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Landmark fiat

Posted by ajadhind on September 9, 2010

V. VENKATESAN
in New Delhi

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests reverses its approach and refuses clearance to the Vedanta mining project.

R.V. MOORTHY

Jairam Ramesh at a press conference in New Delhi on August 24.

ON August 24, Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, uploaded on the Ministry’s website the text of his detailed decision rejecting the application from Vedanta Resources for forest clearance to start bauxite mining in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills. The decision is a rare instance of how the executive can use its powers to correct a perceived injustice resulting from its own earlier decision and directions of the Supreme Court. Jairam Ramesh’s decision reversed the Ministry’s first-stage forest clearance granted to the Orissa government in December 2008 and made inoperative the Supreme Court’s August 8, 2008, clearance to Vedanta’s Indian affiliate, Sterlite, to divert forests for bauxite mining.

The crux of the controversy is the Centre’s powers to stop diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. Ever since the subject of forests was transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List under the Constitution in 1976, the Centre’s powers to act directly in managing the country’s forests have been recognised. The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 conveyed Parliament’s intention to arrest the rapid decline in forest cover which had, until then, averaged one million hectares a year. The Act prevented the cutting of trees in forests without the Central government’s approval. However, interpretation of the Act’s provisions gave rise to legal problems. The meaning of the word ‘forest’ used in the Act was contested, and the need for prior approval of the Central government in all activities in the forest area was questioned before the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court resolved this issue of definition easily in terms of the dictionary meaning of ‘forest’, the cases before it presented an opportunity for it to assume a much more active role than it had been assigned originally. Thus, the Supreme Court began to issue, from December 1996, sweeping directives to oversee the enforcement of forest laws across the country. It aimed to regulate the felling and use of trees and the movement of timber in all States to promote sustainable use of forests. It sought to do this through a Special Bench and a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to examine the technical issues, whose advice has not always been binding on the Bench.

Jairam Ramesh’s decision is significant because for the first time since the Supreme Court began playing an activist role in forest matters the Central government has asserted its powers and felt bold enough to render a Supreme Court decision irrelevant. In this the Minister was helped by legal opinion, tendered by Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati, that the Supreme Court’s direction is not binding on the government if it rejects an application for forest clearance.

How it all started

On February 28, 2005, the Orissa government forwarded a proposal to the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests (MoEF) for the diversion of 660.749 hectares of forest land for mining bauxite in favour of the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in the MoEF recommended “in principle” approval on October 27, 2007, stipulating certain conditions such as concurrent reclamation, minimum tree felling in a phased manner and modified wildlife management plan. Although the August 24 decision does not elaborate, it is relevant to know how the FAC arrived at the decision to recommend “in principle” approval.

In September 2005, the CEC recommended to the Supreme Court that mining should not be permitted on the Niyamgiri hill. The CEC report was a scathing indictment of the project and questioned the integrity of the authorities involved. It also recommended that the environmental clearance granted by the MoEF for the alumina refinery plant on September 22, 2004, be revoked and all work be stopped.

Yet, in February 2006, the court referred the matter to the FAC and sought a report. The FAC requested the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL) to assess the project for soil erosion and impact on water resources. The CMPDIL cleared the project of all water-related concerns. The WII’s report, submitted in June 2006, warned that bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri plateau would destroy a specialised wildlife habitat. However, following a special presentation by Orissa forest officers, the institute, in October 2006, recommended a Rs.42-crore plan for mitigation of impact on wildlife. When the Supreme Court heard the matter on May 16 and 18, 2007, the CEC argued that the FAC had acted irresponsibly and with “undue haste” in granting Vedanta clearances. On December 11, 2008, the MoEF granted in-principle clearance to the State government.

On August 10, 2009, the State government applied to the MoEF for the final clearance. The FAC recommended on November 4, 2009, that the final clearance be considered only after ascertaining the community rights on forest land and after the process of establishing such rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), is completed.

On January 1, 2010, the FAC constituted a three-member expert group to carry out a site inspection. When this group recommended further examination on various grounds, Jairam Ramesh set up a four-member committee of specialists, chaired by Naresh Saxena, former Secretary, Planning Commission, to facilitate a holistic investigation. This committee submitted its report on August 16.

Saxena Committee’s report

Some salient findings of the Saxena Committee, which influenced the MoEF’s decision not to grant the final clearance, are:

The project would severely disturb important wildlife habitat that has been proposed as part of the Niyamgiri Wildlife Sanctuary.

LINGARAJ PANDA

THE CONVEYER BELT to supply bauxite ore to the Vedanta alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Orissa’s Kalahandi district was built without any formal approval.

More than 1.21 lakh trees would need to be cleared for mining besides many more lakh shrubs and herbal flora.

The grasses are breeding and fawning ground for the four-horned antelope ( Tetracerus quadricornis), barking deer ( Muntiacus muntjac) as well as spotted deer ( Axis axis). A rare lizard, golden gecko ( Callodactylodes aureus), is found on the proposed lease area. The populations of all these species will decline if mining is allowed.

Mining on the scale proposed in this habitat would severely disturb elephant habitats and threaten the important task of elephant conservation in south Orissa.

The mining operations involve stripping of more than seven square kilometres of the Niyamgiri hilltop, which would drastically alter the region’s water supply.

The proposed mining lease (PML) area is intimately linked, by way of economic, religious, and cultural ties, to 28 Kondh villages with a total population of 5,148. The affected include 1,453 Dongria Kondhs, who constitute 20 per cent of the total population of this tribe. Loss of forest cover will cause a substantial decline in their economic well-being. Landless Dalits who are dependent on Kondhs will also suffer.

Mining-related activities will deny Dongria Kondh access to their cultivable lands. Mining activities will also adversely affect the surrounding slopes and streams that are crucial for agriculture.

The Orissa government did not follow the Forest Rights Act and disregarded the legitimate and well-established rights of the Kondh Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs).

The Orissa government is not likely to implement the Forest Rights Act in a fair and impartial manner as far as the PML area is concerned.

The MoEF cannot grant the clearance unless the process of recognition of rights under the Forest Rights Act is complete and satisfactory; the consent of the concerned community has been granted; and both points have been certified by the gram sabha of the area concerned. All of these conditions, not any one, must be satisfied.

If mining is permitted on this site, it will not only be illegal, but will also destroy one of the most sacred sites of the Kondh PTGs. It will make the area easily accessible to poachers and timber smugglers, threatening the rich biodiversity of the hills.

The mining activities at the PML site will have limited relevance to the refinery now under a sixfold expansion as the 72 million tonne ore deposit here would last only about four years for the increased needs of the expanded refinery. In balance against this are the adverse consequences on the primitive tribal people, the environment and the wildlife of these forests.

Vedanta Aluminium Limited was accorded clearance under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) on the condition that no forest land would be used for the establishment of the refinery. But now it is clearly established that the company has occupied 26.123 ha of village forest land within the refinery boundary with the active collusion of the officials concerned. Hence, the environment clearance already granted is legally invalid. Allowing mining in the PML area would shake the faith of the tribal people in the laws of the land and have serious consequences for the security and well-being of the entire country.

FAC endorsed the report

The FAC on August 23 endorsed the Saxena Committee report, accepting that there was lack of diligence in safeguarding the rights of the PTGs in the adjoining forest areas, and found it a fit case for applying the precautionary principle to obviate the irreparable damage to the affected people. This principle requires the government authorities to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental pollution. It imposes the onus of proof on the developer or industrialist to show that his or her action is environmentally benign.

The FAC, therefore, recommended temporary withdrawal of the in-principle/stage-1 approval accorded by the MoEF for the diversion of 660.749 ha of forest land in favour of Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd. After giving due opportunity to the State government to present its views on the Saxena Committee report, Jairam Ramesh elaborated on certain factors that he considered while arriving at his decision.

read more at http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/stories/20100924271902200.htm

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Vedanta’s Orissa project nixed

Posted by ajadhind on August 26, 2010

source – livemint

After five long years of court hearings, violent public protests, Centre-state wrangling and media coverage, the government denied permission for bauxite mining at Niyamgiri in Orissa, settling the dispute in favour of the tribe that’s indigenous to the area.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s announcement on Tuesday will mean that an integral part of the Orissa Mining Corp. Ltd-Sterlite Industries India Ltd project will have to be scrapped. Sterlite is a wholly owned subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Plc, a London-listed company, which also owns Vedanta Alumina Ltd, operator of the Lanjigarh alumina refinery, which was to have been fed by bauxite from Niyamgiri.

The Orissa government can move the high court or the yet-to-be-established green tribunal.

In 2005, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Orissa and Vedanta to set up the complex, including the alumina refinery and a captive power plant. It also included the supply of 150 million tonnes (mt) of bauxite for Vedanta’s alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, for which the state had identified the Niyamgiri mine as the initial source of the material’s supply to the extent of 78 mt.

“There have been serious violations of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the Environment Protection Act (EPA) and the Forest Conservation Act (FCA),” Ramesh said. “We have also issued show-cause notices to the company. This is not an emotional decision. There is no prejudice and no politics. This is not because Niyamgiri is sacred (the hill with the bauxite deposits is held sacred by the primitive tribal group known as the Dongria Kondh). This is purely a legal approach.”

According to the firm’s statement released after the decision: “As at 31 March, Vedanta had invested $5.4 billion (`25,272 crore today) in its aluminium projects in Orissa. Around 10,000 people are employed at the Lanjigarh alumina refinery plant. Vedanta is currently operating its alumina refinery with outsourced bauxite.”

The company said the state government is trying to make sure that it can supply bauxite from alternative sources.

“In view of the ongoing delay in approval of the Niyamgiri mining, the government of Orissa is actively considering allocation of alternate source of bauxite to Vedanta’s alumina refinery, from the state of Orissa,” said the statement.

The state government could not be reached.

“In response to the certain allegations raised in the report, Vedanta Resources reconfirms that there has been no regulatory violation of any kind at the alumina refinery,” the statement added.

The company said in a revised statement that it sent out later, “We are not in possession of Niyamgiri mine and no mining activity has been or will be undertaken till all approvals are in place.”

On Tuesday evening, Sterlite lost 3.97% to end at `152.40 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. The key Sensex fell 0.53% to 18,311.59 points. Vedanta closed 7.07% down in London.

The environment ministry has relied on a recent report by former bureaucrat N.C. Saxena, the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and the attorney general’s opinion, according to Ramesh.

The Saxena report, in its investigation of the implementation of FRA, found that the legitimate claims of the Dongria Kondh have been discouraged and denied without the due process of law, which is illegal on part of the district or sub-divisional committees. The report further said that the Orissa government is not likely to implement FRA in a fair and impartial manner since it has gone to the extent of forwarding false certificates.

Under FRA, rights (individual and community) of tribals and forest dwellers have to be recognized and settled, and consent must be taken from the concerned community before any project can go ahead in the area.

Ramesh, however, clarified that the environment ministry was not taking congnizance of this. “The Saxena committee made a number of observations on state officials. I don’t agree with that and believe that they were acting to the best of their ability. There will not be any witch-hunt,” he said.

The committee report also found serious violations by the company’s alumina refinery in its illegal expansion from 1 million tonne per annum (mtpa) capacity to 6 mtpa. The report said that “this amounts to a serious violation of the provisions of EPA” and “is an expression of the contempt with which the company treats the laws of the land”.

The environment ministry has issued two show-cause notices to the company. One asks it to explain why environment clearance for the 1 mtpa alumina refinery should not be revoked. The second asks why the terms of reference (ToR), which are equivalent to approval for a project, for the environment impact assessment report for the expansion should not be withdrawn. Ramesh added that ToR and the appraisal process for the expansion stand suspended.

“This seems like a full stop for this proposal. But the refinery issue still remains,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environment lawyer. “The pollution problem from their operations still needs to be resolved. We’ve stopped something that was about to happen, but haven’t undone the illegalities already done.”

The panel’s conclusions and recommendations, which were accepted by FAC and forwarded for the final decision, also mention instances of violations under FCA. Mint reported this on 24 August.

The ministry’s note on the factors that have dictated its decision said that the Saxena panel went into great detail highlighting various instances of violations under FCA.

“All these violations, coupled with the resultant impact on the ecology and biodiversity of the surrounding area, further condemn the actions of the project proponent. Not only are these violations of a repeating nature, but they are instances of wilful concealment of information by the project proponent,” it said.

The environment ministry is in the process of examining what penal action should be initiated against the project proponents for the violations. Moreover, the Jharkhand mines from where the refiner is sourcing the bauxite do not appear to have the necessary clearances, the ministry said.

Regarding the other high-profile project awaiting the environment ministry’s approval—the Posco integrated steel plant in Orissa—Ramesh said he has asked the Meena Gupta panel to submit its report by September-end, after which he will consider the case.

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Dutch manager PGGM drops India’s Vedanta over ethical concerns

Posted by ajadhind on July 16, 2010

NETHERLANDS – Asset manager PGGM has withdrawn its investments in Indian mining company Vedanta Resources for “persistently ignoring” the environment and human rights.

Despite a two-year dialogue concerning Vedanta’s mining activities in the state of Orissa, the company made no concrete improvements, PGGM said.

The asset manager said Vedanta’s lack of improvement and refusal to co-operate on environmental and human rights issues had increasingly put the company’s reputation at risk, which, PGGM felt, had translated into a financial risk.

PGGM, which manages the €91bn healthcare scheme PFZW, said it had exchanged letters and held numerous talks with the company over the last two years.

It also aimed to step up pressure on Vedanta by involving a number of international institutional investors in talks.

But PGGM said Vedanta declined to participate in a roundtable meeting with experts – initiated by the group of investors – to discuss possible solutions for problems in Orissa.

Consequently, PGGM has disinvested its €13m stake in the company, including Vedanta’s subsidiaries Sterlite Industries, Hindustan Zinc and Sesa Goa.

Author: Leen Preesman

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Battle for survival

Posted by ajadhind on June 3, 2010

MAHIM PRATAP SINGH
in Kalahandi

The tribal people of Niyamgiri hills in Orissa are determined to prevent Vedanta Aluminium Ltd from mining the area for bauxite.

MAHIM PRATAP SINGH

Nearly 8,000 of the Dongria Kondh Adivasis, who revere the Niyamgiri mountain as their king and god, fear displacement and disruption of their centuries-old culture once the company gets the clearance to mine the hills.

Niyamgiri in Orissa is all set to become a scene of local community resistance to corporate interests. The hills of Niyamgiri, a Fifth Schedule area under the Constitution of India and home to Dongria Kondh Adivasis, are allegedly under threat from the proposed mining activities of the Mumbai-based Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL), a subsidiary of the British mining giant Vedanta Resources Plc, which owns the majority stake in the now privatised BALCO. VAL is awaiting the second stage of clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for its Niyamgiri project. It got the first-stage clearance from the MoEF in September 2004.

The company has already started operations at its refinery in Lanjigarh, a town downhill from the Niyamgiri forest. The bauxite for the refinery is brought chiefly from Vedanta’s mines at Bodai-Daldali in Chhattisgarh. The refinery requires three million tonnes of bauxite a year. Naturally, Niyamgiri is extremely important for Vedanta because getting the required amount of bauxite transported from outside would not be viable for the company.

The clearance granted to the refinery is also fraught with controversy. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court following a complaint of environmental violations against Vedanta, in its report submitted to the court in September 2005, accused Vedanta of deliberate violations. The committee’s member secretary, M.K. Jiwrajka, belongs to the MoEF. The CEC observed that “out of the requirement of 723.343 hectares for the alumina refinery and 721.323 ha for the bauxite mining, 58.943 ha and 672.018 ha, respectively, are forest land” and “since the project involved the use of the forest land for the alumina refinery itself, the environmental clearance could have been granted by the MoEF only after the use of the forest land was permitted under the F.C. [Forest Conservation] Act”.

The CEC concluded that “M/s Vedanta has deliberately and consciously concealed the involvement of the forest land in the project… so that environmental clearance is not kept pending for want of the F.C. Act clearance”. It further stated that in violation of the Act the project was split into alumina refinery and bauxite mining although the latter is an integral part of the project and that although the MoEF was “fully aware that the use of the forest land for the mining at Niyamgiri hills is absolutely necessary if the alumina refinery is to be established at Lanjigarh, the environmental clearance to the alumina refinery has been accorded by the MoEF by overlooking these facts”.

According to information provided by VAL, the mines of Niyamgiri belong to the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC), with which the company has signed a memorandum of understanding for the procurement of bauxite on a long-term basis – 150 million tonnes from the Lanjigarh bauxite deposits and other nearby mines of the OMC. An MoU was signed by the OMC and Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, also a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Plc., in 1997. However, in October 2004, the OMC signed another MoU with VAL for mining bauxite in Lanjigarh and Karlapat. For this mining, the OMC entered into a joint venture with VAL, in which it would hold 26 per cent equity and VAL the rest.

Around 8,000 Dongria Kondh Adivasis, who are a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) notified by the Union government and who revere the Niyamgiri mountain as their king and god, fear displacement and total disruption of their centuries-old culture once the company gets the clearance to mine the hills. However, the company dismisses all such concerns.

“It has already been clarified by the State’s Minister of Steel and Mines in the Assembly that there is no habitation in the mining lease area and as such no displacement is involved there,” VAL’s chief operations officer Mukesh Kumar told Frontline.

Three-member team’s report

The MoEF, in December last year, constituted a team comprising Usha Ramanathan, a law researcher from the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; Vinod Rishi, former Additional Director General of the Wildlife Institute of India; and J.K. Tewari, Chief Conservator of Forests (Central), Bhubaneswar, in view of the allegations regarding the violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and to address concerns regarding tribal rights and wildlife. The team submitted its report to the Ministry on February 25, highlighting, among other things, the gross violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by the “user agency”, VAL. According to Usha Ramanathan’s observations in the report, which has the most scathing indictment of irregularities and violations committed by the company, the Dongria Kondh people feel that although there is no habitation in the mining area, over 200 villages on a hillside will get affected by the road, vehicles, mining activities and the drying up of perennial streams and that the dongar (hill), which they worship as their king and god, will be dug up and blasted.

Concern is also expressed over the disregard for the forest rights of the Adivasis under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. According to section 5(c) of the Act, it is to be ensured that “the habitat of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage”.

“Until these [forest rights] and allied rights are recognised, recorded and settled under the FRA, it would be unconstitutional and in breach of the FRA to disturb their [the Dongria Kondh] habitat,” Usha Ramanathan notes in her report. The report also observes that “disruption of the habitat and the way of life of this PTG cannot be remediated nor compensated, and may lead to the destruction of the Dongria Kondh”.

The report also expresses concern over the receipt of material assistance and benefits by the district administration from VAL. It says that “two rooms have been added to the BDO office [Block Development Office] in Vishwanathpur and furnished by VAL as a resting place for the Collector when he travels on duty”.

J.K. Tewari’s observations point towards violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act by the company in the construction of 47 pillars for its conveyor belt. Tewari has observed that the area calculated by the State government (45.6 square metres) over which the pillars are constructed is faulty and that the actual area of construction and operation would be much larger. He has also observed violations of MoEF guidelines in the construction of an incomplete mine access road. Apart from environmentalists, human rights activists, the CEC and the MoEF’s three-member team, Vedanta has also faced ire from its own shareholders. In February this year, the Church of England withdrew its £3.8-million share from the company citing no “level of respect for human rights and local communities” on the part of the company. Earlier, in 2007, the Norwegian pension fund, the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund, sold off its shares worth $13.2 million owing to alleged environmental and human rights violations by the company’s Indian subsidiaries.

Legal ambiguity

There is also a lot of ambiguity regarding whether VAL or Sterlite Industries is the core representative for the mining activity. The Supreme Court order of August 8, 2008, which allowed the diversion of 660.749 ha of forest land for mining, was “in matter of M/s Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd (SIIL)”.

In an earlier order dated November 23, 2007, the court had expressed doubts over the credibility of VAL and noted that “keeping in mind the totality of the above factors (a series of facts and circumstances in relation to M/s VAL having caused environmental damage and human rights violations), we are not inclined to clear the project”. In this order, the court gave the liberty to SIIL to move the court if it agreed to comply with the modalities suggested by the court and categorically stated that “such an application will not be entertained if made by M/s VAL or by Vedanta Resources”. However, all communications with Usha Ramanathan, as mentioned in the report to the MoEF, were handled by representatives of VAL. This, the report has observed, is a violation of the Supreme Court orders. All communication with this correspondent too was by VAL representatives.

REINHARD KRAUSE/REUTERS

Members of The Dongria Kondh tribe dance in a ceremony on top of the Niyamgiri mountain on February 21 to protest against plans by Vedanta Aluminium Ltd to mine bauxite from the mountain.

The Supreme Court’s decisions too have come in for criticism. The new Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia, has been criticised for hearing cases relating to Vedanta while being a shareholder of its subsidiary, SIIL.

“When I brought up this issue of conflict of interest of Justice Kapadia, I got served with a contempt notice,” says Prashant Bhushan of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms. Justice Kapadia responded by stating that he had declared that he was a shareholder of Sterlite and had invited objections, and when none was raised, he went ahead with the hearing, and thus acted according to the code of conduct.

The forest and its people

Five kilometres on a bicycle, 10 km on foot, and five streams of water to cross along a steep, rocky passage through dense forest in sweltering tropical heat, often 45 {+0} Celsius or more, means that getting to Jarpa, like most villages of Niyamgiri, is not easy. Rajulguda village at the foothills serves as a night halt, from where Lenju, an activist leader of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Committee), leads one to the villages uphill the next morning.

The residents of Rajulguda greet Lenju and this correspondent with a raised fist and a casual ‘Lal Salaam’. That, Lenju explains, is because of the leadership activities of the Lok Sangram Manch, a frontier organisation of the CPI-ML (New Democracy), which supports the movement in principle.

The entire interaction with the Adivasis is extremely secretive, and Lenju constantly cautions against asking the “wrong questions”. Bitter experiences with journalists and other visitors in the past have meant that the Dongria Kondhs do not allow anybody uphill without prior approval from the committee. Taking pictures is prohibited as they believe that several of their photographs clicked earlier have made their way into the market.

On the way up is Serkopadi village, also home to the Dongria Kondh. “Downhill, water- and air-related problems exist because of the company’s presence. Our committee will make sure that the company does not enter the forest or it will be the same here,” says Indra Sikoka of the village.

Another difficult trek of around 10 km takes us to Jarpa, where the Dongria Kondh Adivasis wait for us. “Vedanta is an enemy, a foreign monster that has come here to destroy us,” says Lahadi Sikoka, a villager, sharpening a wooden stick with his axe. Thousands of others of his tribe, spread across over a 100 villages in Niyamgiri, share the same sentiment.

It is common for the Dongria Kondh to carry some weapon or the other at all times to survive against attacks from wild animals, which are aplenty in Niyamgiri. It could be an axe, a bow and arrows or even a crude gun. Niyamgiri means the mount of Niyam Raja, the law god of the Dongria Kondh, whom they also worship as their king and ancestor. While the company maintains that there is no habitation on the mountain top, which is the proposed mining area, the Kondh people believe it to be the abode of Niyam Raja.

According to the residents of Jarpa village, Niyamgiri is a sacred place for them, a bank that provides them with everything they need. Salt and oil are the only things they need to get from outside.

The CEC report to the Supreme Court in 2005 strongly recommended against allowing mining in the Niyamgiri hills. It observed, among other things, that the rich biodiversity of Niyamgiri (which also happens to be an elephant reserve) would be under serious threat from the company’s mining activities. According to the report, the forest “contains sambar, leopard, tiger, barking deer, various species of birds and other endangered species of wildlife…it has more than 300 species of plants and trees, including about 50 species of medicinal plants”.

Nalli, which is the Kuvi (the language spoken by the Kondh) word for bauxite, is a precious resource necessary for the survival of the forest and its 36 perennial water streams because of its water-retaining characteristics.

In late February, the Kondh held an oath-taking ceremony on top of the hill where they resolved not to allow Vedanta to enter the forest even if it gets the clearance, which they fear is imminent. In such an event, says Lenju, the tribal people will run short of options. “Once they get the final clearance and come here for mining, we will have no option but to fight them tooth and nail,” he says. “We have started preparations for the confrontation and that is when the government will declare us Maoists and unleash CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] troops on us. But we have nothing to lose. We will fight it out and die but will not let go of our forest,” he says.

In an exclusive conversation with Frontline, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh said the Ministry was not in any hurry to give the clearance. “The team sent by us found that Vedanta has violated the terms and conditions under which the approval was given to them. The project involves forest and non-forest areas. These guys have already started work in the non-forest areas, which is a violation,” he said. The Minister admitted that mining would spell doom for the mountain and its people and also expressed surprise at the fact that the Supreme Court overlooked the recommendations of the CEC.

“If they manage to get the clearance, Niyamgiri will be destroyed forever. But there is no hurry and we are exploring all options. The Supreme Court has given its approval, but I have to say it seems strange as it is the only case where the Supreme Court has not accepted the recommendations of the CEC,” he said.

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Orissa: Mining company’s scare tactics against human rights NGO

Posted by ajadhind on December 23, 2009

There have been repeated protests against Vedanta’s planned mine.
© Satyabady Naik

Metals giant Vedanta Resources’ Indian subsidiary has launched an unprecedented attack on Survival International, apparently to drive its researchers out of an area where the company is planning to mine.

The mining company has falsely accused Survival of ‘forcedly interacting’ with the Dongria Kondh tribe who live around the area earmarked for mining, and of causing ‘unrest.’ Vedanta has prompted a police investigation into Survival, with officers making a late night visit to a hotel where they believed Survival researchers were staying.

Survival researchers were in the Niyamgiri area of Orissa, east India, to talk with members of the Dongria Kondh community whose future is threatened by a proposed Vedanta mine on their sacred mountain.

Pavan Kaushik, Vedanta Group’s head of corporate communications, wrote to journalists alleging that ‘foreign NGOs including Survival International… are provoking innocent tribal’s to defame the government and the company’. In the letter, he attacked ‘foreigners’ for ‘freely moving in the region’ and alleged that they were circulating ‘false information’. The letter also invites journalists to contact the regional Superintendent of Police, who is named as available for interview.

In September the British government ruled that Vedanta had repeatedly failed to respect the human rights of the Dongria Kondh, demanding a change in the company’s behaviour. The government asked Survival to report back on what steps Vedanta had taken to implement these ‘essential’ changes before the end of the year.

Gordon Bennett, a London barrister who represented the Kalahari Bushmen in their historic win over the Botswana government, has been acting on behalf of the Dongria Kondh in their complaint over Vedanta’s behaviour, and accompanied the Survival researchers.

He said today, ‘We have not circulated any false information about Vedanta’s mining activities. All the information we have given the Dongria has been culled from Vedanta’s own mining plan, which it has never troubled to discuss with the Dongria itself. We have not ‘forcedly interacted’ with the Dongrias: on the contrary we have been warmly welcomed by all those we have been able to meet.

‘We have not provoked ‘innocent tribals’ to defame either the government or Vedanta. It is true to say however that feelings run high in Niyamgiri and that many Dongria regard Vedanta with suspicion and distrust. They believe that their way of life is under serious threat.

‘We have done nothing to create ‘misunderstanding’. It is Vedanta which has done this, both by its refusal to meet with us, and more importantly by its repeated failure either to consult the Dongria about its plans for their sacred hills, or to pay any regard to their views.’

He added, ‘If Vedanta has nothing to hide, it is difficult to understand why it has gone out of its way to obstruct our inquiries. Their press release is entirely without foundation.’

Survival researcher Dr. Jo Woodman is available for interview in India on +91 9953 409 060. For other media enquiries please contact Miriam Ross on +(44) (0)20 7687 8734 or mr

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