Vedanta to go ahead with mining sacred Orissa hill

July 28th, 2009 - 4:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, July 28 (IANS) British mining giant Vedanta said Tuesday it is going ahead with plans to mine a bauxite-rich hillside in Orissa considered sacred land by local tribals, and urged two international NGOs to give up their protest campaign.

“We are proceeding with the mining plans but there are still a few permissions that need to be granted,” Zoe Watt, a spokeswoman for Vedanta Resources, told IANS after a high-profile protest at the Annual General Meeting of shareholders in London Monday.

The protest was led by international human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger and Indian-origin musician Nitin Sawhney but Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy was unable to attend.

“It should be remembered that that there is no habitation in the mining area itself. Every hill is sacred (to the tribals). It’s difficult, given that this is only one small area in a vast region,” Watt added.

The Kondh tribals of Orissa say they worship the Nyamgiri mountains as the abode of their deity Nyam Raja but Vedanta — owned by Indian-born billionaire Anil Aggarwal — says mining activities will lead to jobs, schools, hospitals and greater prosperity.

Vedanta also said it shared “concerns” raised by some of its shareholders about the campaigns of two non-government organisations, ActionAid and Survival.

“The Supreme Court, in its decision to approve the project has taken account of their views and the many benefits in terms of employment, education and healthcare, that the project will bring,” the company said in a statement.

“We are proceeding with the project on the basis agreed with them and we urge these NGOs to respect the decision of the legitimate authority in India, the world’s largest democracy,” it added.

An ActionAid spokeswoman said mining the mountains of Nyamgiri would be like demolishing Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone monument in England that is considered sacred by many people.

“Just as the public would be horrified to see Stonehenge demolished to make way for mining, ActionAid believes they should be even more troubled by Vedanta’s plans to flatten the heart of the Kondh’s culture, the land they also rely on for their future,” said Meredith Alexander.

Sitaram Kulisika, a Kondh tribal who was flown over from Orissa, said: “Last year Vedanta directors promised not to mine without our consent. I am here to request all shareholders to honour that promise and save our livelihood and our god.”

Protesters are trying to persuade British shareholders, including the Church of England and several county councils (local authorities), to pressurise Vedanta into abandoning its Nyamgiri plans.

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.”

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