Titanium or Water? Trouble brews in Southern India

by Nityanand Jayaraman, Special to CorpWatch
October 24th, 2007<

More than 5,000 people converged this month in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to protest a deal that set the stage for the state government to appropriate almost 10,000 acres of land and hand it over to Tata Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of India’s largest conglomerate. The June 2007 agreement allows the giant company to mine ilmenite in Sathankulam, an agrarian pocket of India’s coastal countryside.

This ilmenite, when processed, yields titanium metal and titanium dioxide (TiO2), both extremely valuable products. But many locals are refusing to sell out of concern that the ilmenite mining operations and loss of land will destroy their traditional way of life and despoil the environment. At least 40 percent of the population — the landless and those engaged in household industries — depend on farming palmyra trees for subsistence or supplemental income.

The Tamil Nadu government, has weighed in to side with Tata, and is threatening to seize the land by eminent domain. “The district administration, the state machinery and all its functionaries are engaged as unofficial real estate agents for Tata, and these days you’ll see all of them trotting behind Tata officials trying to buy land,” says S. Anandraj, chairman of the local self-government in Sathankulam. Anandraj is a member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a bitter political rival of the party ruling the state of Tamil Nadu.

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