Supporters of India’s Dongria Kondh tribe are celebrating after the controversial British mining company Vedanta Resources declared it will close its bauxite refinery in the state of Orissa, this December.
Survival International, the NGO which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, says that the news is a major breakthrough for the tribe, who have fought a "David and Goliath battle" against Vedanta’s plans to extract bauxite from their land.
Dongria leader, Lodu Sikaka, said today, "We will be happy if the company leaves. If the refinery is there, they will keep trying to take our mountain, if not today, then tomorrow, or two years, 10 years from now."
The Lanjigarh refinery sits at the base of the Dongria Kondh’s Niyamgiri Hills, which are home to the 8,000-strong tribe, and the seat of their god, Niyam Raja. The company has spent more than one billion US dollars expanding the site without securing all the required clearances, as well as knowing it was unable to source enough bauxite to run the refinery at capacity.
Vedanta has now blamed the closure on a "depleting stock position of bauxite". But, there are concerns the company’s announcement is intended to pressure the government into allowing it to mine the Niyamgiri Hills. The issue has returned to India’s Supreme Court, but the case is currently adjourned.
Opposition to Vedanta’s push to mine the mountains has embroiled the company in a near decade-long dispute, and forced the Lanjigarh refinery to be run with bauxite from different mines across India. A Vedanta spokesman claimed this has cost the company half a billion dollars.
Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said today (13 September), ‘When we started our campaign for the Dongria Kondh, we were repeatedly told it was a hopeless case and the mine would be built. It hasn’t been. The infrastructure is rusting away and now Vedanta says it will shelve its refinery. This is a fantastic vindication of the tribal people’s determination to keep the lands which are rightfully theirs, and the pressure brought to bear by thousands of their and our supporters around the world. Public pressure is the only thing which can save tribal peoples in the long-term, and it works."