Indian panel slams Vedanta mine project
A proposal by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in eastern India should be rejected, an Indian government panel said Monday, accusing the London-based firm of showing "total contempt for the law".
In a report commissioned by the Environment Ministry, the panel said the planned project in Orissa state would directly affect 20 percent of the 8,000 indigenous Dongria Kondh tribespeople who inhabit the area.
"An impact on such a significant fraction of the population will have repercussions on the community's very survival, the overall viability of this group and its biological and social reproduction," it said.
The report is a major blow to Vedanta, India's second-largest aluminium producer, which needs the proposed mine to secure a supply of raw material for its nearby aluminium refinery.
The panel said going ahead with the open-caste mine in Orissa's Niyamgiri Hill range would have a huge environmental impact which would "drastically alter" the region's water supply, affecting both ecological systems and human communities.
It also declared that Vedanta was in "illegal occupation" of 26 hectares (64 acres) of land in the area, even though the mine had yet to receive federal approval.
"This is an act of total contempt for the law on the part of the company and shows an appalling degree of collusion on the part of the concerned officials," it said.
Allowing mining by depriving tribal groups of their rights in order to benefit a private company "would shake the faith of tribal people in the laws of the land", it added.
Vedanta's 125-billion-rupee (2.7-billion-dollar) investment in Orissa has emerged as a test case in India, pitting industrial development interests against those of indigenous peoples and the environment.
Vedanta argues that the mine, which has been mired in dispute since 2005, would cause minimum disturbance to the remote hills and that mined areas would be planted over with trees once the bauxite was extracted.
Company officials have also stressed that the refinery and mine would help alleviate poverty in the deeply deprived region, with the company committed to providing jobs, health care, education and midday feeding schemes to locals.
A Vedanta spokesman said the company had no immediate comment to make on the panel's findings.
"We are just going through the report," he told AFP.
The British-based organisation Survival International, which campaigns for tribal rights, welcomed what it described as an "utterly scathing" indictment of Vedanta's behaviour.
"The investigators have discovered that both Vedanta and the local authorities have already broken the law," Survival's director Stephen Corry said in a statement.
"The findings are unequivocal: mining will destroy the Dongria Kondh and should not be allowed. Let's hope this is the final nail in the coffin for Vedanta's plans," Corry said.
© 2010 AFP