Vedanta says willing to relocate controversial India mine

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Vedanta Resources is willing to relocate a controversial mine planned on land considered sacred by tribal groups in India, the company's boss was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Vedanta's plans suffered a blow this week when a report commissioned by India's Environment Ministry said the company's planned project in Orissa state would threaten the "very survival" of the 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh tribe.

"We are willing to look at alternate locations," Anil Agarwal, the billionaire chairman of Vedanta Resources, was quoted as saying in the Hindustan Times.

"Without the requisite approvals and clearances we will not even move an inch," he added.

Vedanta, India's second-largest aluminium producer, wants the proposed mine to secure a supply of bauxite needed for its nearby aluminium refinery.

The ministry report said that going ahead with the mine in Orissa's remote Niyamgiri Hill range would have a huge environmental impact.

The mine would "drastically alter" the region's water supplies, affecting ecological systems and communities, the report said.

It also declared Vedanta was in "illegal occupation" of 26 hectares of land in the area and called it "an act of total contempt for the law".

Vedanta has said it follows all government procedures, insisting the refinery and mine will help alleviate poverty in the deeply deprived region by providing jobs, healthcare, education and mid-day feeding schemes to locals.

But the tribal population and social activist groups including Amnesty International, ActionAid and Survival International have become vocal campaigners against the project.

The Dongria Kondh tribespeople believe the lush hills are the home of their god Niyam Raja, and depend on the land for their crops and livelihood.

Many investors such as the Church of England have attacked the company and sold off their shares to protest the planned mine.

The environment ministry's Forest Advisory Committee is due to meet Friday to consider the report's recommendations and then submit its views to the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, after which a final decision will be taken.

© 2010 AFP

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