron ore mining in a sprawling forested region that accounts for a fifth of all iron ore deposits in India. Businessmen and politicians fear that the authorities might end up ceding control of Bastar’s ore reserves in five to seven years if the dominance of the area by the insurgents is not checked urgently.

Tata Steel and Essar Steel are set to mine iron ore in the region to feed their upcoming integrated steel plants in the tribal-dominated Bastar, which is spread over 40,000 sq km and is vastly underdeveloped.

The Bhilai Steel Plant of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) is also set to extract iron ore in Bastar. Its lone source of the raw material, at Dalli Rajhara in Chhattisgarh, has stocks to last barely four years.

The worst sufferer will be the National Mineral Development Corp (NMDC), the country’s largest iron ore producer and exporter in the public sector. NMDC produces roughly 80 percent of its 27-million-tonne annual iron ore output from Bailadila reserves in Dantewada, a stronghold of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist).

“Maoists have been expanding their influence in Bastar since they first stepped into the region in the early 1980s. They have a monopoly in the interiors of Bastar,” Manish Kunjam, former legislator of the Konta assembly constituency, told IANS.

“The day when they (Maoists) decide to stop mining in Bastar, they will do it easily as they enjoy the support of the tribal population,” he added.

Kunjam, president of the All India Adivasi Mahasabha, an umbrella grouping of tribal organisations, pointed out that Bastar’s locals were left out of the development story for decades.

“Now they are being driven out from their soil, jungles, to make way for industries such as Tata Steel’s five- million-tonne per annum (mtpa) steel project in Bastar district and Essar Steel’s 3.2 mtpa plant in Dantewada. Their democratic protests are not heard. Now their anger is resulting into sympathy with Maoists,” he said.

Tata Steel will excavate iron ore for its Rs.100 billion Lohandiguda plant in Bastar while Essar has a Rs.70 billion project.

Noted businessman Anil Nachrani, president of the Chhattisgarh Sponge Iron Association, said: “The future of Indian industry is based on the growth of the steel industry. The situation in Bastar is alarming. The government can’t take it lightly; otherwise the country will suffer heavily.

“The situation will be more critical in the coming years in Bastar. Maoists can’t be eliminated. I suggest that the government should try its best to solve the problem through dialogues rather than at gunpoint,” he added.

Admitting that the Maoists were terrorizing mining companies, Director General of Police Vishwaranjan told IANS: “Maoists are trying to scare off miners in Bastar’s interiors, mainly in areas where private companies are excavating iron ore. But the Maoists will not succeed.”

He said: “Police are well aware of the threat to iron ore mining in Bastar. Police presence around the mining facilities will be strengthened heavily. We are expecting more paramilitary battalions.”

But former chief minister and Congress leader Ajit Jogi says: “If the same trend of misunderstanding the Naxal (Maoist) problem continues, we will soon lose sovereignty over Bastar iron ore that is finest in quality the world over.”

The Indian government has injected thousands of paramilitary troopers into Bastar to take on the Maoists. Chhattisgarh has witnessed roughly 1,500 casualties in Maoist violence since it came into existence in November 2000. More than 95 percent of all deaths have been reported from Bastar.

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at sujeet.k@ians.in)

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