Don't make Filmmakers partners in corporate crime!
The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is awaited each year by all of us with much eagerness and passion. As filmmakers, we have one more reason to rejoice this year: introduction of the Short Film Corner, which will provide a long overdue space to short films in competitive rounds. More so, to those who care for the crumbling natural order and raise their concerns in their films, that the Short Film Corner also has an environmental category and competition. But, there lies an even bigger concern! For, how can anyone who is concerned about the environment join hands with those who are, among others, directly and criminally responsible for depleting it It is with shock and pain we have learnt that the winners in the environmental category will be awarded by Vedanta and Sesa Goa: mining giants whose very economics depends on plunder of natural resources of the earth and thereby converting magnificent forests and rich biodiversities into deserts in a matter 20/30 years, and also rendering the original inhabitants of such forests, mostly the adivasis, homeless and jobless! Just to set the facts in perspectives: Vedanta is set to mine Niyamgiri in Orissa which will inevitably destroy the sustainable and only economic base of the Dongria Kandhs, a primitive tribe, who have kept the mountains and the virgin forests inviolate for thousands of years, just because they regard the mountain as their Niyam Raja (Lord of the Laws) and as the sole provider of their livelihoods. The Dongrias do not know any way of living other than depending on Niyamgiri and have a lifestyle that teaches the rest of the world about what sustainability means. Instead of protecting the mountains, the forests, and the tribe, Vedanta has managed to influence the government, the media, and also the judiciary to get the go-ahead to dig the mountain for bauxite. All this despite the mining giant has been widely indicted for its environmental ill practices and human rights violation. The Norwegian Ethics Council indicted Vedanta last year as gross violator of human rights and environmental norms wherever they operate in the world and backed out of partnership with the company. Soon after that the War on Want report accused Vedanta of similar charges. Before that, in 2005, the Centrally Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court of India had indicted Vedanta of violating laws of the land by setting up its alumina refinery (at the foothills of Niyamgiri) without adequate clearances. Vedanta had illegally clear-felled 58 hectares of forest land without any clearance; but thanks to the political system of the country, they went scot-free after paying a meagre fine of $650: a tactics all metal and mining companies are applying of late in India. The construction of the refinery continued despite a case pending in the Supreme Court: a barefaced mockery of the judicial system of the country! Despite public outcry and appeals, Vedanta managed to get permission for mining simply by manipulating the media, the state administration, and the judiciary. As recently as the first week of October 2008, Vedanta officials had called a press conference in the district headquarters of Kalahandi (where Niyamgiri is located) in which each journalist was gifted fancy mobile handsets and other such things worth at least 20000 to 25000 rupees (This is a common thing for the media in Orissa though ever since the state government has opened doors to corporate giants). And, now they have this unique idea of awarding the best environmental film at IFFI 2008. Earlier, in 2007, just before the SC was to pronounce its final verdict, a team of senior journalists from Delhi was flown in a private airplane by Vedanta to Niyamgiri where they stayed in their five-star guest houses for week without interacting with the locals. After the team came back, we read lofty stories in newspapers and magazines about their crusade against poverty and environmental perils, which were blatant lies. Whereas the fact is that the entire project (both the refinery and the mining component) is going to reduce a millennia-old virgin forest into dry land, a magnificent mountain range into dust, an indigenous community with rich cultural and economic ethos into paupers, about 350 natural streams into dry lines, two major rivers into effluent drains (affecting another 30000 people who depend on them downstream), a rich and rare biodiversity into an industrial wasteland with disease-carrying viruses and bacteria. While Vedanta will make a titanic profit (to the tune of 156,000-crore rupees), the state will earn a meagre 1400-crore rupees; but the infrastructure cost provided by the state will be much more than that. If we count in the forest and environmental loss in terms of currency, one should not even think of such a project in such ecologically rich area. Therefore, there is little to wonder as to why such companies are suddenly interested in funding media programmes, such as sponsoring the award for the best environmental film at the IFFI 2008. It helps them immensely in building public image which further helps them redeem their criminal activities in public understanding. We call upon the film fraternity not to fall prey to such obnoxious tactics by such entities; for, that will only make us partners in their crime. Therefore, we request filmmakers and film lovers as well to endorse this statement and boycott the environmental film category this year in solidarity with indigenous communities who are most eminently going to be extinct because of ill-conceived industrial projects and in respect for the environment that has nurtured life on this planet since time unknown. Let us join hands in the effort to make the environment an equal partner in human progress and not a victim. As responsible filmmakers and film lovers, we care for this earth; we care for the environment; we care for life in all forms. Let us not promote entities who have scant regards for such values and are up with fine strategies to make us partners in their nefarious schemes.