MAC: Mines and Communities

Vedanta update

Published by MAC on 2007-08-07

Vedanta update

7th August 2007

As activists prepare for the Supreme Court hearing on Vedanta’s operations in Lanjigarh, there has been press and online follow up to last week's Vedanta 2007 AGM, and the associated protests. Meanwhile, the company stands to benefit from the decision of the government of the State of Orissa to withdraw two proposed elephant reserves from the nearby bauxite rich Niyamgiri hills.

Mining giant faces tribal pro

Independent -

6th August 2007

Until he came to London Kumti Majhi had never worn shoes before - he had never needed to. A member of the Dongria Kondh, one of India's most traditional tribes from the forested hills in the state of Orissa, he had never had any need to put any protection on his feet.

But the tribal leader knew shoes would be needed if he was to try to halt the construction of a £400m bauxite mine on the Niyamgiri Mountain, the Dongria Kondh's homeland and a hill they worship as their god.

Since building of the mine and its adjacent alumina refinery first began in 2004 by the UK-based mining giant Vedanta Resources, a battle has raged between the FTSE-100 company on one side and environmentalists and tribal members on the other who say the mine has already caused untold misery and is an ecological disaster waiting to happen.

Last week Kumti Majhi travelled from his village to the annual general meeting of Vedanta Resources to inform shareholders of the fate of his people. Although reporters were banned from attending the AGM, The Independent spoke to Mr Majhi outside the Mayfair conference centre.

"Niyamgiri Mountain is a living god for us," said the father of four who until now had never left the state of Orissa. "It has provided us with food, water and our livelihoods for generations. Even if we have to die protecting our god we will not hesitate, we will not let it go."

On Thursday critics of the mine will finally find out whether their three-year campaign has been successful when the Indian Supreme Court sits to rule on the construction's legality. Three petitioners have brought cases against Vedanta in what could be a landmark ruling.

A Supreme Court committee has already accused Vedanta of "blatant violation" of planning and environmental guidelines. A separate report from the Wildlife Institute of India also criticised the project citing its "irreversible" impact on the environment.

Activists say the project is a threat to the environment and to the distinct culture and practices of the three Kondh tribes that for centuries have had a symbiotic relationship with their sacred mountain, foraging and hunting in some areas and eschewing other areas out of respect.

Vedanta rejected accusations that the rehabilitation of families was unsuitable and strongly defended its environmental record saying the company had abided by all environmental regulations.

Indian tribals to protest in Lo

One World South Asia -

August 2007

At Delhi International airport Phulme and I hand over our passports to the officials. The passports are crisp new documents with our photographs and details written in English which looks very different to Oriya (the main language of the Indian state we come from).

Bratindi who coordinates ActionAid’s work with indigenous communities across India and Ashok, a fieldworker in our area, helped us with the passport and visa applications. The whole process took 3 months. Without these we would not be able to leave India or enter England.

Phulme is 25 and a former Sarpanch (local elected leader) from a nearby village. She has travelled in India but has never left the country before. It is my first time outside Orissa.

Why are we coming so far from home? For us it is a matter of life or death. Niyamgiri Raja – the mountain that is sacred to the indigenous groups in the area – is under threat and with it our land, livelihood and way of life.

Last c

Before boarding we receive calls from Sidarth chair of Sachetan Nagarik Manch, one of the growing groups of concerned people who are campaigning with us to stop the mining and refinery project which is causing so much sadness, shock and anger among our people. Anger and shock at the company’s behaviour. Sadness at its impact on our Mother Earth.

We also receive a message of support from a lawyer involved in the Supreme Court hearing on Vedanta’s operations in Lanjigarh. The case restarts on August 9 in Delhi. I hope they understand what a critical decision is before them…

In 52 years I have not taken a flight but now I am on my second in two days.

The first, an internal flight to Delhi, was two hours but Delhi to London is more than nine.

The plane is half empty so we take a row of seats each and catch up on sleep. We’ve been travelling for three days.

Leaving Lanji

After saying good bye to my children and two year old grandson on Thursday, we set off by bus leaving behind the green hills and trees of Niyamgiri, our paddy fields and painted mud homes.

Leaving Lanjigarh (our local administrative area) the bus bumps along the tarmac road full of potholes. Many heavy vehicles pass this way clearing trees and digging up earth to build the company’s refinery and huge waste ponds close to one of our main rivers.

Shoes to walk on Mother Ea

The bus arrived in Bhubeneshwar, capital of Orissa in time for a busy day with Bratindi. There were many preparations for the journey to London.

After much persuasion I finally agree to buy my first pair of shoes.

I have never needed shoes before – why do we need shoes to walk on our Mother Earth? But Bratindi insisted that in London, Mother Earth is already covered with stone and concrete and it is often cold, not like the soft warm earth around Niyamgiri. I leave the shop with shoes and socks.

Why Lon

Why are we are going to London? This is where we the money comes from that funds Vedanta’s operation in Lanjigarh. Our sacred mountain is full of a mineral (bauxite) that the company wants to feed to their refinery to make aluminium which is used to make cooking pots.

Niyamgiri is powerful like a king. That’s why there are 32 streams two major rivers and a thick dense forest. It is not like other mountains in the area.

Niyamgiri is home to tigers, elephants, rabbits, deer, monkeys and wild boar and so many birds. When the mining starts where will they go? Where will we go?

We have lived for generations around the mountain. Niyamgiri Raja (king mountain) is our god. We collect leaves fruits and flowers from the forest that we use for food, drink, medicine and making plates and baskets.

The company people (shareholders) are having their big annual meeting in London. We want to tell them what is happening in their name far away from London. Everyone at home is hoping they will hear us.

If I had three minutes with the company director I would say: “We don’t want anything taken out of the mountain. Leave our mountain and people alone – we want to keep living the way we have for generations. Imagine how would you feel if someone invaded your home and land and destroyed all that was sacred to you?”

India drops elephant reserves for mining firms

By Bappa Majumdar, Reuters -

7th Aug 2007

KOLKATA, India - Authorities in eastern India have dropped plans to set up two new elephant reserves, enraging conservationists who say the decision threatens wildlife and is aimed at helping mining firms operate in the area.

Last year, the government approved two new reserves in the mineral-rich areas of Orissa state aimed at strengthening the conservation of elephants and other wildlife such as tigers, leopards, deer and hundreds of species of rare reptiles.

But conservationists claim the plans have been dropped to ease the way for big steel investors like Vedanta Resources Plc, JSW Steel and Arcelor Mittal to mine for iron ore, manganese and bauxite.

"Multi-nationals can now carry out mining easily and get all the environmental clearance without any impact study on wildlife at all," said Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa.

Government officials denied the charge.

Conservationists said the reserves would have given extra protection to the large mammals who are increasingly losing their habitat due to deforestation and increasing industrial development, bring them into more conflict with humans.

Home to 50,000 elephants a century ago, India now has just a little over 21,000.

Experts say only 20 percent of India's landmass is forested and just 120,000 sq km (46,340 sq miles) -- less than four percent of the country -- of these forests are suitable elephant habitats.

"Nearly 1,900 elephants roam the jungles of Orissa, making it the biggest population in eastern India, so securing the elephant corridor was very important," said Shakti Ranjan Banerjee of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

"The area for the two proposed elephant reserves was too big and that was why we withdrew the proposals," said P.N. Padhi, a senior official in Orissa's forest and environment department.

"The presence of mines in these areas is only a coincidence as we are quite serious about wildlife conservation."

The two reserves -- one in the northern area of Baitarani and the other in the south, including the Niyamgiri hills area -- would have covered a total area of nearly 15,000 sq km (5,800 sq miles).


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