LATEST NEWS: “Victory: Vedanta to close Orissa Refinery” Survival International (13 Sept 2012)
Niyamgiri is the soul of all Kondha people. If Vedanta will take Niyamgiri for its site, our soul will be outed from our body.’ Abhimanue Batra, Dongria Kondh tribal leader
On 28 August 2012, Vedanta Resources held its AGM in London. Ahead of the meeting, the Dongria Kondh tribe affirmed its commitment to fight the company’s plans to mine its land for bauxite. The message, communicated via Survival International, was clear and unequivocal: ”we won’t leave our land”.
On 29 August, Foil Vedanta reported a “global day of action against Vedanta that drew thousands in London, Odisha and Goa”.
With deep-founded fears that Vedanta’s proposed mining project will destroy the Khondas’ culture and identity as well as devastate the environment, strength of feeling continues to run high. For many years, organisations such as Survival International, Action Aid and Amnesty International have added a strong international voice to the campaign.
On 28 August 2012, Amnesty published a briefing, Vedanta’s Perspective Uncovered: Policies Cannot Mask Practices, which accuses the mining company of ignoring its impact on the rights of the tribal people. “Our new briefing exposes the glaring gap between the company’s assertions and the reality on the ground,” says Polly Truscott, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme. The briefing, written in response to a report published by Vedanta earlier this month to exonerate itself, says Vedanta’s defence is “meaningless and hollow”.
In December 2008 I travelled to Niyamgiri, Orissa, commissioned by Resurgence magazine to examine the relationship between the Kondhas tribes and Niyamgiri Mountain. I wanted to discover the impact that the mining project would have on their cultural and spiritual rights and their tribal identity. Through my interviews with members of the tribe, I explored the points of connection between Western culture and the Kondhas in order to raise awareness about the issues they face. The Sanctity of Land is published here.
Four years later, while the battle for the Khondas’ land remains unresolved, it’s crucial that their plight remains in the public consciousness.
For more information about the Khondas, please read on…
In the southwest corner of the state of Orissa lies a cluster of hills known collectively as the Niyamgiri Mountain. Extending over an area of about 250km2, Niyamgiri is protected under Section 18 of the Indian Wildlife Act as an area of extraordinary natural beauty. Officially recognised as an elephant corridor, Niyamgiri supports a diversity of wildlife, including leopards, sambhars, bears and barking deer.
It is also home to the Kondhas, three of India’s most isolated tribes, who live in about 200 villages located across the hill range. The largest of the tribes, the 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh, has dwelt there for centuries. Along with the other two, the Kutia Kondh and Jharania Kondh, its people enjoy an intimate relationship with the Niyamgiri Mountain, worshipping it as their ‘living God’. In return, Niyamgiri sustains them with all their needs: food, water, medicine and firewood. Their tribal identity is symbiotically connected to the mountain and the two cannot be separated.
In August 2008, India’s Supreme Court gave approval to Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, a subsidiary of the UK’s Vedanta Resources plc, to develop Niyamgiri as an open-cast mine. Buried beneath the hills’ surface are an estimated 150 million tons of bauxite, the principle ore used in the production of aluminium.
However, in 2010, the Indian Government refused to grant Vedanta clearance to go ahead. The mining company appealed against the decision and the case was taken to the Supreme Court in April 2012. The appeal was adjourned and, as far as I’m aware, a new date for the hearing has not been released.