New Delhi: Vedanta Resources Plc will begin bauxite mining for its alumina plant in eastern India by October and will invest $1.23 billion to expand its capacity sixfold by 2011, a top company official said on Friday.
The start of the mining to feed the alumina refinery in Orissa has been delayed for at least four years by protests from indigenous people, who consider the area that will be mined as sacred ground.
In August, India’s Supreme Court allowed the London-listed company to proceed to mine bauxite from open-cast mines.
“Mining operations in the Niyamgiri hills to feed our plant in Orissa will start by October this year,” Mukesh Kumar, chief executive of Vedanta’s project in Orissa, told the agency in an interview.
“Protests have died down and the local tribal people are confident that we will look after them well.”
The company has so far invested $823 million in the plant, and will spend another $1.23 billion to expand the capacity to six million tonnes from one million tonnes by 2011, Kumar said.
“By 2011, it will be one of the world’s largest plants,” Kumar said by telephone from Orissa.
The company has deposited $28 million with the government as payments to ensure it preserves wildlife, does reforestation projects and launches development work for residents.
“We have complied with all the court orders and we have already received an environmental clearance from the government and we should be getting one more mandatory clearance in one month’s time,” Kumar said.
The Orissa Mining Corporation, Vedanta’s joint-venture partner, will supply 150 million tonnes of bauxite to Vedanta’s plant every year from various locations, including Niyamgiri, which has a 79 million-tonne deposit, Kumar said.
The indigenous Dongria Kondh people that have lived in the lush forests of Niyamgiri for generations say the project threatens their existence, and call mining there sacrilege.
Thousands have marched near the plant site over the past few months in protest, backed by environmental groups who say the project will threaten the livelihood of local people.
“For centuries the Dongria Kondh community have considered the Niyamgiri Hills sacred; central to their collective identity and religious beliefs,” Madhu Malhotra, rights group Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director, said in a statement.
“Now the very existence of the Dongria Kondh as a distinct indigenous people hangs in the balance.”
Vedanta said the welfare of the people was a top priority for the company.
“We have even taken them to another plant to show how bauxite is being mined without harming the mountains,” Kumar said. “They seem to be convinced.”
Acquisitions of large tracts of land by foreign and domestic companies have been controversial in several Indian states, with courts having to resolve disputes over big projects, including South Korea’s POSCO’s proposed $12 billion steel plant, also in Orissa.