Testing Times for Vedanta: The Battle with the Dongria Kondh Tribe of Odisha




Case Details Case Introduction 1 Case Introduction 2 Case Excerpts

Abstract

The case discusses the decade-old mining battle between Vedanta Aluminium Refinery (VAL), a subsidiary of UK-based diversified metals and mining major, Vedanta Resources plc (Vedanta Resources), and the indigenous Dongria Kondh community. The case highlights the debate between development and the rights of local communities. Ever since VAL entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2004 with the Odisha Mining Corporation, VAL’s mining project was strongly opposed by the Dongria Kondhs since they believed that mining in the region would damage the environment and the local community. Moreover, the tribes considered the Niyamgiri Hills sacred and worshipped the hills as the abode of their god, Niyamraja...

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The locals alleged that VAL had built its refinery without the obtaining the mandatory forest clearance. The tribals alleged that VAL had encroached on their lands and constructed the refinery, leaving them with no land for grazing their cattle or practicing agriculture, which was essential for their subsistence. The tribes also feared that mining on this plateau would drastically reduce the water retention capacity of the hills, ultimately affecting the rivers and streams. In addition to this, the company was accused of letting red mud and other polluting matter from the mines into the local streams and rivers in the region, causing serious water pollution. The refinery was also held responsible for polluting the environment due to the carbon dioxide emissions, which caused breathing problems among the local tribes. The forest and its plant diversity were providing sustenance to not just the tribals but also hundreds of wild animals, according to studies conducted by biodiversity experts in the region.

Several local and international activists also stated that mining led to serious concerns in the Niyamgiri region. In response to the huge media attention, in 2010, the then environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, cancelled the forest clearance given to VAL. VAL, on the other hand, refuted all the charges and stated that the environmentalists were stalling development by opposing the project. It said that the Dongria Kondhs would benefit from the extraction of bauxite from their forest.

In July 2013, following a ruling from the Supreme Court of India, the indigenous groups belonging to 12 villages unanimously opposed VAL’s mining project, contending that it would lead to environmental degradation and destruction of their traditional way of life.

Issues

The case is structured to achieve the following teaching objectives:

  • Critically analyze and understand the mining battle between VAL and the Dongria Kondh community and its reasons.
  • Discuss and debate the stance taken by VAL, the state government, and the government of India, and other stakeholders involved in the mining project.
  • Analyze the underlying reasons for the growing criticism against VAL and explore ways in which the company can address this issue.
  • Understand the importance of recognizing the rights of local communities while planning development projects and involving them while conceiving such projects.

Contents
INTRODUCTION
BACKGROUND NOTE
CHARGES AGAINST VAL
THE INVESTIGATION
VAL’S RESPONSE
THE VERDICT
THE BATTLE CONTINUES…
EXHIBITS

Keywords

Vedanta Resources plc, Sesa Sterlite Limited, Odisha State Pollution Control Board, Dongria Kondh,Niyamgiri Hills, Indigenous people, Groundwater depletion, Environmental degradation, Waste management, International human rights law, Forest conservation, Free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), Land encroachment, Land acquisition, Lanjigarh refinery, Sustainability framework

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