London, Aug.1 : Representatives of Orissa's remote Dongria Kondh tribe have been successful in denouncing a mining project undertaken by Britain's Vedanta Group during the latter's annual general body meeting here.
According to The Independent, Vedanta founder and chairman Anil Agarwal was cornered when he was asked to explain in detail his group's commitment to "sustainable development" after Dongria Kondh tribals presented testimony on how the company was destroying the environment even before the mining has started.
Though Vedanta Resources told shareholders that the company had earned record revenue for a sixth successive year (revenues of 8.2 billion dollars, 26 per cent up on 2007), the good news was drowned out by minority shareholders asking the company to explain the consequences of its adventure in Orissa's Nyamgiri Hills.
The Dongria Kondh, a tribe some 8,000-strong from the Indian state of Orissa worship the peak of the Nyamgiri hills as a god - and with reason, as the thick layer of bauxite which crowns the hills serves as a huge sponge for the monsoon rains, releasing them steadily throughout the year and guaranteeing the fertility of the forests and crops.
Since 2002, the survival of the hills and of the tribe itself has been thrown into doubt by Vedanta's plans to mine the Nyamgiri Hills for bauxite.
A protected forest area, it is home to endangered animals including tigers, leopards and elephants as well as hundreds of species of rare plants and trees.
The company has already built what Mr Agarwal called a "Rolls-Royce quality bauxite refinery" at the foot of the hills, destroying several tribal villages in the process, in anticipation of the arrival of the three million tons of bauxite the area is said to contain.
But despite the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Vedanta and the Orissa Government, the mining of the hills has yet to begin.
That's because the land is a "Schedule V Area", protected under Section 18 of the Indian Constitution, which means it cannot be transferred to private companies without the consent of tribal people.
Monitors sent by the Indian Supreme Court in Delhi submitted a damning report, leading to a long-running legal case.
A report by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2005 predicted that the mining of Nyamgiri would produce massive deforestation, toxic contamination of the water table and would endanger the fresh water source for hundreds of thousands of people in Orissa. And the Dongria Kondhs will be scattered across the earth.
Last year the three-man bench ruled that Vedanta could not mine the hills - but allowed its Indian subsidiary Sterlite to reapply on condition that it plough five per cent of its profits into conservation and tribal development. The Indian court's final verdict on the new application is expected later this week.