This report comes from Foil Vedanta’s friend in the court room as the Niyamgiri case continues…
19th February 2013
Last week, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in the ongoing Vedanta case, saying the government and not the tribals and forest dwellers will have the final say in diversion of forestland for mining projects. FRA states that forest dwellers cannot be resettled from forestland unless their traditional rights over such land are recognised, and a 2009 order of MoEF had made it mandatory for all the projects which require forestland diversion to obtain consent of the affected gram sabhas (village councils). In December last year, the ministry stated in the court that the forest dwellers protected by FRA cannot be displaced except for protection of wildlife. However, in a change of stance on February 15, the ministry said in the court that consent of the people will be required only in cases where displacement of large number of people is involved and which affect the quality of life of the people. While the ministry did not even mention its 2009 order in the affidavit, it said the mining proposal should not be allowed because Dongria Kondh tribals have been protecting and worshipping Niyamgiri hills for centuries as their sacred deity. Mining on that land will undermine the customary rights of Dongria Kondhs to manage their own affairs in the matter of religion and fundamental right to conserve their culture. This stance provided the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries (the Indian arm of Vedanta) fodder and weakened the case against Vedanta. Clearly, the ministry has backtracked when asked to take a stand on the issue by the court.
Today the Indian Supreme Court held its latest hearing on Vedanta’s planned mega-mine which threatens the Dongria Kond tribe who live in the Niyamgiri hills. In the court the Ministry of Environment and Forests submitted its affidavit which re-affirmed their previous decision to refuse the bauxite mine on the grounds of violation of the Forests Rights Acts which protects ‘forest dwellers’ and traditional tribal groups.
In London activists from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups have held a series of demonstrations on all hearing dates. They have dumped mud on the India High Commission, held a noise demonstration at Vedanta Headquarters and targeted the Financial Services Authority demanding that Vedanta is de-listed from the London Stock Exchange. An investigation into the company’s listing has now been launched by the UK Listing Authority (UKLA).
This is a report from the 11th January hearing of the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) vs Union of India case at the Supreme Court of India. The previous ruling by Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh in August 2010 prevented Vedanta from mining the Niyamgiri mountain due to violations of environment and forestry acts. The Orissa Mining Corporation, a state owned company with 24% shares in the joint venture to mine Niyamgiri with Vedanta, has mounted a legal challenge to the decision which continues to be heard and is expected to reach a conclusion in the coming weeks. This report is from Foil Vedanta’s eyewitness in the court room. It includes details about OMC’s accusations that the London protests are politically motivated and inauthentic, and that the Saxena Commitee’s damning report on the Niyamgiri mine was biased.