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Mining giant faces tribal pro

Published by MAC on 2007-08-06

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.

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