MAC: Mines and Communities

Rallying cry: Dongria stand firm against Vedanta mine

Published by MAC on 2013-06-13
Source: Statements (2013-06-13)

Rallying cry: Dongria stand firm against Vedanta mine

Survival International

13 June 2013

During a rally of defiance, India's Dongria Kondh have vowed to defend their Niyamgiri Hills against an open pit mine by British mining giant Vedanta Resources, and demanded the release of village leaders ahead of consultations about the mine.

Dongria leader Lodu Sikaka addressed a crowd of thousands determined to save their hills and said, ‘We are not going to let go of Niyamgiri ... Let the government and the company repress us as much as they can. We are not going to leave Niyamgiri, our Mother Earth.'

In a landmark ruling in April 2013, India's Supreme Court rejected Vedanta's appeal to mine in the Niyamgiri Hills, and decreed that those affected by the mine must be consulted.
Lodu SikakaDongria Kondh leader's refusal to allow the mining of Niyamgiri.

But while over a hundred villages will be affected by the mine, only twelve village councils (gram sabhas) around the hills have been invited for consultations, a move condemned by the Dongria and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, and the final decision about the mine will lie with the central government.

Survival has received worrying reports that police and paramilitaries are exerting pressure on the Dongria by intimidating the residents of the twelve villages. A delegation of Dongria has traveled to the state capital to complain about the harassment and to demand that 150 villages are included in the consultations.

The Niyamgiri Hills are central to the livelihood and identity of the 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh, which could be destroyed by the mine. Recently, their leaders have faced increasing harassment and several have been arrested.

Addressing the rally, Lodu added, ‘We believe in the state, in democracy. Let them release all our people who are jailed and then we go for the gram sabha. Otherwise we will not!'

The Dongria's struggle has been likened to the Hollywood story of ‘Avatar' and won them the support of many celebrities including Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin. It resulted in shareholders such as the Church of England and the Norwegian government pension fund pulling out of Vedanta.

Stephen Corry, Survival's Director, said today, ‘Harassing people's leaders prior to ‘consultations' about an invasive mine, which the same people have rejected for years, is neither fair nor democratic. It's another example of how the language of ‘rights' and ‘consent' is now being manipulated by governments and companies bent on stealing tribal lands, at any human cost.'

Note to editors:
- Read the letter by India's Ministry of Tribal Affairs condemning the lack of villages involved in the consultations (pdf, 492kb)


Vedanta Niyamgiri: Dongria Delegation to Odisha Governor Demands Fair Process on Vedanta Mine

Foil Vedanta Press Release

11 June 2013

Tomorrow a group of fifteen Dongria Kond from the threatened Niyamgiri mountain range in Odisha, India will descend on Bhubaneswar to meet the Odisha Governor SC Jamir demanding that all affected villages are consulted on how their religious and cultural rights would be affected by Vedanta's proposed mine. On Sunday the Minsister for Rural Development - Jairam Ramesh had also intervened in the ongoing gram sabha process, echoing the outcry at Niyamgiri that only twelve out of more than 100 affected villages had been chosen to be consulted on the mine by the Odisha State Government.

The Dongria will also hold a press conference at which they will give details of ongoing harassment by CRPF forces, who have been threatening villagers not to oppose the mine. In one incident the CRPF opened fire on a group of Dongria bathing in waterfall at Batudi village. Meanwhile in London, a group of UK members of parliament have expressed their concern over the Palli Sabha process, alerting UK authorities to monitor the behaviour of British mining company Vedanta Resources, who are attempting to mine the mountain with Odisha state support.

Dongria Kond leaders including village Sarpanch's and ward members from a number of Niyamgiri villages will tomorrow meet with the Odisha Governor SC Jamir. Local Kutia Kond activist Kumuti Majhi made this statement about their visit:

"We don't believe that the Supreme Court has asked only twelve villages to be taken into consideration. There are over 200 villages that are dependent on the natural resources of this mountain range. We are going to meet the Governor in order to give our objection to this kind of state irregularity and injustice."

Their visit will add to intense pressure on the Governor (who is nominally responsible for overseeing the gram sabha process). The Minister of Tribal Affairs - Chandra Kishore Deo, and Minister of Rural Development - Jairam Ramesh among others, have demanded he take a strong stand on the Niyamgiri gram sabha process initiated by the Supreme Court's judgement on Vedanta and Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)'s mine in April(a). Jairam Ramesh had earlier banned Vedanta from mining the mountain in August 2010, following the SC Saxena report. Despite being celebrated as a victory for people's democracy, there has already been considerable controversy over the Odisha government's interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling (see comprehensive analysis on Foil Vedanta website1).

The Dongria delegation will also speak to the Governor and the press about severe harassment of villagers by CRPF forces in the mountain. On June 3rd CRPF forces opened fire on a group of women and children bathing in a waterfall at Batudi village on Niyamgiri. Bullets missed the children by only a few inches as they ran away into the forest. The firing continued for five minutes according to a report from activists who took statements from those present(b). The CRPF have allegedly set up a base in a cotton market yard in Muniguda (a nearby town) and make frequent trips to the mountain, in particular to Jarpa, Khambeshi and Lacpadar villages(c). Another video report shows a Dongria woman describing the CRPF attacking their village, destroying food stores and materials of worship and taking traditional weapons kept to protest them from wild animals. She states:

"Few days back we were gathering forest products near our village. At that time so many armed forces arrived and they pointed guns at us and surrounded us. They started asking "where is Lada (the tribal leader)? Where have you hidden the maoists? Where have you hidden the weapons? Why are you opposing mining?" Some one from the behind yelled - 'If you resist the mining you will be killed like dogs'."

The Minster of Tribal Affairs had previously asked the Odisha Government to ensure the gram sabhas were held 'in a free and fair manner, uninfluenced by any vested interests and without coercion'

Meanwhile in London, an open letter4 signed by a group of Members of the UK and Scottish Parliaments has been officially submitted to London's two main financial ombudsmen (who are currently under pressure to investigate and de-list Vedanta) (c) and the OECD's UK National Contact Point (who has previously upheld a complaint against Vedanta's Niyamgiri project5).

The letter expresses concern with 'the track record of Vedanta and the supporting Odisha state at Niyamgiri', and a desire to ensure 'that this decision making process should be fair, fully informed and un-influenced by Odisha state (and its officials including police) or Vedanta itself - following the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent.'.

The members of parliament note that they will be monitoring the current decision making process via reports from lawyers and social activists, and will demand an investigation by UK authorities if foul play occurs. The letter states:

Vedanta is a British company listed on the London Stock Exchange and overseen by the UK Listings Authority. If Vedanta fails to adhere to Indian and UK law and basic human rights and environmental conventions - including the Indian 2006 Forest Rights Act - they should be investigated, held to account and de-listed from the London Stock Exchange. (d)

Ends.

The delegation will wait at the Governors house in Bhubaneswar at 10am and expect to meet the Governor sometime after that.

Please call Mr. Bhala Chandra Sarangi on 9437166391 to arrange to meet the group or get statements.

CASE STUDIES and PHOTOGRAPHS are available on request.

Contact:

Mr. Bhala Chandra Sarangi - 9437166391

Amitabh Patra - amitabhpatra[at]gmail.com

00 91 8763324299

Miriam Rose - miriam.rose[at]outlook.com

00 91 9776255261

www.foilvedanta.org

Notes to Editors:

a) Tribal Affairs Minister wrote to the Governor of Odisha (along with all other State Governors) on May 15th, asking that the rights of tribals under the Forest Rights Act and other constitutional articles be highly respected, and advanced. On May 23rd he wrote personally to the Odisha Governor claiming that the MoU signed with Vedanta was unconstitutional and illegal since it put the welfare of Scheduled Tribal groups in the hands of a private company.6

b) Please see the full report by activists who recorded the stories on website

c) See full report of this incident at http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/police-forces-threaten-dongria-not-to-oppose-mine/

d) The letter was submitted on 7th June to: Lord Adair Turner - Chief of the Financial Services Authority and UK Listings Authority, Martin Wheatley - Head of the Financial Conduct Authority, and the OECD UK National Contact Point.

Foil Vedanta submitted a series of documents to the Financial Services Authority in January this year, who subsequently launched an informal investigation via the UK Listings Authority into whether Vedanta has breached ethical and corporate governance guidelines of its' London Stock Exchange listing.

Previously in a parliamentary debate on 28th Nov 2012, MP John McDonnell made the case for Vedanta and other ethically contentious mining companies to be strongly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, including possibly de-listed 'because of their behaviour in the developing world.'7

Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights' . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta...'.8.

The full letter can be found at http://www.foilvedanta.org/news/uk-mps-open-letter-demands-fair-process-at-niyamgiri/

1http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/odisha-government-tries-every-trick-in-the-book-with-supreme-court-niyamgiri-verdict/

2http://youtu.be/V5D7FAUhNQg

3http://www.odishareporter.in/top_news/centre-asks-odisha-to-conduct-free-and-fair-gram-sabhas-in-kalahandi-rayagada

4http://www.foilvedanta.org/news/uk-mps-open-letter-demands-fair-process-at-niyamgiri/

5www.oecd.org/dataoecd/49/16/43884129.pdf

6http://www.odishareporter.in/uncategorized/deo-questions-mou-between-omc-vedanta-on-niyamgiri-mining

7http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121128/halltext/121128h0002.htm

8http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120522/debtext/120522-0002.htm


Niyamgiri: CRPF Harass Dongria as Palli Sabhas Approach

Foil Vedanta Press Release

7 June 2013

Reports from the Niyamgiri hills have confirmed that CRPF special forces have been targeting villages who are opposing Vedanta's proposed mine, threatening them not to do so, and destroying grain stores and items of worship in their homesteads. A Dongria woman has been filmed reporting these abuses [see: http://youtu.be/V5D7FAUhNQg]. Meanwhile in London, a group of UK members of parliament have expressed their concern over the Palli Sabha process, alerting UK authorities to monitor the behaviour of British mining company Vedanta Resources, who are attempting to mine the mountain with Odisha state support.

Interviews with Dongria Kond people taken yesterday evening confirm recent reports that Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been active in the Niyamgiri hills carrying out 'combing operations' and threatening villages. They have allegedly set up a base in a cotton market yard in Muniguda (a nearby town) and make frequent trips to the mountain, in particular to Jarpa, Khambeshi and Lacpadar villages(1). The reports, sent by local journalists, claim that CRPF forces have told the tribals not to oppose the mine, asked to see their leaders, spilled their food stores, and taken their traditional weapons and guns which are kept to protect them from elephants. Even NGOs and other service providers - who had gone to Niyamgiri to try to assist in the current gram sahba process which will decide the fate of the mountain vis a vis Vedanta's proposed mine - are leaving the area afraid for their lives following the harassment, they state.

In a film, now posted on the internet a Dongria woman (who did not want to reveal her name for fear of retribution by the forces) states;

"Few days back we were gathering forest products near our village. At that time so many armed forces arrived and they pointed guns at us and surrounded us. They started asking "where is Lada (the tribal leader)? Where have you hidden the maoists ? Where have you hidden the weapons? Why are you opposing mining?" Some one from the behind yelled - 'If you resist the mining you will be killed like dogs'."

Earlier in the interview she stated:

"We do not want such development where our lives are threatened every moment by the armed forces! We kept some weapons to safeguard our selves and our crops from wild animals. We do not want to kill the animals, but to drive them away. Occasionally when these animals attack or come too close to us we get killed. They (CRPF) came and barged into our houses, took away our belongings, threw our stored food grains and cooked food, took away our worship weapons and the guns we kept for our protection from wild animals. We have been living and preserving the mountains and the soil and everything around us since centuries. You can see us living in harmony with nature. But since past ten years our peace and life has been disturbed by the company and police.

Since the armed forces presence our freedom to move around in our mountains has been restricted. We are living in a state of fear. Our social and cultural life has been affected very badly."

The Minster of Tribal Affairs had previously asked the Odisha Government to ensure the gram sabhas were held 'in a free and fair manner, uninfluenced by any vested interests and without coercion'.1 There has already been considerable controversy over the Odisha government's interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling which initiated the gram sabha process. The Minister of Tribal Affairs, the Dongria Kond and others have condemned the selection of just twelve out of hundreds of affected villages in which to hold the meetings, and a number of other concerns have been raised (see comprehensive analysis on Foil Vedanta website2).

Meanwhile in London, an open letter3 signed by a group of Members of the UK and Scottish Parliaments has been officially submitted to London's two main financial ombudsmen (who are currently under pressure to investigate and de-list Vedanta) (2) and the OECD's UK National Contact Point (who has previously upheld a complaint against Vedanta's Niyamgiri project4).

The letter expresses concern with 'the track record of Vedanta and the supporting Odisha state at Niyamgiri', and a desire to ensure 'that this decision making process should be fair, fully informed and un-influenced by Odisha state (and its officials including police) or Vedanta itself - following the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent.'.

The members of parliament note that they will be monitoring the current decision making process via reports from lawyers and social activists, and will demand an investigation by UK authorities if foul play occurs. The letter states:

Vedanta is a British company listed on the London Stock Exchange and overseen by the UK Listings Authority. If Vedanta fails to adhere to Indian and UK law and basic human rights and environmental conventions - including the Indian 2006 Forest Rights Act - they should be investigated, held to account and de-listed from the London Stock Exchange. (3)

Ends.

Contact:

Miriam Rose - miriam.rose[at]outlook.com

00 91 9776255261

Devangana Kalita - devangana.kalita[at]gmail.com

00 91 813041406

Please see the latest reports at: www.foilvedanta.org

--
Notes to Editors:

As well as the incidents described in this release other reports include tribal girls being chased by CRPF while on their way to a wedding and hiding in a nearby village for a few days in fear. Also, two young men who were guarding their crops allegedly ran away when they saw armed forces and were later caught and severely beated up.

The letter was submitted today to: Lord Adair Turner - Chief of the Financial Services Authority and UK Listings Authority, Martin Wheatley - Head of the Financial Conduct Authority, and the OECD UK National Contact Point.

Foil Vedanta submitted a series of documents to the Financial Services Authority in January this year, who subsequently launched an informal investigation via the UK Listings Authority into whether Vedanta has breached ethical and corporate governance guidelines of its' London Stock Exchange listing.

Previously in a parliamentary debate on 28th Nov 2012, MP John McDonnell made the case for Vedanta and other ethically contentious mining companies to be strongly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, including possibly de-listed 'because of their behaviour in the developing world.'5

Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights' . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta...'.6.

(3) The full letter can be found at http://www.foilvedanta.org/news/uk-mps-open-letter-demands-fair-process-at-niyamgiri/

1http://www.odishareporter.in/top_news/centre-asks-odisha-to-conduct-free-and-fair-gram-sabhas-in-kalahandi-rayagada

2http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/odisha-government-tries-every-trick-in-the-book-with-supreme-court-niyamgiri-verdict/

3http://www.foilvedanta.org/news/uk-mps-open-letter-demands-fair-process-at-niyamgiri/

4www.oecd.org/dataoecd/49/16/43884129.pdf

5http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121128/halltext/121128h0002.htm

6http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120522/debtext/120522-0002.htm

--

Open Letter - Vedanta Resources Niyamgiri project

7th June 2013

Dear Hon. Members of Parliament, Lord Adair Turner - Financial Services Authority and UK Listings Authority, Martin Wheatley - Financial Conduct Authority, UK National Contact Point for the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.

We are public figures concerned with the activities of British registered company Vedanta Resources and the environmental and social violations the company has been convicted of in India, Zambia and elsewhere. For example, in March Vedanta's copper plant in Tamil Nadu, India was shut down following a major gas leak which affected thousands of people living near the factory. In particular we are registering our concern about the behaviour of Vedanta with regards to their proposed Niyamgiri mine and existing Lanjigarh refinery in Kalahandi, Odisha.

On 18th April the Supreme Court of India gave their final verdict on a challenge by Vedanta and the Odisha state owned mining company OMC to the previous Minister of Environment's decision to stop the planned mine. The verdict gave the decision back to the inhabitants of the mountain who must hold public meetings in which they will assess whether the mine would violate their cultural and religious rights as they have repeatedly claimed.

We are concerned with the track record of Vedanta and the supporting Odisha state at Niyamgiri, and are keen to ensure that this decision making process should be fair, fully informed and un-influenced by Odisha state (and its officials including police) or Vedanta itself - following the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent.

Major investment bank Societe Generale have recently downgraded their rating of Vedanta to junk status and reported that their approach to the Niyamgiri project was 'excessively risky' - going ahead with building a major refinery without permission to mine ore from the mountain. They also note that Vedanta lied that there was no forest land within 10km of the mining site, which is in fact in the heart of a forest.1

Vedanta is a British company listed on the London Stock Exchange and overseen by the UK Listings Authority. If Vedanta fails to adhere to Indian and UK law and basic human rights and environmental conventions - including the Indian 2006 Forest Rights Act - they should be investigated, held to account and de-listed from the London Stock Exchange. The Niyamgiri project has been racked with controversy since its inception ten years ago and has been consistently opposed by people's movements and NGOs in India and worldwide. Some of the concerning violations at Niyamgiri include:

Taking this historical evidence into account we are worried that Vedanta and the Odisha state and its officials will attempt to unfairly influence the current decision making process by bribery, hospitality and gift giving, harassment, restriction or control of information and lobbying of the Minister of Environment and Forests not to accept a negative ruling by the public hearings.

Several high profile MPs and financiers have recently called for the de-listing of Vedanta for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations such as those committed at Niyamgiri. Most recently MP John McDonnell raised a debate in the House of Commons calling for the Financial Conduct Authority to use its powers to investigate and de-list companies guilty of major human rights violations such as Vedanta.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy described Vedanta as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights' and quoted Richard Lambert - the former Director General of the CBI - who said: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta...'.

We wish to register our concern with the activities of Vedanta around the Niyamgiri mountain in the coming months, and note that we will be monitoring the process via reports from lawyers, and social activists on the ground in Odisha, including the delegation from London research campaign Foil Vedanta.

We demand that the Financial Conduct Authority use its new powers to formally investigate Vedanta for its legal violations and consider taking appropriate action against them including de-listing from the London Stock Exchange.

Yours sincerely,

Signed:
Lord Browne of Laydton (House of Lords)
Caroline Lucas MP
Kate Hudson MP
John McDonnell MP
Lisa Nandy MP
Bob Doris MSP
Jackie Baillie MSP
The Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd AS/MP


India: Comply with Supreme Court ruling on Mining in Niyamgiri Hills

Amnesty International Public Statement

AI index: ASA 20/027/2013

13 June 2013

Amnesty International India urges authorities in the eastern Indian state of Odisha to fully respect a recent Supreme Court ruling and hold village assembly (gram sabha) meetings in all of 80-odd Dongria Kondh Adivasi (Indigenous) and other Adivasi villages in Niyamgiri hills that will be affected by a proposed bauxite mining operation.

Newspaper advertisements issued by the Odisha authorities are asking the communities in only 12 villages - seven in Rayagada district and five in Kalahandi district - to file, within the next six weeks, their claims on the areas proposed to be mined.

The controversial mining plans - a joint venture between Sterlite India, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Vedanta Resources, and the Odisha state mining company - affect the traditional lands of the Dongria Kondh Adivasi communities. On 18 April 2013 India's Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling stipulating that the village assemblies of these communities would need to decide if the proposed 670 hectare mine affected their religious and cultural rights, including their right to worship.

India's Ministry of Tribal Affairs has already written a letter, dated 9 June 2013, to the Odisha authorities to confirm that restricting the meetings to only 12 villages is not in accordance with the Court ruling, or with Section 12 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA).

The Ministry's letter says that the Odisha authorities cannot arbitrarily decide the list of villages whose residents' rights may be affected; this should be decided by the village assemblies themselves.

For more than a decade, the Dongria Kondh Adivasi communities have led a sustained campaign stating that the mine plans endangered their specific way of life. Indian and international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have repeatedly raised concerns that the proposed mine, which lies within the Dongria Kondh's traditional lands and habitats, on which they depend for food, water and livelihoods, could result in violations of their rights as Indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to water, food, health and work, amongst others.

Amnesty International India is concerned by reports that the central paramilitary forces stationed in the Niyamgiri hills have resorted to intimidation of the Dongria Kondh Adivasi communities, urging them to give up their opposition to the bauxite mine plans. Human rights activists in Odisha have reported that, on 3 June 2013, three residents from Bataudi village fled after the central paramilitary forces suddenly fired upon them when they were bathing in a water stream. No one was injured in the incident.

Amnesty International India calls on the authorities to ensure that meetings are held in all villages and that these meetings are conducted in a free and genuine manner. The organization is concerned that in the run-up to previous consultation processes, there has been intimidation by the companies concerned or the paramilitary forces stationed at the Niyamgiri hills. The meetings should be observed by international human rights organisations, if the communities want this, as well as be held in the presence of a judicial officer, as stipulated by the Supreme Court ruling.

The Court ruling directs that the proceedings take place independently and completely uninfluenced either by the project proponents or the Odisha or central government officials. It also requires the village councils to share their decision with India's Ministry of Environment and Forests within three months' time.

The Court ruling is a clear vindication of the protests by local communities, the findings of the extensive research carried out since 2009 by Amnesty International and the campaign by many organisations which exposed how the communities' views had long been ignored. Their views should not be ignored once again. The authorities should fully respect the decisions taken in the village assembly meetings and not allow projects without the agreement by the communities.

Amnesty International India has consistently demanded that the Indian authorities announce a clear and transparent process for ascertaining the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Adivasi communities, as recommended by India's National Advisory Council on 21 December 2012. All information pertaining to the potential impact of mining plans should be made available to the communities in a language accessible to them.

The FPIC principle is recognized by the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007, as central to the protection and realisation of the rights of Indigenous communities.

ENDS/-

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