MAC: Mines and Communities

Vedanta repelled by Dongria Kondh at sacred mountain

Published by MAC on 2009-01-13

Despite not receiving full environmental clearance to mine the Nyamgiri Hills in Orissa, UK-based Vedanta Resources last week tried to widen an access road to the bauxite-rich mountain top.

A blockade by tribal custodians of the area repelled the company's move. Two days later, joined by others, they vowed to prevent all future such attempts by Vedanta or its government backers.

Tribals plan to stop Vedanta vehicles

The Hindu

12th January 2009

BERHAMPUR: Members of the Niyamgiri Bachao Samity (NBS) on Sunday held a meeting at Sakata under Muniguda block in Rayagada district to plan their future plans to oppose mining in the Niyamgiri hills in south Orissa.

Around 1,000 delegates from villages to be affected by proposed mining in the Niyamgiri hills from Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district, and Bisamkatak, Muniguda, Kalyansinghpur blocks of Rayagad district, participated in the meeting. Most of them were members of Dongria Kondh community, one of the ancient tribes of the country.

The tribals decided to stop entry of vehicles and officials of both Government and Vendanta Alumina Limited (VAL) into the Niyamgiri area.

"We have also vowed not to allow construction of new roads in the remote Niyamgiri area which will facilitate mining in the region at the cost of the environment," said Dongria tribal leader Jitendra Jakesika. The NBS has decided to hold a large tribal rally at Muniguda in the second week of February as a show of strength against the proposed mining in Niyamgiri area.

This meeting was also attended by environmental activist, Praful Samantra, Samjawadi Janparishad leader Lingaraj Azad and CPI-ML (New Democracy) leader, Bhala Chandra Sarangi, who have extended support to the agitation.

The Niyamgiri hill range houses dense forests, wild animals with ample bio-diversity. As per the official records 7,987 primitive Dongria Kondh tribals live in this region. From this region emerge the Rushikulaya and Nagavali rivers of south Orissa. It may be noted that the VAL is setting up an alumina refinery at an estimated investment of over Rs. 4,000 crores in Orissa. The construction of refinery unit is complete.

This refinery is to depend on ores mined from Niyamgiri region. But the mining has been delayed due to court cases and protest by green activists

The legal stumbling blocks in the path of mining in the region have got removed. Yet the stiff opposition of the locals of around 104 tribal villages to be affected by this controversial mining project has prevented start of mining work. Since Nov 10 last year the tribals have not allowed the VAL officials to enter the region and start construction of wider road for movement of heavy vehicles needed for mining work.

Vedanta attempts to move to Orissa's sacred Niyamgiri

ActionAid International- India

8th January 2009

In an ominous development for the struggling indigenous Kondh people in Orissa's Niyamgiri area, Vedanta, the UK-based mining giant, reportedly attempted to move in land-movers for constructing a road leading to the Niyamgiri mountain top for mining of bauxite in the dead of the night on Wednesday.

Spontaneous protest

Hundreds of tribal, including 300 women and 500 men, laid siege along the unpaved forest road towards the sacred Niyamgiri starting in the wee hours, to stop the heavy vehicles.

The spontaneous protest lasted through the day, with villagers returning to homes only after the vehicles retreated.

"The protest took place near Kadamguda, after villagers got wind of heavy vehicles -- used for laying roads -- making way to the mountain top in the dead of the night," says Bratindi Jena, who is a part of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, a platform spearheading the campaign to save the mountain from being mined.

In for a long haul

"The local tribal community is holding a meeting today to decide on a round-the-clock vigil of the forest road to peacefully resist attempt to create an access to the mountain," says local lawyer and activist Siddhartha Nayak.

The villages on the foothills of Niyamgiri have been protesting for the past several months against the 12-feet wide forest road being widened to 30 feet by Vedanta.

"Three groups have been campaigning at the overtures of the company. Yesterday we also spotted a helicopter overhead when the land-movers were at the foothills. They were perhaps clicking images to show the work has begun," adds Nayak.

Lies yet again

The incident comes in the wake of Anil Agarwal, who owns Vedanta Resources, stating in a press conference on Monday that: "We have got the full clearance of the Supreme Court for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills and have deputed staff in large number for initiating the work."

Despite the Supreme Court order in July 2008 favouring Vedanta, the mining project has not secured all the required clearances under the law, including a public hearing of the tribal community to be impacted.

Therefore, the action of the company to initiate mining is illegal and the shareholders of the company need to be made aware of the implications surrounding this action by the management.

Breach of rights

In a damning 2005 report, a Supreme Court panel, the Central Empowered Committee, accused Vedanta of violating environmental guidelines. It said Vedanta had "deliberately and consciously concealed the involvement of the forest land in the project".

In addition to environmental concerns, two of India's strongest Constitutional guarantees will be overturned if mining goes ahead: The right of a 'primitive tribal group' to their territorial integrity and to decide on their own path of development (Indian Constitution schedule V) and the right to religious practices and beliefs (Article 25).

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