New Delhi: Mining company Vedanta Alumina Ltd is likely to face a fresh hurdle in its plans to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa, with the Supreme Court admitting an intervening application in an ongoing case that claims the project would imperil the social, cultural, religious and ethnic rights of the Dongaria Kondhs, the tribals residing in the area.
The court is hearing an existing case against Vedanta under an umbrella case, Thirumalpad Godavarman, which includes all disputes relating to forests.
The company’s plans in Orissa include a one-million-tonne (mt) aluminium refinery, a smelter plant and a 100MW power plant to be set up at the estimated cost of Rs4,000 crore.
The bauxite, however, will be mined by Orissa Mining Corp. Ltd and sold to Vedanta. Orissa Mining plans to mine about 3mt of bauxite annually.
A Vedanta spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment and other company officials couldn’t be reached.
The petition argues that the Niyamgiri Plateau is considered sacred by the 7,952 Dongaria Kondh tribals (as per the Census 2001.)
“The top half of the hill is most sacred, and that is where the bauxite is,” said a person familiar with the issue, who didn’t want to be named. “It is because that area is a virtual temple that the forest and biodiversity of the area is still intact, which would otherwise have been used by them for shifting cultivation and horticulture,” he added.
Although environmental clearance was granted to the project in September 2004, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), a committee set up by the Supreme Court to advise it on such matters, held that it was obtained by concealing facts.
The CEC report said while Vedanta had claimed no forest land was involved in the project, it had found that 660 hectares of forest land had been used.
In addition, the report had argued that permitting mining operations in the Niyamgiri Hills will result in serious and irreversible damage to the wildlife and ecology there.
The intervening application also alleges violation of the Forest Rights Act, passed last year.
According to the Act, whose rules are yet to be notified, traditional rights to land and resources of scheduled tribes have to be recognized that are not confined only to the the land they currently occupy.