The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tribal trouble adds to Vedanta green tension

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 9: Vedanta Alumina’s refinery and bauxite mining project in Kalahandi has hit a further roadblock with an intervenor petition filed in Supreme Court recently, highlighting the stakes of the local Dongria Kondhs, a primitive tribe.

The apex court is already hearing a PIL filed by environmentalists Biswajit Mohanty and Prafulla Samantra, who have apprehended that proposed mining of bauxite ore in Niyamgiri hills will destroy its ecosystem. The case has been adjourned to October 26.

Vedanta had signed an MoU with the Orissa government on June 7, 2003 for setting up a 1million tonne alumina refinery along with a 100 MW power plant at an investment of Rs 4,000 crore. The project, which has commenced “trial production”, is yet to be granted mining lease in Kalahandi, pending decision in the Supreme Court.

The interim petition was filed recently seeking protection of tribals in Niyamgiri Hills, a copy of which is in possession of The Telegraph.

“Their habitat and livelihood is threatened by the proposed mining in Niyamgiri Hills by the Orissa Mining Corporation to supply ore to Vedanta,” said petitioner Siddharth Nayak, a social activist and advocate from Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi.

He sought a ban on the mining in view of social, cultural, religious and ethnic rights of Dongria Kondhs and their livelihood protected under Article 21 and other provisions of the Constitution, related laws and international conventions to preserve tribal communities.

The petition was admitted on October 6 by a division bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Arijit Pasayat and K.C. Kapadia.

Dongria Kondhs are a recognised primitive tribe with a population of 7,952 individuals.

Besides, the proposed mining would cause irreparable loss to the ecology (which has rich dense forests), environment (home to elephants, leopards, Sambhars besides other species) and also the water source, which originates from the mountains (includes 36 streams and two rivers — Vanshadhara and Nagabali), added Nayak.

The state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation intends to mine three-million ton bauxite annually to sell the same to Vedanta, its joint venture partner, for its alumina refinery at Lanjigarh and aluminium smelter plant at Jharsuguda.

In September 2004, the ministry of environment and forests had granted environmental clearance for the refinery, but the central empowered committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, noted that the clearance was obtained by concealing material particulars principally that no forest land was involved in the project, whereas about 660 hectares of forest land was involved.

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