MAC: Mines and Communities

Vedanta update

Published by MAC on 2007-09-07

Vedanta update

7th September 2007

It's one of the longest-enduring conflicts over a mine project in recent times. Three years ago, the Indian Supreme Court's Central Empowered Committee (CEC) on forestry issues, condemned in no uncertain terms plans by UK-based Vedanta Resources plc to mine the Nyamgiri Hills in Orissa for bauxite. It also found that Vedanta's alumina refinery – deliberately located at Lanjigarh, next to the hills - was being constructed in violation of forest protection legislation, and that the company had lied on several occasions in its defence of the huge project.

It was thought that the Supreme Court (SC) would make a final judgment on Vedanta's claim to Nyamgiri in 2006. That wasn't to be - and it still may not occur before the end of this year. Last week, the SC postponed its decision again, calling for yet another report to be completed. At its earliest this will not be submitted for another month, especially as it is supposed to survey the impacts of mining on tribal peoples and the ecology throughout this bauxite-rich region: a huge task, let alone once which could be adequately performed in barely four weeks!

Ostensibly the SC's mandate is laudable, but conflicting interests within the court itself, not to mention a raft of external pressures, may at best result in a woeful pretext of a study. At worst it could provide the opportunity for further interference in the judicial process by Vedanta and its supporters – of the kind alleged on several occasions since 2004.

On the ground - literally - the reality is that Vedanta is now close to opening its (still illegal) Lanjigarh refinery and has already shipped substantial amounts of alumina to its Korba smelter in Chhattisgarh. Even if alternative supplies of the raw material are available from other deposits in India (and the company has been stepping-up its bauxite extraction from existing mines in Chhattisgarh) most of these projects are still on the drawing board. Were they to substitute for the bauxite reserves on Nyamgiri, mining them would threaten yet more Indigenous communities and the environment, opening the way to further vociferous (and potentially bloody) resource conflicts.

At the heart of the current debate has been the contention that a choice has to be made between "environment and "development". Yet many obsersers - not least many Indians themselves - challenge this as a false dichotomy. [see, for example an article we published on this site two years back: ]

However, placing faith in the Supreme Court to recognise this and act upon it, when it is confronted with the most aggressive minerals' expansion the country has ever experienced, seems a decidedly blithe hope. [RM]

LATE (GOOD) NEWS: Last week the Supreme Court decided to confirm the role of the CEC, without time limit. The Ministry of the Environment and Forest (MoEF) had for some months sought to do away with this vital sub committee. This was not least because the CEC had criticised the MoEF's own failure to confront the illegalities committed by Vedanta in 2003-2005.

See:'s misdeeds in Orissa.

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