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Vedanta managed to get mining lease but not Golden Peacock Award

"British mining company Vedanta Resources, owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal, faced humiliation as its ‘Golden Peacock’ award dream shattered after activists revealed details of the company’s highly polluting alumina refinery on the land of Kondh tribal communities in Orissa's Kalahandi in India. The award was withdrawn just a day before it was due to be handed over."

HNF Bureau : Revised on July 9, 2009

The Golden Peacock award being withdrawn from the Vedanta Company, it has become clear that the Vedanta Resources is all set to exploit the tribal communities of Kalahandi through administrative and political manipulation. British mining company Vedanta Resources, owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal, faced humiliation as its ‘Golden Peacock’ award drea, shattered after activists revealed details of the company’s highly polluting alumina refinery on the land of Kondh tribal communities in Orissa's Kalahandi in India. The award was withdrawn just a day before it was due to be handed over. Demonstrators at the event in Palampur, India, took over the podium to oppose the award explaining vedanta's record in hazardous environment management. More than two hundred organizations around the world have also signed a letter condemning Vedanta’s least concern towards protection of environment.

A subsidiary of the FTSE 100 mining conglomerate, Vedanta had energetically publicised receipt of the award for environmental management to be conferred by the World Environment Foundation and the UK’s Institute of Directors. But just on the eve of the event, organisers withheld the award responding to the opposition from different environment activist groups and allegations based upon government pollution inspectors' comments on the ‘alarming’ and ‘continuous’ seepage of toxic waste from the refinery. Kondhs living near the refinery say, “we suffer from skin ailments after bathing in polluted water, our crops are choked by dust from the refinery, and cattle are dying on consuming water from polluted streams.”  Vedanta has the plan for mining activities at the sacred hill of the Dongria Kondh tribe that is just adjacent to the refinery. This particular plan is now being investigated by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

The Golden Peacock award ceremony was part of a ‘global convention on climate security’, promoted by Al Gore, Bianca Jagger and Coca-Cola. Survival International protested outside the Indian High Commission in London demanding that the Indian government must stop the mining giant Vedanta Resources from destroying the land of the Dongria Kondh tribe. The London protestors held placards expressing Indian government’s concern towards the issues of Dongria Kandhs as invisible. The protesters alleged, ‘Dongria Kondh tribe has vowed to stop British company Vedanta from mining bauxite in the lush hills where they live. The tribals have mounted a series of blockades and staged demonstrations. But the Indian government, ignoring the Dongrias’ voice, has now granted Vedanta the environmental clearance it needed to start mining.

Last February, hundreds of Dongria Kondh and other tribal people staged large-scale demonstrations protesting mining lease to Vedanta. But all protests went in vein against Vedanta’s media relation and appeasement drives. The refinery is planned over the land of Majhi Kondh tribal community in the lower Niyamgiri hill range that is home to the isolated Dongria Kondhs. Being losers from all ends, both the tribal communities took part in the protests. In January, Dongria men and women joined other local communities to form a human cahin around their sacred mountain to protect it from corporate invasion.

British actress Joanna Lumley's documentary film ‘Mine: story of a sacred mountain’ revealed the story of Dongria Kondh  tribe in India and its battle to stop a greedy but powerful Vedanta Resources from bauxite mining at Niyamgiri destroying their habitation, land and the way of life. The film was premiered in this protest.

India born actress Joanna Lumley reacts to the anti-people and anti-environmental activities of Vedanta saying that, “It greatly disturbs me that a British company is responsible for the destruction of these wonderful people. I urge the general public to support the Dongria kondhs, who simply want a peaceful living. Unlike so many of India's rural poor, the Dongria Kondhs actually live happily in the Niyamgiri hills and it's a terrible irony that what Vedanta is proposing to do in the name of 'development' will actually spoil the life and livelihood of this self-sufficient community. It's because the Dongrias know their lands and Niyamgiri hills so intimately and for so long that this extraordinary forest and the bounty of nature survive in Niyamgiri. The Dongrias know that [the mine] will ruin their homes, pollute their lands and destroy their lives. And, we cannot let their fate be decided in a corporate boardroom.”

A local activist Deoranjan Sarangi says, “a host of anonymous pro-Vedanta videos have appeared on the internet in recent months where grateful Dongria Kondh express their thanks to Vedanta for providing them with quality healthcare and education. Vedanta sponsored propaganda, spread across the local media, makes claims that tribal people have now ‘demanded that their land be taken’ by Vedanta for mining would improve the quality of their lives, rivers and forests.”

“Much of this material has been manipulative; some has been completely untruthful and created. For example, Vedanta has stated that there are no Dongria Kondh villages within 12km of the proposed mining site where as, in fact, there are more than sixty. “Several organizations like Survival Interntional and activists challenged Vedanta to provide evidence to support its claims, but the company failed to do so”, adds Mr. Sarangi.

The Indian government has given Britain’s Vedanta Resources final approval to start controversial bauxite mining in the Niyangiri hill range of the Dongria Kondh tribe. The Indian ministry for environment and forests has now granted Vedanta the environmental clearance it required to start mining. The mining against the rights of an ethnic community would start within weeks only.

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The tribal people, furious that the lush hills where they live will be devastated, have mounted a series of blockades and large-scale protests in recent years. They say the mine will end their way of life forever, and have urged to stop Vedanta from destroying the top of their mountain, which they believe sacred. Talking to HNF, Dongria Kondh spokesperson Lodu said, ‘If the government gives the mountain, we will say ‘sell your own mountain’. This is Dongria Kondhs' hill, it is not yours to sell.’

One senior local journalist Susanta Pradhan said, “Vedanta is already operating a bauxite refinery at the foot of the mountain. Hundreds of people have lost their homes to the refinery that has been condemned by government officials for plluting at an ‘alarming’ rate. Vedanta plans to start bauxite mining in a massive way on the sacred hills of the Dongria Kondh tribe. If it goes ahead, swathes of forests will be lost, rivers polluted and the Dongria Kondh lost its identity and vanished. The refinery has already been condemned by government officials for regularly breaching safety standards. Over a hundred families lost their homes to the refinery. Many more lost their farm land and, thus, livelihood sources.”

A member of the Dongria Kondh community Jarkus says, “Mining only makes profit for the rich. We will turn beggars if the company destroys our mountain and our forest. We cannot give up our mountain, it is our life. Many other tribes, who depend on the river that comes out of our mountain, will also suffer." A British company Vedanta Resources plans to dig a vast open-cast bauxite mine on the Niyamagiri hills which will destroy the forests that provide livelihood to 8,000 Dongria Kondhs. The Dongrias worship the mountain as God, and are determined to save Niyamgiri from becoming an industrial wasteland.

Survival’s activist Mariam said, ‘the Dongrias have shown again how determined they are to stop Vedanta from defiling their sacred mountain.  Vedanta PR cannot cover up the truth and the feelings of the tribal people forever. Survival will keep doing whatever it can to amplify the voice of the Dongria Kondhs and their neighbours.’

“For the sake of the Dongria Kondhs, Vedanta must scrap its plans for mining in the Niyamgiri Hills. It will be an incredibly destructive project, and Vedanta is now facing a barrage of calls to think again. Shareholders of Vedanta need to be aware that their money would be responsible for the destruction of the Dongria people", says Survival’s director Stephen Corry. “The Indian authorities have authorized the destruction of one of its most marginalized tribes, the Dongria Kondh, by the British company Vedanta Resources. This is an extremely serious human right violation which will spoil India's reputation unless the decision is reversed. The Dongria Kondh might be remote but Survival will ensure their voice is heard across the world,” he added.

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Threatened by British Company, Dongria needs their lost land and livelihood

Vedanta Resources, a British company, intends to dig an open-pit bauxite mine on Niyamgiri mountain in India. The mine will destroy the forests on which the Dongria Kondh depend and wreck the lives of thousands of other Kondh tribal people living in the area. India’s Supreme Court has given the go ahead signal to Vedanta for mining. But the Kondh people are determined to prevent the destruction of their most sacred hill. 'To be a Dongria Kondh is to live in the Niyamgiri Hills, they do not live anywhere else', is what a Dingria is proud to say.

The Dongria does farming across the hill slopes, grows crops and gathers wild fruit, flowers and leaves from the forests for sale.  They call themselves Jharnia, meaning ‘protector of streams’, because they protect their sacred mountain and the life-giving rivers that flows within its thick forests.

Vedanta’s open pit mine would destroy the forests, disrupt the rivers and spell the end for the Dongria Kondh. At the centre of the struggle is the Dongria’s sacred mountain Niyamgiri, the ‘mountain of law’. The Dongrias worship the top of the mountain as the seat of their god and protector of the community and the forests.

Vedanta Resources wants to dig bauxite from the top of the same mountain that would force the Dongria Kondh to lose their livelihood, their identity and the sanctity of their most precious hill. In common, as in case of other displaced tribals worldwide, they would also lose their present good health, their livelihood and their expert knowledge of the hills, forests and farming systems that they have nurtured.

Other Kondh groups are already suffering due to a bauxite refinery, built and operated by Vedanta, at the base of the Niyamgiri Hills. Villagers who have been removed from their homes for the refinery have suffered threats and intimidation. They have lost both their land and their means of supporting themselves. They are also suffering from skin problems, livestock diseases and crop damage due to pollution by the refinery.

India’s Supreme Court recently approved the project where as Orissa government’s pollution control board has observed that chemical emissions from the refinery are ‘alarming’ and ‘continuous’.

The refinery destroyed fields and forests. Over a hundred families lost their homes, including Majhi Kondh families who also worship Niyamgiri and are as determined as the Dongria to defend the mountain.

Red mud, toxic slurry, is the refinery’s main waste product. It dries in the sun to become a fine dust that villagers say suffocates them and engulfs their crops. Government pollution inspectors have described ‘ground water contamination’ caused by ‘continuous’ seepage of red mud a an alarming rate.  Locals also report sores developing on their bodies after bathing in rivers close to the refinery. 

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