Indian Tribals' Sacred Mountain Not Safe Until Vedanta Refinery Closed

vedanta resources refinery orissa photo

Until the refinery at Lanjigarh is closed, indigenous groups feel Niyamgiri mountain is not safe. Photo: Survival International.

While there was unrestrained rejoicing yesterday by indigenous rights campaigners after the Indian government halted a proposed bauxite mine by Vedanta Resources on the grounds it threatened the rights of two tribal groups in Orissa, an article in the Business Standard says the battle in the Niyamgiri Hills is only half over. Without shutting down Vedanta's exiting refinery nearby, an ongoing threat remains to their sacred mountain.Immediately following the official decision on the bauxite mine, Vedanta announced that within 50 square kilometers of the site there was between 500-600 millions tons of bauxite. Without tapping into those the viability of its refinery at Lanjigarh comes into question.

Local tribal leader Kumuti Majhi said, "We are happy that the mining won't be allowed, as many would suffer for one man's profit. But the refinery should be closed down, otherwise they [Vedanta] will keep trying to take over our land."

Other members of the Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh expressed similar concerns.

"If the government wants to sell Niyamgiri, they should kill us first. Otherwise, we will slowly die even as we live. We are born of this earth, and this earth is ours. Niyamgiri belongs to us," Laksa Majhi said.

Barih Majih added, "Without the jungle, I have no hope for living. If they [Vedanta] come here, our air, water and forests will be polluted. The first right to the jungle is mine, and I am happy they will not be coming here."

When Do We Say 'Enough'?
The whole thing is a continuation of what seems like an age-old struggle between the forces of civilization (always as defined by people living more removed from the land and want something that is held by outsiders) and perceived backwardness. It is that, but it's also something that applies within boundaries closer to most TreeHugger readers.

The large question here is one of restraint over natural resources. Simply because a given resource is available and money stands to be made off of it--say the hints of newly discovered oil in Greenland for example--does that mean it should be exploited, especially when the social and environmental impacts at the point of extraction are likely to be so negative?

When do we say enough? Certainly, if history is any accurate measure, we cannot rely on market forces alone to determine that, as that results in a race to resource exhaustion and extinction. We need some greater ethical boundary that financial profit guiding these actions. We need an ethic rooted in do no harm, both to people and the environment more broadly, with a long-term view.

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More on Vedanta Mining:
India Stops Plans to Drive Real-Life Avatar Tribe Off Land For Bauxite Mine on Sacred Mountain
Vedanta's Controversial Bauxite Mine Violates Tribal People's Rights: Indian Govt Report
Na'vi Hit London to Protest British Mining of Sacred Indian Mountain

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