Morale booster for tribals

S T Beuria in Bhubaneswar

Tribals in Orissa have received a shot in the arm in their struggle against a mining project to save the environment

A demonstration at Lanjigarh to save Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa from environmental degradation.  DH Photos The Amnesty International’s (AI) recent report on the London-based Vedanta group’s aluminium refinery and bauxite mining project at Lanjigarh in Orissa's backward Kalahandi district has once again prompted the local tribals to pursue their relentless struggle against the controversial private sector project.

These Dongria Kondh tribals have been vehemently resisting the London-based private sector company’s attempt to mine bauxite at the Niyamgiri Hills in Lanjigarh for its one million tonne aliminium refinery which has already been commissioned. The AI report is expected to give a further boost to the tribals to continue their struggle. “We may die but we will not allow the destruction of our Niyamgiri Hills”, the tribals had recently declared.
The international human rights watchdog's report is also expected to enhance the morale of the national and international non-governmental organizations who have also backed the tribals.

The Dongria Kondhs, who have inhabited the Niyamgiri Hills for centuries consider the environmentally sensitive Hills to be their “Living God” and are up in arms against the mining project because they believe that it would completely destroy their livelihood.

Moreover, the tribals are also wary that the mining project has the potential to affect the two major rivers originating  from the thickly forested hills which could turn dry; besides, over two dozen big and small streams currently flowing in the hills would also meet a similar fate. The absence of water would then have a devastating impact on the ecology of the area.

Refinery project
The refinery project has already led to health problems like skin and respiratory diseases among the locals and these health hazards are expected to multiply once the bauxite mining begins in the hills, the tribals fear.

The Kondhs had reportedly explained all these points to a high powered team from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests when it visited the area recently for an on site assessment.

All these factors are reflected in the recently released Amnesty report which had sent a fact finding team to Lanjigarh to take stock of the situation on the ground. According to media reports, NGO groups backing the tribals in their struggle have already held demonstrations in front of the Vedanta Resources office in London after the Amnesty report was made public. This, however, is not for the first time that demonstrations have been organized in London over the issue. The British capital had witnessed such demonstrations earlier too.

Vested interests
The London-based company promoted by NRI industrialist Anil Agarwal has reacted strongly to the Amnesty report describing it as a handiwork of “vested interests”.

The chief operating officer of the project, M. Kumar was heard quoted by a local television channel here recently that: “Expressing doubts on the project means expressing doubts on the intention of the Supreme Court of India”. The apex court has given a conditional approval to the mining project.

The Amnesty report, which has appealed to the Centre to halt the project on grounds of human rights violation, has turned out to be a major embarrassment for the Orissa administration which cleared the refinery and mining project. Orissa government officials said, the report was being studied by the administration. “We have received the report and a detailed assessment is on”, said a senior official in the state secretariat.