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India rejects Vedanta s bauxite mine request in Odisha s sacred Niyamgiri hills

In what is being seen a major victory for Odisha’s indigenous Dongria Kondh tribe, India’s environment ministry has rejected a proposal by London-listed Vedanta Resources Limited to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills of the state.

The decision came after the Vedanta proposal was unanimously rejected by all 12 village councils in the Niyamgiri hills that local residents not only depend on for their livelihood, but also consider sacred as they believe the hills are home to their residing deity Niyam Raja.

The proposal was rejected by the village councils in August 2013 after the Supreme Court of India ruled that the local population should vote on the plan to extract bauxite from the area. The final nail in the coffin was driven by India’s newly-appointed Environment Minister M. Veerappa Moily on January 8 when his ministry barred any mining activity to be carried out in the area.

Vedanta, controlled by non-resident Indian business tycoon Anil Aggarwal, had been anxious to start mining bauxite locally to feed its alumina refinery in nearby Lanjigarh in Odisha’s Kalahandi district. The company, which was forced to import bauxite, had to stop operations at its refinery due to shortage of the ore.

The battle lines are, meanwhile, drawn between the Odisha government and the Centre with one of the state ministers calling the decision unfortunate and accusing the UPA-led Union government of indulging in politics at the cost of development.

The state government, keen to be seen as progressive and pro-development, is taking measures to provide bauxite to Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. It’s considering giving Vedanta prospecting license on small deposits of bauxite in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in addition to allowing the company to extract bauxite from latrite ore which was available in the state.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that Vedanta has found itself in the midst of a controversy. Vedanta's alumina refinery in Lanjigarh was criticized by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board for air and water pollution in the area. The company has also been criticized by the British government for its treatment of the local Dongria Kondh tribe of Odisha.

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Article Added on Tuesday, May 27, 2014
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