Vedanta runs into a London storm over Orissa mining plans

July 27th, 2009 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, July 27 (IANS) The Church of England and other shareholders of the mining company Vedanta braced for major protests at their annual meeting here Monday with a young Kondh tribal joining celebrities to demand an end to mining plans on the bauxite-rich mountains of Nyamgiri in Orissa.

As major shareholders, who also include local councils in Britain, gathered for the Annual General Meeting, the movement against Vedanta operations in Nyamgiri gathered the celebrity support of human rights campaigners Bianca Jagger and Arundhati Roy.

Owned by Indian-origin billionaire Anil Aggarwal, Vedanta’s plans to build an open-pit mine for bauxite threaten the ecologically sensitive mountain, which is a sacred site for the Kondhs, said Sitaram, a representative of the tribe, who travelled all the way from Nyamgiri.

“We cannot live without our god mountain and the forest and we will continue our peaceful struggle. It is a life and death battle and Kondh people are united on this,” said Sitaram, whose travel was sponsored by ActionAid, a campaigning nongovernment body.

Jagger and Roy also lent their voices to the mounting protests against Vedanta Resources plc, which is a member of the FTSE 100 group of leading companies in the London Stock Exchange.

“I will be appealing to investors, which include the [British] government’s own staff pension fund, the Church of England and borough councils such as Middlesbrough to stop Vedanta going ahead with a mine that will damage the cultural and economic rights of the Kondh people as well as the fight against climate change,” Jagger said.

Vedanta, the core of whose assets lies in India, was not immediately available for comment but the group has previously argued that the project will bring vital jobs and economic development to the region.

Writer and activist Arundhati Roy, in a recent letter to protesters, said bauxite mountains are part of a very delicate ecosystem.

“…Today, in the era of climate change, surely it’s time to realise that forests, river systems, mountain ranges and people who know to live in ecologically sustainable ways, are worth more than all the bauxite in the world,” Roy said.

Vedanta chairman Aggarwal said in the Annual Report published last week: “I am …pleased to report that the Indian Supreme Court has cleared the bauxite mining project at Niyamgiri. We expect to commence mining our own bauxite from Niyamgiri in the current year.”

Protesters, who include large NGOs such as Survival International, Amnesty International, Action Aid, War on Want and many Indian activists, hope to replicate their campaigning success with the Norwegian government.

In 2007, the Norwegian Ministry of Finance excluded Vedanta from further investments of the Norwegian government’s pension fund after its Council on Ethics warned of “an unacceptable risk of contributing to severe environmental damages and serious or systematic violations of human rights by continuing to invest in the company”.

Survival Director Stephen Corry said, “While world leaders talk about stopping climate change, tribal people around the world are literally sitting in front of bulldozers - not just for them, but for all our sakes.”

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