Indian state Odisha is planning to revive Vedanta Resources’ bauxite mining project on top of the Niyamgiri Hills, a forested area that the local Dongria Kondh tribe considers sacred.
Vedanta Resources has planned to mine the Niyamgiri Hill range, which is believed to be the home of deity Niyam Rajawhich, who is worshipped by the tribe.
The company formed a joint venture with the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation to develop the Niyamgiri mine, under a memorandum of understanding.
Niyamgiri Hills contains 72 million tonnes of bauxite, which the firm intended to mine to feed its alumina refinery plant at Lanjigarh, Odisha.
Now, the state government is again making a fresh attempt to mine the ecologically fragile hill as its OMC is still the leaseholder.
In 2010, the Union Environment Ministry originally rejected Vedanta’s proposal to mine bauxite from the area.
However, Vedanta and its partner OMC filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against this decision.
In April 2013, India’s top court ruled that the decision to allow Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in two districts of Orissa state rests with local tribes.
Subsequently, the state held meetings in 12 villages to discuss the environmental and religious issues, and the rights of the tribes.
Hwoever, the tribes opposed Vedanta’s plans and the proposal had to be shelved.
Currently, Odisha steel and mines minister Prafulla Mallick said: "The state government is keen to hold gram sabhas again for Niyamgiri bauxite mining. We will seek legal opinion on whether we should seek permission of the Supreme Court or the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest to conduct the gram sabhas."
However, the state government will find it difficult to relaunch the gram sabha meetings on this issue.
Mines expert and former director of mines with Odisha government B K Mohanty was quoted by Business Standard as saying: "The gram sabhas for Niyamgiri bauxite mining were conducted as per the directions of the Supreme Court. Now, the state government has to seek permission from the apex court to start the process again. I believe this is going to be tough."