Indian govt upholds tribals` plea against UK firm
NEW DELHI, Aug 24: India struck down a controversial mining project on Tuesday that threatened a tribal group whose fate had been compared with the plight of the endangered Na`vi aliens in the blockbuster Avatar.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh rejected the proposal by British-based multinational resource giant Vedanta, owned by Indian businessman Anil Agarwal, to build an open-cast bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hill range in the eastern state of Orissa.
The 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh tribespeople believe the remote hills are the home of their God, Niyam Raja, and rely on the land for their crops and livelihood.
Survival International, which fights for tribal groups, has run a highly successful public relations campaign likening the plight of the Dongria Kondh to the fictional Na`vi tribe in the record-breaking James Cameron film Avatar.
In the movie, the Na`vi are desperately trying to stop humans from mining under their sacred “home tree” on their planet Pandora.
Ramesh told reporters that clearance for the project had not been granted, in line with a recommendation by a ministry advisory panel, because of the need to protect the tribe and because of past violations by Vedanta.
“Only after being reassured by the attorney general, I have gone ahead with my decision — upholding the recommendation of the panel (to block the project) after due consideration,” he said.
London-listed Vedanta, whose shares plummeted more than five per cent on Tuesday, wanted the mine in Orissa in order to secure a supply of bauxite for a nearby aluminium refinery.
The proposed Rs125 billion ($2.7-billion) investment has emerged as a test case in India, pitting industrial development interests against those of indigenous peoples and the environment.
In a statement, Ramesh referred to the “shocking” and “blatant disregard” shown by Vedanta for protected tribal groups.
He added that there had been “very serious” violations of the Environment Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Forest Rights Act by the company.
“There have been no emotions and no politics and no prejudice involved in the Vedanta case… The decision is purely on the basis of the proper legal approach,” Ramesh told reporters.
In a report commissioned by Ramesh and made public earlier this month, a panel of experts said the planned Vedanta project would threaten the “very survival” of the Dongria Kondh.
The panel said going ahead with the open-caste mine would have a huge environmental impact which would “drastically alter” the region`s water supply, affecting both ecological systems and human communities.
It also declared that Vedanta was in “illegal occupation” of 26 hectares of land in the area at a time when the mine had yet to receive federal approval and that 120,000 trees would be felled to make way for the facility.
Vedanta also faces problems in India over a proposed acquisition worth up to $9.6 billion for 51-60 per cent of Cairn India, whose most important asset is the oil-rich Mangala field in the western state of Rajasthan.
Indian media reports suggest the government is looking at putting together a counterbid from state energy firms to keep the assets out of Vedanta`s hands.—AFP