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India: Vedanta lose landmark ruling

Amnesty International today welcomed a landmark ruling by India’s Supreme Court that appears to signal the end of a long-running battle between a subsidiary of the FTSE 100 mining company Vedanta Resources and the indigenous communities of Orissa in India.

The court decided that the final decision on whether Vedanta’s controversial plans for a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa will go ahead will now rest with the local indigenous communities.

The plans would have seen a 670-hectare bauxite mine developed on the Dongria Kondh Indigenous community’s traditional lands and habitats which they consider sacred.

G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive of Amnesty International India, said:

"The Dongria Kondh community, whose identity is fully dependent on these hills, has been fighting for the survival of their way of life for a decade. The mine would have resulted in violation of their rights as indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to water, food, health and work.

“It is a clear vindication of the protests by local communities, the findings of the extensive research carried out since 2009 by Amnesty International and the sustained campaign carried out by many organisations which exposed how the communities’ views had long been ignored.

“Authorities in India must now establish a clear and transparent process to ascertain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities in Niyamgiri and all other contexts where their traditional lands and habitats may be affected by state or corporate projects.

“This decision will go a long way to empowering indigenous communities facing similar threats to their way of life from mine plans in other parts of eastern and central India. It should also act as a wake up call for Vedanta – the company has consistently failed to respect human rights in its operations at Niyamgiri, and at the associated Lanjigarh refinery, which has also blighted the lives of thousands of people.”

Lado Sikaka, a Dongria Kondh leader in Niyamgiri, told Amnesty International:

“After a decade of protesting against the mine plans, we now have an official channel to voice our concerns that the mine plans will disrupt our sacred lands and also seriously impact our lives and livelihoods. We will now use this channel to press our decision.”

Kumiti Majhi, a leader of the Majhi Kondh Indigenous community in the foothills of Niyamgiri, added:

“We urge the authorities to conduct this process in a free and genuine way, without intimidation by the companies concerned or the paramilitary forces stationed in Niyamgiri, and in the presence of international human rights organisations – apart from the presence of a judicial officer as stipulated by the Supreme Court ruling.”

Amnesty is calling for India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests to order an independent audit of the Lanjigarh refinery 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.

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