The Contested "Publics" of Public Infrastructure Provision in an Indian Resource Frontier
Madhuri Karak (The Graduate Center, City University of New York)
Paper short abstract:
Rural infrastructure functions as subsidies for extractive industries, contend the Kondh, a vulnerable Indian tribe. This paper discusses how frontier expansion is mutually constituted by the imperatives of extraction and a continuously produced backwardness that demand infrastructural fixes.
Paper long abstract:
In India's southeastern state of Odisha, an extractive model of development is pursued most aggressively in its resource-rich but politically marginal indigenous areas. Understood to be lacking in exploitable resources or a substantial agricultural revenue base, Odisha remained relatively inaccessible during the colonial period. Since the discovery of bauxite in the 1980s, a social periphery has transformed into a commodity frontier, and roads are at the forefront of this shift. This paper examines how the conjoining of extractive industries and rural infrastructure - roads, dams, bridges and railways - has developed an 'area' but alienated its 'people'. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork, I will discuss how an indigenous anti-mining social movement's refusal to be connected by asphalt has kept resource extraction, and imminent displacement, at bay. If extraction animates the state's impetus to provide accessibility, it is also expected to rectify social backwardness. Southern Odisha's Niyamgiri Mountain, the site of 72 million tons of bauxite reportedly worth $2 billion, is also home to the Dongria and Kutia Kondh, two of India's 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. The cost of roads is in trees felled and streams polluted by mining, and cannot be offset by better access to subsidized food rations, farming extension services, hospitals and schools, contend the Kondh. Refusing roads in Niyamgiri reveals a universal dynamic: commodity frontier expansion is mutually constituted by the imperative of extraction and a continuously produced backwardness that demands intervention and amelioration through infrastructure.
The spectres, spectacle and speculation of infrastructure - tracing the moralities of movement along energy corridors.