Good news! Indian Supreme Court hands decision on Vedanta mine to Indigenous community

Our Business and Human Rights Advisor Paul Eagle reflects on a landmark ruling by the India Supreme Court which puts the decision about whether or not Vedanta can open a mine into the hands of the local Indigenous community.

After many years of challenging and demonstrating against the plans for a bauxite mine on their sacred hills at Niyamgiri, the Indian Supreme Court yesterday handed the Indigenous (adivasi) communities of the area the right to decide whether or not they want the mine.  

This ruling by the Supreme Court is a landmark victory in recognising indigenous rights in India.

Why this matters

A subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, a UK registered mining company, has been seeking to mine for bauxite in the traditional lands of the Dongria Kondh Indigenous community in Orissa, India, to supply its nearby refinery at Lanjigarh.

The local communities, with our support and that of other organisations, have been campaigning in India and abroad -  especially at Vedanta AGMs in London -  to ensure that the Indigenous Peoples of the area have the final say as to whether they want the mine or not, this is known as  Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)., Campaigners have also  demanded that  Vedanta resolve the human rights abuses associated with its nearby refinery at Lanjigarh.

The principle of FPIC is recognised by the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People, 2007, as central to the protection and realisation of the rights of Indigenous communities.

What does the Supreme Court ruling mean?

The Supreme Court ruled that the gram sabhas (assemblies consisting of all adult voters) of two villages located near the proposed mine would need to decide if the mine plans, in any way, affected their religious and cultural rights, including their right to worship, and on all individual and community claims, including fresh ones, to the areas proposed to be mined.

It is crucial that women and marginal members in the communities are involved in the decision-making. In addition the authorities should ensure that all information about the potential negative impact of the mine is available in a language accessible to them prior to decision-making.

The gram sabhas have been asked to share their decision with India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests within three months.

Once the adivasi communities have made their decision and communicated it to the authorities, it is essential that their decision is respected. We hope that the authorities and companies involved will allow the gram sabhas to reach their decision without interference, as per the Supreme Court’s ruling.

We’re urging the authorities to incorporate the Free Prior and Informed Consent principle into the proposed amendments to existing mining and land acquisition laws, which are now pending before India’s parliament.

In addition we want India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests to order an independent audit of the Lanjigarh refinery - the subject of our 2010 report 'Don't mine us out of existence' - operated by Vedanta Aluminium, another Vedanta subsidiary, to clean up pollution, and address all outstanding human rights concerns, including the impact of pollution on the local Majhi Kondh Indigenous and Dalit communities.

Today’s decision follows the suspension of refining operations at Lanjigarh by Vedanta in December 2012. Vedanta’s plans for a six-fold expansion of this refinery were also stalled by India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests in May 2012.

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