Vedanta Resources lawsuit (re Dongria Kondh in Orissa)
On 19 March 2003 Vedanta Alumina Limited applied for environmental clearance from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to construct an alumina refinery project in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. This clearance was granted on 22 September 2004. The clearance stated that the project did not involve any deforestation. However, the alumina refinery depended directly on mining the Niyamgiri hills, an area where the Dongria Kondh tribe lives. The clearance application for the mining portion of the project was made separately. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC), part of the MOeF, received petitions opposing the construction of Vedanta’s alumina refinery and its related bauxite mining. The CEC’s mandate is to monitor and ensure compliance with orders of the Supreme Court concerning forests and wildlife. The project’s opponents alleged it would destroy the Dongria Kondh tribe’s way of life (due to their spiritual and cultural attachment to the Niyamgiri hills) and that work on the projects had begun without the requisite clearances. Further, they alleged that many people had been forcibly removed from their homes, at times violently, and that the mining has already caused extensive environmental damage and will cause more.
The CEC made recommendations to the Supreme Court, on 21 September 2005, for the revocation of the environmental clearance for the alumina refinery. On 23 November 2007 the Supreme Court of India barred Vedanta and its subsidiary Sterlite from undertaking the project. (Vedanta had transferred the project to Sterlite.) However, the court invited Vedanta to resubmit its proposal in line with certain safeguards. The safeguards included: a special purpose company with the state of Orissa and Vedanta as shareholders owning the project, Vedanta setting aside 5% of its profits before tax for reinvestment into the local community and the submission of a report on the effects of the project and particularly the number of people likely to be employed by the project. Sterlite re-submitted its proposal encompassing these conditions. The Supreme Court gave the formal go-ahead to the project on 8 August 2008.
The MoEF claimed that the Supreme Court's approval of the project did not obligate the MoEF to give automatic clearance for the project, and it asked the Attorney General to opine on the matter. The Attorney General agreed that the MoEF was not bound to approve the project solely on the basis of the Supreme Court's decision. The MoEF ordered a panel to investigate the mine's impact on local tribes and wildlife on 30 June 2010. This panel issued a report on 16 August 2010 saying that the company should not be given permission to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri. Following the recommendations of the panel's report, the Minister for Environment & Forests announced on 23 August 2010 that the government would take action against Vedanta for alleged violations of forest conservation and environmental protection regulations related to the Niyamgiri project. Vedanta appealed the government's decision, and in April 2012 the Indian supreme court heard the appeal. In April 2013 the supreme court ruled the ban on mining in Niyamgiri will be maintained and the rights of the local tribespeople must be considered.
Survival International brought a complaint regarding the project under the OECD Guidelines with the UK’s National Contact Point (NCP). The NCP found that Vedanta “failed to engage the Dongria Kondh in adequate and timely consultations about the construction of the mine”; recommended that “Vedanta should immediately and adequately engage with the Dongria Kondh” and “should respect the outcome of the consultation process”
In August 2009, following a complaint filed by Survival international, India’s National Human Rights Commission has written to the Government of Orissa demanding a full report into its joint venture mining project with Vedanta. In April 2013, India’s Supreme Court upheld the ban on mining in the Niyamgiri hill range and ruled that the rights of the Dongria Kondh communities must be taken into account in deciding whether the mining project may go ahead. In August 2013, all 12 tribal villages voted against Vedanta’s project in the Niyamgiri Hills. In January 2014, the Ministry for Environment and Forests decided not to allow the mining project to go ahead. In April 2016, the Supreme Court blocked the attempt by Odisha’s state government to begin mining in the Niyamgiri hills; the local government arguing that the 2013 referendum was flawed.
- "Environment Ministry rejects Vedanta's mining proposal in Niyamgiri", Urmi A Goswami & Meera Mohanty, Economic Times, 11 Jan 2014
- "India court says locals to have say on Vedanta mine", BBC News, 18 Apr 2013
- "India tribe's Avatar-like battle against mining firm reaches supreme court", Jason Burke, Guardian [UK] 8 Apr 2012
- "Vedanta mine plan halted by Indian government", Richard Wray, Guardian [UK], 24 Aug 2010
- "Vedanta should not be given mining approval: govt panel", Reuters, 16 Aug 2010
- "Orissa Government, Sterlite form Lanjigarh Area Development Foundation", Orissa Diary, 15 Oct 2009
- "India court okays mining projects", BBC, 8 Aug 2008
- "Indian court reserves judgement on Vedanta mining", Reuters, 25 Jul 2008
- "Tribe takes on global mining firm", Damian Grammaticas, BBC, 17 Jul 2008
- "Vedanta rejects claim that new mine will destroy Indian tribe's way of life", David Litterick, Telegraph [UK], 6 May 2008
- "Vedanta puts its case for bauxite mine to India’s highest court", Ashling O’Connor, Times [UK], 29 Oct 2007
- "Vedanta Undermines Indian Communities", Nityanand Jayaraman, CorpWatch, 15 Nov 2005
Supreme Court of India
- T.N. Godavaraman Thirumulpad v. Union of India in the matter of Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd., 8 Aug 2008 [judgment granting Sterlite permission to mine Niyamgiri]
- [DOC] Interim Order on the basis of the CEC Report, 3 Feb 2008
- T.N. Godavaraman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, 23 Nov 2007
- T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors: 2006, 17 Oct 2006
- [PDF] Report of the Four Member Committee for Investigation into the Proposal Submitted by the Orissa Mining Company for Bauxite Mining in Niyamgiri [submitted to Ministry of Environment & Forests], N.C. Saxena, S. Parasuraman, Promode Kant, Amita Baviskar, 16 Aug 2010
- Central Empowered Committee: Report in IA No. 1324 Regarding the Alumina Refinery Plant being set up by M/S Vedanta Alumina Limited at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi District, Orissa, 21 Sep 2005
OECD Guidelines complaint (in UK):
- Vedanta condemns UK agency's findings [India], Business Standard [India], 14 Oct 2009
- UK reprimands Vedanta over Orissa mining project, Business Standard [India], 13 Oct 2009
- ‘Guilty’: UK government blasts Vedanta in unprecedented attack, Survival Intl., 12 Oct 2009
- [DOC] Final Statement by UK National Contact Point for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Complaint from Survival International against Vedanta Resources plc, 25 Sep 2009
- [PDF] Initial Assessment by UK National Contact Point for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Survival International and Vedanta Resources plc, 27 Mar 2009