Sudeep Chakravarti


For businesses, it is as if the war with the Maoists doesn’t exist. As if half of Chhattisgarh isn’t a walking, talking, shooting match that ought to keep away businesses with the fear of aiding and abetting conflict. Being made liable for such action by ethics watchdogs and outraged investors. For being at the forefront of corporate social irresponsibility.


But perhaps there is little to fear when the state government preaches fearlessness and offers impunity alongside a warming climate of investment. (Read the first part of this series) Here, profit trumps the prudence of staying away from a conflict zone till such conflict is ended. It is easy to see why.


In a sprawling radius of conflict of less than a 100km, with the hub of Dantewada in southern Chhattisgarh at its centre, is prime real estate. A map of Chhattisgarh’s directorate of geology and mining marks active and potential deposits of iron ore, gold, base metals like zinc, lead and copper, limestone, quartzite (used by the construction industry), tin and corundum (among other things, parent to ruby and sapphire). A former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh rightfully boasted how the “A to Z of minerals, alexandrite to zircon”, can be found in the state.


India has a shameful record of governments helping businesses acquire land by using police and administration to put pressure on citizens, and obtain the consent of village councils even in areas where there is no internal security “situation”. Imagine then the process in Chhattisgarh, which has an ongoing war to boost the mechanisms of fear and favour in which governments act as an extension of corporate will—with the firm imprimatur of chief minister Raman Singh. Take just one example.


During the heyday of the human rights nightmare of the Salwa Judum vigilante movement, in 2006, a land acquisition for an Essar Steel plant went thus. According to the environmental journal Down to Earth, no discussion was permitted. “Two constables were posted at each house. No outsider was allowed at the meeting place. People were not allowed to leave their homes or to talk to each other. According to villagers, at 9 am, they were forced into vehicles, and taken to the meeting. They were taken to a room in twos, and pistols were placed at their temples to make them sign. They were told not to step out of the village,” the journal reported.


The company denied any wrongdoing for this how-not-to of free, prior and informed consent. It could, because the government actually did so on its behalf with full connivance of the senior administrator of Dantewada and the local chief of police. (Tata Steel had begun land acquisition in neighbouring, conflict-affected Bastar district, but stalled it.)


In any case, Essar paid a price for muscling into conflict-ridden Dantewada. In 2009, Maoist rebels blew up an Essar pipeline to carry iron ore slurry from Dantewada to a pellet plant in Visakhapatnam. In late 2011, a contractor for Essar would be arrested by the Chhattisgarh police while carrying more than Rs.10 lakh in cash which, he claimed, he was carrying to the Maoists on behalf of Essar. Within days, a general manager with Essar, D.V.C.S. Verma, was arrested on various charges, including that of sedition.


Essar put out an official denial with key phrases like “vehemently rejects” and “baseless allegations”. These would be somewhat punctured by a WikiLeaks post of a January 2011 cable between officials of the US department of state: “A senior representative from Essar, a major industrial company with large mining and steel-related facilities in Chhattisgarh, told Congenoff (consul general’s office) that the company pays the Maoists ‘a significant amount’ not to harm their operations.”


The can-do government of Chhattisgarh has, remarkably, shifted an elephant corridor to facilitate mining of coal. In January, it did away with the need to obtain the consent of the gram sabha, or village council, to facilitate a coal-mining project in northern Chhattisgarh in which Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd, and a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises, have interests.


Chief minister Singh has consistently won praise for his pro-business attitude. “Everyone who knows him will say he’s a kind man, a thorough gentleman..,” I heard Jindal Steel and Power chairman Naveen Jindal say at a global investors’ meet in Raipur, the state capital. Thoughtfulness extended to Singh’s hospitality for the investors—several dozen CEOs—attending the event. “Airport mein Mercedes gaadi bheji, ek officer depute kiya…”


You could say it adds up.


Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear. Hold. Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys Through a Fractured Land.



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