Oriya tribals say plans by Vedanta to mine holy land will destroy their way of life

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Niyamgiri (Orissa), Oct.13 (ANI): Tribal residents of Niyamgiri in Orissa have warned that their way of life is in danger of being lost permanently if UK mining giant Vedanta is allowed to mine beneath the Niyamgiri mountain.

The mountain and the landscape surrounding it acts as a cover for the aboriginal Kondh tribes who call this place home, and they believe that mining in the area will choke them and future generations to death.

Niyamgiri is 600 km from Orissa capital Bhubaneswar, and is accessible only by narrow, shattered roads pocked with deep holes, a world away from the economic powerhouse that is 21st-century India, reports The Guardian.

It is a place of quiet beauty, of lush green paddy fields and huge mango trees, where self-sufficient tribes still share the jungle with elephant, tiger and leopard.

It is the mineral wealth lying beneath the slopes of the mountain that has drawn Vedanta to Niyamgiri. It wants to turn the hillside into a giant bauxite mine to feed its refinery at the foot of the mountain.

The FTSE 100-listed company, which is run by the abrasive billionaire Anil Agarwal, is pressing ahead despite a desperate local rearguard action and an international outcry.

Yesterday the British government turned on the company, issuing an unexpectedly damning assessment of its behaviour.

Vedanta hopes the refinery will produce at least a million tons of alumina a year.

But the Kondh people - the Dongria, Kutia and Jharania - need the bauxite too. It holds water remarkably well and helps feed the perennial streams on which they and the animals that live on the mountain rely. Once the bauxite is gone, they fear, the streams will run dry. And that will be the end of the Kondh.

Faced with ferocious local opposition and an international campaign to stop the development, the company has returned time and again to the courts to push its plans through. In July, after numerous setbacks and rulings against it, it was finally given permission by India's supreme court to start mining.

It has wasted no time. Already, the skeleton of an enormous conveyor belt snakes out of the refinery and up to the foot of the mountain. Beyond it, an ugly scar of deep red earth runs up the hillside where hundreds of trees have been felled. Convoys of lorries trundle along the narrow roads, churning them to mud.

There are still legal challenges that the protesters can make and there is also the remote possibility that Vedanta shareholders, which include the Church of England, could bring pressure on the board to reverse its plans.

Although the mining is yet to start in earnest, those who live in the hundreds of small villages that dot the slopes are in no doubt that the effects of Vedanta's presence are already being felt. People and animals are dying, they say: the number of cases of tuberculosis have shot up.

To the Kondh tribes, the mountain is more than the place where they live: it is their god. It has sustained them for generations, providing everything they need to survive. All over its slopes there are small shrines where they place offerings to the mountain from whatever they have taken from the jungle. When the mining starts, they fear that the mountain will be taken away from them.

"We don't want a road. The company will come and kill us," the paper quoted Sitaram Kulesika, 23, as saying. (ANI)

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