12th gram sabha too votes against Vedanta mining

Date of publication: 
20 August 2013

“It is time now for Vedanta to gracefully respect public sentiment and pack off its establishment”

Efforts of Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL), belonging to London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc, to mine bauxite ore in Niyamgiri hills in Odisha received a severe blow on Monday with the 12th palli (gram) sabha also voting against mining there.

This is the first time an environmental referendum is conducted on a directive by the Supreme Court to find out whether mining in Niyamgiri will tantamount to an infringement of the religious, community and individual rights of local forest-dwellers.

The gram sabha held here – a non-descript inaccessible village about 85 km from the district headquarters town of Rayagada district of Odisha – was the final one in a row of palli sabhas held so far in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts that rejected mining.

VAL has already set in motion the process to put pressure on the State government for allotment of alternative mining sites in nearby areas.

Niyamgiri hills — home to 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs, a primitive tribal group, a few hundred Kutia Kondhs and other forest-dwellers — is considered sacred by the indigenous tribes and others as it is the abode of Niyamraja, their presiding deity.

After the unanimous resolution opposing mining was adopted, tribal people from neighbouring areas celebrated the ‘success’ of their decade-old agitation by dancing with traditional instruments.

District Judge Sarat Chandra Mishra told The Hindu that all resolutions passed at the gram sabhas would be sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests as per the court order.

“As all gram sabhas have unanimously rejected mining in the hills despite the sinister design by the Odisha government and ruffians engaged by Vedanta, it is time Vedanta gracefully respected public sentiment and packed off,” Lingaraj Azad, leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, told The Hindu.

Sterlite (now VAL) signed a MoU with the Orissa Mining Corporation for a joint venture to mine bauxite ore from Niyamgiri in 2003. VAL commissioned its alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, located at the foothills of Niyamgiri, in 2007, by investing Rs.4,500 crore with an initial capacity of one million tonne per annum. After shutting it down for eight months due to raw material scarcity, it was reopened in July and now runs at almost half its rated capacity.

A top official of Vedanta, before attending the AGM of Vedanta Resources in London, was quoted as asking where else one could run an alumina refinery if not in Odisha. Informed sources told The Hindu that 19 mining leases applied by VAL were pending before the State government. The sources said that even if chances to extract ore from Niyamgiri were bleak, there was scope for mining in Kurlapeta, Sanbarmalli, Boflamalli, Chandalgiri, Kotikidongar and other hills close to Niyamgiri.

Doors may close on Vedanta

Nitin Sethi reports from New Delhi:

The door could soon be shut on Vedanta’s mining plan in Niyamgiri. The Environment Ministry has decided that the claim of even one village council for cultural or religious rights over the hills provides the legal mandate to the Central government to reject the proposal under the Supreme Court orders.

Eleven villages have already claimed such rights but signals from the State had made the Centre wary of how the court orders were being interpreted.

But Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan has made it clear that the Supreme Court orders in the case requires the government to protect the rights of the villagers.

In a letter to her Cabinet colleague V. Kishore Chandra Deo, Ms. Natarajan has said: “According to the Supreme Court’s judgment and the Forest Rights Act, rejection by even one palli sabha [village council] would require the project to be rejected.”

But she has expressed concerns about the reaction of the State government to the decisions of the village councils. “The State government may seek to turn its own agenda on its head and claim that the small number of villages [which voted] meant that the decision was influenced by ‘vested interests.’ This would then become a battle over perceptions and the State may take the issue back to court, prolonging the affair further.”


Indian tribals reject Vedanta’s mining proposal in ‘sacred’ hills

Daily Telegraph (UK) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/10253003/Indian-tri...

19 August 2013

A senior official in the state of Orissa, also known as Odisha, said the proposal to mine bauxite had been rejected by all the 12 village councils – known as gram sabhas.

“The last meeting was held today (Monday). People of all the 12 villages have now unanimously rejected the proposal,” Lal Bihari Himrika, the state minister for tribal welfare, told AFP.

The Supreme Court ruled in April that the villagers should vote on the plan to extract bauxite from the hills of Niyamgiri.

“If the project affects their religious rights, especially their right to worship their deity, known as Niyam Raja… that right has to be preserved and protected,” the court stated.

The court was ruling on a request by Vedanta’s partner, the Orissa Mining Corp, to lift a 2010 ban by the environment ministry on mining the bauxite.

The environment ministry at the time of the ban was headed by activist minister Jairam Ramesh who has since been replaced in the department.

The 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh tribal group has opposed attempts to mine the land on which they rely for their crops and livelihood for nearly a decade.

Kumuti Majhi, a leader of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Council), welcomed the rejection of the project by the tribal groups.

“Now that all the 12 village councils have said ‘no’ to Vedanta… I think it’s the end of the road for Vedanta as far as this project is concerned,” Majhi said.

Vedanta has been anxious to begin mining in order to feed the nearby Lanjigarh aluminium refinery which has had to stop operating due to a shortage of bauxite.

The project is a joint venture between Sterlite Industries, a unit of Vedanta, and the Orissa Mining Corp, a state government enterprise.

Defenders of the project say they want to create jobs in an impoverished region and bring tribal people into the economic mainstream.

But the Dongria Kondh’s resistance has received wide international support with the tribe dubbed the “real-life Avatar” after the Hollywood science fiction blockbuster.

Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, hailed Monday the decision of the tribals to reject the mining project.

“The mine would destroy the forests and disrupt the rivers in the Niyamgiri Hills, which are central to the livelihood and identity of the 8,000-strong tribes,” it said in a statement.

Vast tracts of mineral wealth in India lie in tribal areas but indigenous people complain that they rarely reap any benefit.

Local Vedanta officials did not respond to telephone calls for comment on the villagers’ vote against the project.

Earlier in the year, global ratings agency Standard and Poor’s placed Vedanta on “negative” ratings watch.