MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian Tribes Take Mine Protest To Shareholders

Published by MAC on 2007-08-03
Source: Scientific American ()

Indian tribes take mine protest to shareholders

Scientific American

3rd August 2007

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian tribal people fighting a mining firm project said on Friday they would keep up protests after returning from a shareholder meeting in Britain this week with an offer that the chairman could visit the area.

London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc wants to mine the lushly-forested Niyamgiri hills in Orissa in the east of the country for bauxite to feed the $900 million alumina refinery it recently built nearby.

Thousands of tribal people living in the area say the project will force them from their homes and destroy their livelihoods, which are based on farming millet and harvesting fruits and spices in the forests.

Vedanta says that it is giving more generous compensation than the law requires, has built rehabilitation camps for the displaced villagers, and that much of the area's water sources and rare plants and animals will be protected.

"We are not going to allow this to happen," 55-year-old Kumuti Majhi, a local villager, told a news conference in New Delhi after returning from the shareholder meeting in London.

"We have been living in this mountain range for generations, and we worship Niyamgiri as a living god."

Majhi and another villager had left their mud and wood huts in Niyamgiri to travel to the British capital to protest against the project. Activists had earlier bought five pence shares so they could gain access to the annual meeting.

Activists supporting the tribal people said the concerns of the villagers were listened to at the meeting and a Vedanta spokesman said the firm's chairman, Anil Agarwal, would be "very happy" to visit the controversial area with the villagers.

The tribes people said some villagers had been beaten and threatened with jail by government officials who support the project if they refused to cooperate, and had also been tricked into signing land transfer documents.

The firm's spokesman, who asked not to be named, said none of the claims had been substantiated. He said it was not the company's policy to intimidate people and there was "no incentive" to use such tactics.

The mining project has been stalled by legal wrangles, with a Supreme Court committee saying that the government had violated its own guidelines by allowing the firm to build the refinery without getting clearance to mine the hills.

In May a top Indian government panel said it had backed the plan. Activists say largely illiterate tribal people would not be able to make good use of cash given as compensation.

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