Court to rule on mining plan

Emily Dugan
Saturday 07 April 2012 22:24 BST

A British mining company will discover tomorrow whether it can open a controversial mine on an Indian mountain that is sacred to the people who live on it.

Two years ago the Indian government ruled that Vedanta Resources would not be allowed to go ahead with a bauxite mine in eastern India which could threaten the lives of an ancient tribe. But the FTSE 100 company, owned by London-based billionaire Anil Agarwal, appealed to India's Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce tomorrow whether Vedanta can go ahead after all with their proposed opencast mine on the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa State. The forested mountain is a god to the traditional Dongria Kondh tribe, whose lives and livelihoods depend on its continued existence.

In 2010, India's environment minister said a mine "would threaten the survival of the entire community".

Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe and their supporters will meet today at Jagannathpur for a rally ahead of the hearing. They claim they are already suffering intimidation from the police which they believe is related to the case.

Jo Woodman, a senior campaigner with Survival International, said that police had been targeting the Dongria Kondh who had been most resistant to the proposals, accusing them of being Maoists. "There's been a heavy crackdown on the activists who have been most vocal in resisting the mine," she said.

An interview by a local journalist posted on YouTube features one Dongria Kondh member describing how police stripped him naked and left him tied to a tree for a day.

Ladu Sikaka, tribal leader of the Dongria Kondh, said: "There's a need to protect our lives and the lives of future generations who will face the world with sorrow if this bauxite mine goes ahead right in our midst, destroying our plants, our water streams and our flowers."

Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, of Amnesty International, said tomorrow's decision could "make or break their lives as a community". He added that the tribe were concerned that their legal claims for the common lands were not being taken seriously, despite recent Indian legislation which guarantees forest rights for marginalised communities.

The British actress Joanna Lumley, the actor and broadcaster Michael Palin, and the human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger have all expressed their support for the Dongria Kondh's fight to save their sacred mountain. But if Vedanta succeeds in court tomorrow, it will mean the reversal of what had previously been seen as a David and Goliath victory for the people of Niyamgiri.

Despite firm words from the Indian government and international outrage about the proposals, Vedanta is determined to go ahead with the project, which could earn the company billions of pounds. Vedanta did not respond to The Independent on Sunday's request for comment.

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