India: Vedanta holds AGM as indigenous community rejects mine plans

As FTSE 100 mining company Vedanta gears up for its AGM this week (Thursday 1 August), indigenous communities in India have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by one of the company’s subsidiaries to mine their sacred lands.

In what Amnesty International calls an unprecedented victory for indigenous rights over business interests, India’s Dongria Kondh communities have sent a clear message to Vedanta that plans to mine their lands in the state of Odisha (also known as Orissa) must be dropped.

The communities were responding to an official consultation of indigenous groups ordered by India’s Supreme Court in April.

The consultation involves 12 villages affected by Vedanta’s plans for a bauxite mine in the sacred Nyamgiri Hills – all seven villages where meetings have been held so far have rejected the mine plans.

According to Amnesty’s Economic Relations Programme Director, Peter Frankental:

"The chickens are coming home to roost for Vedanta and their shareholders after years of ignoring the concerns of the Dongria Kondh communities.

"Shareholders at Vedanta’s AGM should now ask serious questions as to why the company continued to pursue the project despite evidence of the harm it would cause to indigenous people.

“This is a warning to any company planning to operate in an area inhabited by indigenous peoples that their free, prior and informed consent should be sought from the outset in keeping with international standards.

“It is also a warning to shareholders and bank lenders to intervene much sooner when companies they invest in fail to address human rights in their impact assessments of major projects.”

Amnesty’s Researcher Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, who was an observer at several of the village council meetings that rejected the mine plans over the past two weeks, 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.”

Background

Under both Indian law and international human rights standards, indigenous people have special protections to ensure that their traditional lands and way of life are not destroyed.  The principle of free, prior and informed consent has been established to guarantee that there is proper consultation with indigenous communities and that their rights are fully respected.

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