Indian panel deals fresh blow to Vedanta project: reports

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Plans by British resources giant Vedanta to build a mine on land held as sacred by an Indian tribe have been dealt a fresh blow after another government panel opposed the project, reports said Saturday.

India's Forest Advisory Committee said approval for the mine in eastern India should be denied, citing environmental violations and an adverse impact on a local tribe, The Hindu newspaper and other media reported.

The 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh tribespeople in Orissa state believe the remote Niyamgiri Hill range -- where the mine is mooted -- is the home of their God Niyam Raja, and rely on the land for their crops and livelihood.

London-listed Vedanta, the second-largest aluminium producer in India, wants the mine to secure a supply of bauxite for a nearby aluminium refinery, but opposition by the tribe has turned the project into a global cause celebre.

Social activists such as Bianca Jagger and rights groups including Amnesty International have been vocal campaigners against the mine.

The row has highlighted the difficulties faced by India's government in promoting economic development while protecting the interests of locals who fear loss of livelihood and land.

The forestry committee broadly echoed the findings of an earlier report, commissioned by the Environment Ministry, which said the mine would threaten the "very survival" of the Dongria Kondh and have a huge environmental impact, the reports said.

The earlier panel headed by senior Indian government advisor N.C. Saxena said the mine would "drastically alter" the region's water supplies, affecting ecological systems and communities.

Vedanta has said its 125 billion rupee (2.7 billion-dollar) planned mine investment follows all government procedures and insists the refinery and mine will help alleviate poverty in the deprived region by providing jobs, healthcare and education to locals.

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will now make a final decision on the mine, a spokesman said Saturday, declining to comment on the Forest Advisory Committee's findings.

Vedanta's aluminium subsidiary is seeking to extract some 78 million tons of bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hill range.

© 2010 AFP

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