Jan 30 2009

Ten Thousand People Encircle the Niyamgriji Mountains in Orissa, India

Three days ago, 10 thousand people, a majority of them tribal, formed a 17 km long human chain around the Niyamgrii mountains in Orissa, India. The people were protesting the plans of Vedanta, a British mining company, to start bauxite mining the mountains. Bauxite is the most important raw material for aluminum production and last year the Supreme Court said two of the planned mining projects could go ahead.

The protest was the second large-scale demonstration in ten days: on 17 January up to 7,000 protesters marched to the gates of Vedanta’s aluminium refinery in the nearby town of Lanjigarh.


“The ruling meant that an arm of the British-listed mining giant Vedanta could use bauxite from a mountain in Orissa which local hill tribes view as sacred,” says on BBC News and continues:

In a separate ruling last year, South Korean steel firm Posco was also given the go-ahead by the court for a $12bn plant in the same state. Environmental and tribal campaigners have called on India’s prime minister to halt the Vedanta project. They argue that India’s rush to development should not come at the expense of traditional and sustainable ways of life of tribal and marginalised people.

Many who took part in Tuesday’s protest brandished traditional weapons, such as bows and arrows. They carried placards with slogans including “Vedanta, Go Back” and “Stop mining in Niyamgiri”. Their demonstration was followed by a public meeting in which speakers railed against the London-based company, which is currently setting up a large alumina refinery in the area.

Speakers said they would oppose mining in the hills until their “last breath”. They demanded the immediate cancellation of the mining lease to Vedanta. “The Niyamgiri hill is the lifeline of the tribals and there is no way we can allow bauxite mining here,” Lingaraj Azad, a leader who spoke at the meeting, told the BBC.

The Dongria Kondh tribe, who live in the Niyamgiri hills, consider the hill sacred. They have been opposing the mining lease given to Vedanta for years, saying it would destroy their lives, livelihood, religion and culture. Environmentalists have also opposed plans to start bauxite mining, because they say that the area is ecologically sensitive. They say that if mining goes ahead it would lead to the destruction of forest, large scale displacement and would dry up or pollute dozens of rivers and streams.

Vedanta claims that “no-one is going to be displaced…” and that the company is “committed to sustainable development of the area.”

Samarendra Das, an Indian author, film maker and activist, who has been fighting the case of the Dongria Kondh tribe, says that the bauxite mining will lead to cultural genocide. The tribes will be forced to leave their lands and adapt to a lifestyle they do not want to. Samarendra and Felix Padel have written several articles about the consequenses of the bauxite mining and some of the have been puplished here on Saving Iceland’s website: Agya, What Do You Mean by Development? and DoubleDeath: Aluminium’s Links With Genocide.

Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said yesterday: “By these protests the Dongria Kondh are showing just how far the authorities have failed them. The fact that the machines are run by a major British company should be a cause for shame in the City of London. This is a scandal which won’t go away until Vedanta leaves the tribe in peace.”