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Orissa mining stir reaches London

For the fourth year in a row, anti-mining protesters ambushed the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Vedanta Resources, a London-based FTSE 100-listed company.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2010 16:58 IST

For the fourth year in a row, anti-mining protesters ambushed the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Vedanta Resources, a London-based FTSE 100-listed company.

The AGM was held in London on Wednesday evening. While in the last three years, Dongria Kondh (tribals from Orissa) representatives protested against the mining of their sacred hill in the state, on Wednesday it were blockbuster Avatar’s aliens, Na’vi, and fashion icon Bianca Jagger.

At the heart of this cross-continental row is the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hill in the Lanjigarh area of dirt-poor Kalahandi district. While Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta Resources wants to mine the hill through its subsidiary companies for its aluminum refinery in Lanjigarh, located 500 km southwest of Bhubaneshwar, and “develop the backward area,” tribals and activists feel that it will displace thousands and leave them without any livelihood opportunities.

“There were 25-30 protesters at the AGM from different groups. I apprised the shareholders that public consultation has been done in the 11 Gram Sabhas around the area according to the law,” Mukesh Kumar, COO of Vedanta's Lanjigarh refinery, told Hindustan Times.

Meanwhile, in India, the Kondhs themselves, and not ‘outside’ activists, for the first time have challenged the bauxite-mining project before the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA).

The key violations, according to the Kondhs, are the two Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports done for the project: one was prepared in 2002 by the TATA AIG Group and second one by Vimta Labs in 2005.

“The second report does not mention the first one. In fact, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) affidavit states that it is not aware of the 2002 report,” says an environmental activist who did not wish to be named. “Why are there two reports for the same project?”

Second, they allege that the EIA report was never made public. The EIA report of Vimta Labs was done in 2005 and the public hearing took place in 2003. Activists say that this only show that the project that was approved was never shared with the intended ‘beneficiaries’.

Plus, no Comprehensive EIA was done, which involves the collection of data of four seasons. Only a rapid EIA was done. In fact, in a letter dated 12-7-04, the MoEF had clearly directed the project proponent to prepare a comprehensive EIA report.

However, the company denies these allegations and any wrong doing on their part. “The exact mining area will be around 355 hectares and there is no habitation there and since it is hard rocky area, there’s no plantation there,” said Kumar.

He added that the bauxite available in the east coast of India is of very high grade and this area can become a hub for the aluminum industry. “It is unfortunate that while shifting cultivation is allowed to spoil 5,000 acres every year, yet an industry which can give livelihood opportunities to tribals have to face such opposition.”

Tribals, however, are not convinced. Tribal leader and a petitioner at the NEAA, Kumuti Majhi said that the tribals are doubtful that such “non-transparent and rapid industrialization, the false commitments of the company and the dubious attitude of state government will leave them without any livelihood.

Some fissures have developed within the community as well. Jitu Jaka Sika, a BBA student in Bhubaneswar, was an anti-Vedanta tribal activist even two years ago. But now he has a different view of the issue. “I was against Vedanta because I was given wrong information by politicians and NGO’s. Now, I understand that because of the company, the development of the district has become possible”.