Vedanta: communities at risk from UK mining giant

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"We will not leave Niyamgiri. Without our mountain, our god, there is no life for us," says 36 year old Mali Majhi from the Kondh tribe.

Tribal communities in Orissa, India, are living in fear for their future due to the development of a combined bauxite mining and alumina refinery project in the heart of their ancestral home by a subsidiary of the UK mining and metals company, Vedanta Resources plc.

Until Vedanta came along, generations of indigenous people from the Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondha and Jharania tribes lived in the forests of Niyamgiri mountain, Orissa, foraging for food, raising chickens and growing vegetables and rice.

Now tribal members say they've been involuntarily displaced from their homes and refused compensation for their lost land. They are also concerned about the impact of mining on Niyamgiri mountain, from which they derive many of the religious beliefs and cultural practices that define their tribal identity.

History of Vedanta mining

Orissa and Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources plc have signed a 'memorandum of understanding' with the Orissa government for establishing a bauxite mine on the plateau atop Niyamgiri and a refinery at the foot of the mountain.

The company plans to mine over one million tonnes of bauxite a year from reserves within Niyamgiri mountain.

Official studies have suggested that this is likely to lead to massive deforestation on the slopes, the destruction of protected local ecosystems rich in biodiversity, and the disruption of key water sources that supply springs and streams on the surrounding hillsides and feed two rivers which irrigate large areas of farmland in southeast Orissa.

Protests about the threat the project poses to the forests local people depend upon for their livelihoods have been repeatedly ignored by officials and the company.

After a three year case full of legal controversies, the Supreme Court has given clearance for Vedanta to go ahead.

If mining is to be permitted, lawyers say two of India strongest Consitutional guarantess will be overturned: the right to life and human dignity (article 21) and the right to religious practises and beliefs (article 25).

The cost of mining in India

Bratindi Jena of ActionAid is helping build support for the Kondh’s struggle to save their mountain. She says the cost of mining would be phenomenal:

"Niyamgiri bauxite would come at the cost of clean water and pristine forest in an otherwise drought-hit district. It also represents an outright assault on the culture and religion of the indigenous people who live there."

"Permitting mining would pave the way for persecution of a minority community and deny legal protection for their religious beliefs," she adds.

In the words of 36 year old Malari, "For us this is a life and death fight."