Wednesday, October 6, 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!....Link

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

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