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Between a rock and a hard place

Phil Moore

1st August, 2008

The battle between mining giant Vedanta and the threatened tribal Dongria Kondh of Orissa, eastern India continues.

London based mining corporation Vedanta told shareholders at its London Annual General Meeting (AGM) this week that it would only go ahead with its controversial Bauxite mine in India with the ‘complete permission’ of the Dongria Kondh tribe, whose way of life is threatened by the planned development.  

Vedanta chairman Anil Agarwal told shareholders, ‘I can only promise that we will only start work if we have permission of the court and the people.’

Mr Agarwal’s comments were backed up by Vedanta’s Executive Director Kuldip Kaura, who said: ‘The local people have to give their consent.’

But the company’s assurances have been received with caution by campaigners. In particular, suspicion has been roused by a number of clips posted on video-sharing website Youtube on 27th July, which  feature various members of the Dongria Kondh claiming that mining would have ‘no effect’ on their way of life. The videos run contrary to the publicly voiced opinions of the Dongria Kondh.

Sterlite, a subsidiary of Vedanta, is currently awaiting approval from the Indian Supreme Court to dig-up the Bauxite rich Niyamgiri mountain, in Orissa, eastern Indian.

The Niyamgiri mountain is home to the Dongria Kondh, one of India’s most isolated tribes. The thick primary saal forest covers around 80 per cent of the mountain summit and its spiritual significance to the Dongria helped preserve Niyamgiri’s uniquely unspoilt condition.

The area is also known for its ecological richness. Evidence produced by the Wildlife Institute of India has shown the existence of unique and rare species, including the Golden Gecko. The area is also known to be an elephant corridor.

The Indian Supreme Court was expected to give their ruling on the clearance for the mine at the end of July but have ‘reserved judgement’.

This is not the first time the Indian courts have made a non-committal gesture despite evidence presented to them by their own advisory body the Central Empowerment Committee – which in September 2005 showed that the mine would cause extensive damage to the primary forest and devastate the area’s water supply.

The planned Bauxite mine would provide the raw material for the company’s already up and running Alumina refinery at the foot of the mountain. The refinery, which has been operating since June 2006, was built before it was given environmental clearance by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests.

On Thursday 31st July, human rights NGOs Survival and Action Aid demonstrated outside Vedanta’s AGM, calling on shareholders to pull their investment out of the company. In 2007 the Norwegian Government Pension Fund-Global sold shares worth around £8 million from Vedanta after finding the company responsible for environmental damage and human rights violations.

 

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