Orissa tribals come to UK to protest mining in their sacred hills

August 3rd, 2008 - 10:20 am ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, Aug 3 (IANS) A delegation of Orissa tribals has come all the way to London to confront the owner of a company planning to mine bauxite from a hill considered sacred by them. Members of the Dongriyha Kondh tribe barged their way into the annual general meeting of Vedanta Resources to describe how the company was destroying the environment even before the mining has begun.

The pressure resulted in Vedanta’s founder and chairman Anil Agarwal making a commitment, for the first time, to comply with international law. “I can only promise that we will only start work if we have complete permission of the court and the people,” he told shareholders, according to The Independent.

The issue has caused a furore in both India and the UK and the matter is in the courts. A top UK charity has tried to highlight the plight of the tribals by adopting a tit-for-tat approach. It has sent an appeal for the destruction of the St Paul’s cathedral in London in case the company goes ahead with the destruction of the hills.

Vedanta Resources of the UK got the permission to set up a plant in the protected forest area of Nyamgiri Hills of Orissa to mine bauxite. A factory has come up on the site, but mining operations are yet to start as it is a protected area and, under the Indian constitution, it cannot be handed over to private hands unless permitted by the resident tribals.

The problem for Vedanta began with the tribals saying the hills are sacred to them and protesting the setting up of the mine. Environmental groups backed them, saying the layer of bauxite on the hills acts as a sponge for the monsoon rains, releasing the water steadily throughout the year and ensuring fertility of the forests and crops.

Last year a three-member bench of the Supreme Court ruled that Vedanta could not mine the hills - but allowed its Indian subsidiary Sterlite to reapply on condition that it plough five per cent of its profits into conservation and tribal development. The Indian court’s final verdict on the new application is expected later this week.

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