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   Out of this Earth
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
09 Sep 2010

Malleable but not pliable

School days memory of a chapter on malleable and ductile metal that is of critical significance to the aviation sector resonates like a romantic story on the marvels of science. That excavation of aluminium from bauxite sends the mountain crumbling down is a horror story one begins to learn later. The recent scrapping of environmental clearance for bauxite mining from the tribal-rich Niyamgiri hills in Odisha has pieced together two stories into an unpalatable saga of corporate-led environmental destruction and cultural genocide.

In their penetrating anthropological study, Felix Padel and Samarendra Das uncover an epic clash of ideologies that pits profit mongering metal traders against the forest dwelling tribal communities in Odisha. Out of this Earth is a courageous and compelling account of this vital encounter. The authors reveal that behind the ripping of bauxite out of the mountains is an elaborate financial structure which links the mining corporations, government deals, international banks and the military-industrial complex.

Aluminium’s vital importance to the global military-industrial complex offers it the cushion against market uncertainties. No wonder, the alumina scrip did not take any beating at the stock market despite the recent ban on bauxite mining. An American military expert had long warned: ‘No fighting is possible, and no war can be carried to a successful conclusion today, without using vast quantities of aluminium. Aluminium, and great quantities of it, spell the difference between victory and defeat’.

The life-threatening features of the white metal have gained additional potency through hidden subsidies on water and electricity. Refining a metric ton of aluminium requires an average of 250 kilowatt hours of electricity and smelting it consumes an additional 1,300 kwh. Over 1,378 tons of water sucked into the process returns as 4-8 tons of toxic red mud and 13 tons of carbon dioxide. In simple terms, this means that the negative impact of producing aluminium is around 85 times its positive value.

Felix and Das trace the history, science and sociology of aluminium extraction in re-creating a ‘metal colonialism’ that threatens to wipe out the traditional habitations of adivasis in the mineral endowed tribal regions of the country. It takes courage to publish an intensely engaging book of immense scholarship that unmasks the political-economy of growing metal capitalism, at a time when mining and growth seem synonymous.

You can avoid reading this book at your own risk!

Out of this Earth: East India Adivasis & the Aluminium Cartel
by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi 752 pages, Rs 895

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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