The FTSE 100 mining giant Vedanta is challenging a ban on mining the sacred mountain of India’s Dongria Kondh tribe. The Orissa High Court will hear the case on Wednesday 2 February.
The Dongria Kondh, whose plight has been compared to the fictional Na’vi in the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar, won an historic victory against Vedanta last year. India’s Environment Ministry blocked Vedanta’s multimillion-dollar bid to create an open-pit bauxite mine on the Dongria’s sacred mountain, stating that Vedanta had shown ‘blatant disregard for the rights of the tribal groups.’
Since the victory, both Vedanta Aluminium (a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources) and the Orissa Mining Corporation have filed petitions in Orissa challenging the decision, as well as an associated decision to restrict the growth of an alumina refinery also operated by Vedanta.
Speaking to Survival International, the NGO campaigning for the rights of tribal people, one Dongria Kondh man said recently, ‘We do not think that we have won. We hear that mining has been stopped but whilst the factory [refinery] is still there our people, our land, may be taken away some day.’
Vedanta’s billionaire chairman Anil Agarwal held separate meetings with India’s Prime Minister and the Environment Minister recently. Following their meeting, the Environment Minister told journalists, £mining is a closed chapter, but so far as the expansion project is concerned we can consider it…provided they meet some conditions."
In a recent interview, Mr Agarwal said, ‘I am more sensitive about our people, about our adivasi [tribal] people, than anybody else’. However two independent investigations commissioned by the Indian Environment Ministry each concluded that Vedanta’s plans were likely to "destroy" the Dongria Kondh.?
Demonstrations against Vedanta have continued since the Ministry’s decision, with thousands marching to the gates of Vedanta’s alumina refinery, demanding it be shut down.
Stephen Corry, Survival’s Director, said "The Dongria’s David and Goliath battle is not over yet, and their supporters around the world are still watching. Last year, sense and justice prevailed in Niyamgiri; let us hope that it continues to do so and Anil Agarwal finally gives up on his disastrous plan."