India: victory for tribal people in mining struggle

In a landmark ruling April 18, India’s Supreme Court today rejected an appeal to allow Vedanta Resources to mine the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa state. The court decreed that those most affected by the proposed mine should have a decisive say in whether it goes ahead, recognizing the rights of the Dongria Kondh indigenous people. The decision found that the traditional land rights of the local residents must be “protected and preserved.” The project is now suspended until a traditional community assembly, or gram sabha, of the impacted villages can be held to assess the project.

The decision deals a blow both to billionaire Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta and to the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation, which brought the appeal and supported Vedanta’s mine from the beginning. Final clearance for the mine was blocked by India’s Environment Minister in 2010. Until recently, however, Vedanta had kept its refinery at the bottom of the hill in operation. The refinery was closed in December 2012 due to a lack of bauxite to supply the facility.

Opposition to the mine has been vocal across the Indian state of Odisha. Thousands of protesters joined a “rally of defiance” last December and hundreds of Dongria reasserted their pledge not to leave the Niyamgiri hills at their annual festival in February. The project has also come under attack from the Norwegian and British governments, the Church of England, and many others, resulting in several shareholders disinvesting from Vedanta.

Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said, “This is a huge relief, and shows that companies like Vedanta are not all-powerful: local and global campaigning really does work. Companies and governments worldwide should sit up and take notice.” (Survival International, Down to Earth, April 18)