Vedanta: Ten Nil to the Dongria Kondh

In April 2013 the Indian Supreme Court put the decision about whether or not a bauxite mine could be built in Orissa back in the hands of the local village councils. Here one of our Country Coordinators for South Asia provides an update. Read more about the decision
 
'Take your goddamn refinery and leave!' – Arundati Roy
 
The good news for the Dongria Kondh of Odisha (Orissa), India, is that 10 of the 12 village councils (gram sabha) have voted against Vedanta’s plans for a bauxite mine. The last two villages will meet before the 18 August.
 
This has occurred even though the Odisha government were partners in the mining project and tried to put pressure on the indigenous adivasi people. The Odisha government had also tried to limit the villages to be consulted to 12, even though the mine would impact religious and cultural rights of far more villages in the area.

From London to Delhi: Protests at Vedanta AGM

Vedanta’s AGM in London on 1 August was marked by protests outside the meeting, and in Delhi.
 
In the meeting Anil Agawal, the Chairman and majority shareholder of Vedanta, said that the company was providing needed jobs in the Niyamgiri area. He also claimed it had been isolated before Vedanta built infrastructure.
 
However, the Dongria Kondh already have jobs - farming the hills as they have done for centuries. What is more, advasi people are unlikely to get jobs in the mines and refinery.
 
The Vedanta board did not reply to questions about the lessons learnt from this experience and failed to commit to a policy of Free, Prior and Informed Consent for all future projects.

Investors withdraw

To add to Vedanta’s problems, investment organisations are showing they are not impressed with the company’s methods.
 
The Church of England withdrew their investments and Aviva Investors stated that Vedanta demonstrates a lack of a ‘sufficient commitment’ to sustainability.

Vedanta reported a 23 per cent decline in first-quarter core earnings, and they seem to be blaming the Orissa government for not securing the village votes.

The village meetings

Amnesty’s Researcher Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, who was an observer at several of the village meetings discussing the potential bauxite mine, said:

‘This decisive vote surely means the end of Vedanta’s plans to mine the Niyamgiri Hills – a project that would violate the community’s economic, social and cultural rights and almost certainly their rights as indigenous peoples. After struggling for a decade against the threat to their way of life, the Dongria Kondh have now finally been able to assert their right not to consent to the mine.’

It’s not over yet

Despite this positive news, we should continue to be vigilant. Orissa has more than fifty per cent of India’s bauxite and it is considered good quality.

There have been no new mines there in the last 30 years and Vedanta has already built the refinery So this is not the end.

Vedanta and other mining companies will continue to use the argument that they are providing jobs. They will continue to make unfulfilled promises to build schools, and they will continue to get opportunities to canvas political leaders.

Vedanta are expected to push the Odisha authorities to give them an alternative mine site.

Keep up the good work

It is crucial that we continue to put pressure on the Odisha authorities to respect the resolutions passed by the village councils against the mine plans, and to consult with more of the villages as directed by the Indian Supreme Court and Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
 
In this case, the central Indian institutions took positive steps to ensure due process was followed. Dongria Kondh received support from international celebrities and activists like Ramesh were able to visit the area.

Other indigenous peoples in South Asia, like in the Chittagong Hills, do not have supportive national governments and their plight is largely hidden.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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