Indian tribe comes to London to attack mining of sacred hills - Asia - World - The Independent

Indian tribe comes to London to attack mining of sacred hills

Plans to mine bauxite from sacred hills in the Indian state of Orissa have been angrily denounced at the annual general meeting of the UK company behind the scheme.

The founder and chairman of Vedanta, Anil Agarwal, struggled to explain a commitment to "sustainable development" in the teeth of testimony by village people who had flown to London from Orissa to describe how the company was destroying the environment even before the mining has started.

Vedanta Resources told shareholders of "another excellent year" in which the company earned record revenue for a sixth successive year, with revenues of $8.2bn, 26 per cent up on 2007. But the good news was drowned out by the determination of minority shareholders to force the company to confront the consequences of its adventure in Orissa's Nyamgiri Hills.

The Dongria Kondh, a tribe some 8,000-strong from the Indian state of Orissa worship the peak of the Nyamgiri hills as a god – and with reason, as the thick layer of bauxite which crowns the hills serves as a huge sponge for the monsoon rains, releasing them steadily throughout the year and guaranteeing the fertility of the forests and crops.

Since 2002, the survival of the hills and of the tribe itself has been thrown into doubt by Vedanta's plans to mine the Nyamgiri Hills for bauxite. A protected forest area, it is home to endangered animals including tigers, leopards and elephants as well as hundreds of species of rare plants and trees.

The company has already built what Mr Agarwal called a "Rolls-Royce quality bauxite refinery" at the foot of the hills, destroying several tribal villages in the process, in anticipation of the arrival of the three million tons of bauxite the area is said to contain.

But despite the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Vedanta and the state government, the mining of the hills has yet to begin. That's because the land is a "Schedule V Area", protected under Section 18 of the Indian Constitution, which means it cannot be transferred to private companies without the consent of tribal people.

Monitors sent by the Indian Supreme Court in Delhi submitted a damning report, leading to a long-running legal case.

Last year the three-man bench ruled that Vedanta could not mine the hills – but allowed its Indian subsidiary Sterlite to reapply on condition that it plough five per cent of its profits into conservation and tribal development. The Indian court's final verdict on the new application is expected later this week.

Yesterday, in the dignified surroundings of the Institute of Civil Engineers in Westminster, the company strove to underline its commitment to social responsibility and sustainability as well as its success in achieving "industry-leading levels of growth". The bottom line was that India possessed abundant bauxite, the world is crying out for aluminium, and Mr Agarwal is uniquely well placed to supply it.

The pressure resulted in Mr Agarwal making a commitment, for the first time, to comply with international law. "I can only promise that we will only start work if we have complete permission of the court and the people," he told shareholders. The mining of Nyamgiri could be carried out "with a partnership approach". Indian observers at the meeting who claimed to be neutral said the mining of Nyamgiri should not be seen as a win-lose situation from which the tribal people would emerge defeated. Mr Agarwal said: "We have not touched the hill, it is intact."

"What do you mean you have not touched the hill?" retorted a member of the Dongria Kondhs. "You have dragged it to court..."

In fact the identity of the winners and losers in the Nyamgiri Hills is already clear. The Lanjigarh refinery produces up to three million tons of caustic soda waste, so-called "red mud", every year, and people living near the refinery complain that the pollution damages crop yields, kills livestock and causes pollution related illnesses.

If and when the mining gets under way, the damage will be proportionately worse. Vedanta denies that its operations cause damaging pollution and insists that it complies with all relevant regulations.

A report by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2005 predicted that the mining of Nyamgiri would produce massive deforestation, toxic contamination of the water table and would endanger the fresh water source for hundreds of thousands of people in Orissa. And the Dongria Kondhs will be scattered across the earth.

India's green battles

The battle over the Niyamgiri hills is just the latest flashpoint as India struggles to juggle the twin aspirations of economic development and environmental protection.

Of all India's environmental battles none is more famous than the Narmada dam. Opposition to the plan to build more than 30 hydro-electric dams in the state of Madhya Pradesh has been escalating since the 1980s and includes the novelist Arundhati Roy.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement) warns that the project would displace more than 200,000 people and damage the fragile ecology of the region.

There are countless smaller protests. In the state of Orissa, activists have recently tried to halt the construction of a steel plant being built by the industrial giant Tata at Dhamra, close to a beach that is used by the threatened Olive Ridley turtles for breeding.

In Sikkim, environmental activists have gone on hunger strike attempting to stop the construction of dams along the course of the Teesta river.

And students in Arunachal Pradesh are protesting against the building ofa dam that will block the river Dibang, which is one of main tributaries of the Brahmaputra.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary supply teachers required in Newmarket

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week