MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian villagers protest against Vedanta project

Published by MAC on 2008-11-17
Source: Reuters

BHUBANESWAR - Hundreds of tribespeople, many carrying bows and arrows, marched against a bauxite mine planned by Britain's Vedanta Resources PLC in eastern India on Friday, police said.

Villagers blocked roads and shouted slogans against the company, vowing to prevent mining in Orissa, in yet another stand-off between industry and India's farmers, unwilling to surrender land in a country where two-thirds of the population depend on agriculture for a living.

"There is some protest and road blockades at the moment, we are looking into it," B.K. Rath, a senior police officer said.

Regular violent protests in mineral-rich Orissa state had held up the Vedanta plant for months until August, when the company received the green light from India's Supreme Court to mine bauxite in hills held sacred by an ancient tribe.

Vedanta wants to dig open-cast mines in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa to feed the refinery it has already built there.

On Friday, the villagers said Vedanta had gone back on its word and was not carrying out developmental work in the region as promised.

"The company promised so many things, but did nothing," Sidhartha Nayak, a protest leader said.

A Vedanta spokesman denied the charges, saying the company was coordinating with the government on building new roads and to provide employment to local people.

In the neighbouring state of West Bengal, tribespeople also protested near a proposed steel plant being built by India's JSW Steel Ltd on Friday, police said.

They were demanding the release of three students, arrested by the police for possible links with Maoist insurgents who triggered a blast aimed at senior government ministers during the inauguration of the plant this month.

Acquisitions of large tracts of land by foreign and local companies have proved controversial in several states in India recently, with the country's courts needing to step to resolve disputes involving big projects, including South Korea's POSCO's proposed $12 billion steel plant, also in Orissa, and the Vedanta project.

Regular demonstrations by farmers and political opposition also forced India's Tata Motors Ltd to move the factory for its low-cost Nano car out of West Bengal state last month.

In late October, thousands of villagers marched in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, to protest against the building of a steel plant by Arcelor Mittal.

Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata; Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Valerie Lee)

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