Saturday, January 17, 2009

Villagers intensify protest against Vedanta

Reuters, Jan 17, 2009
By Jatindra Dash

BHUBANESWAR (Reuters) - Hundreds of tribespeople, many carrying bows and arrows, marched in protest against a bauxite mine planned by Britain's Vedanta Resources Plc, police and eyewitnesses said.

The protesters, including hundreds of women, danced and shouted slogans as they marched several kilometres in Senelbhata on the foothills of the Niyamgiri hills that they say they want to protect from being mined.

Police kept a watch over the protest they said was peaceful.

The villagers held banners that said "Vedanta Quit Niyamgiri" and "Vedanta Go Back", illustrating the growing opposition to giving up land for industry in a country where two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for a living.

"Without Niyamgiri we cannot think of life," said Jitu Jakaka, a tribal leader.

"We will protect it at any cost. We will not allow the company to mine," he said.

Frequent violent protests in mineral-rich Orissa state had held up the Vedanta plant for months until last August, when the company received the greenlight from India's Supreme Court to mine bauxite in hills held sacred by an ancient tribe.

Vedanta wants to dig open-cast mines in the Niyamgiri hills to feed the refinery it has already built there as part of an $800 million project.

A Vedanta spokesman said the company is coordinating with the government and the tribal leaders on building new roads and to provide employment to the local people.

But the indigenous Kondha tribal groups who have lived in the lush forests of the Niyamgari hills for generations say the project threatens their very existence, and that mining in the hills was a sacrilege.

"We will launch more protests in the coming days," said Sidhartha Nayak, a lawyer and activist.

Villagers last week stopped vehicles carrying construction material to the site and have since erected a wooden gate to prevent the movement of vehicles up the hills.

Acquisitions of large tracts of land by foreign and local companies have proved controversial in several states in India recently, with the country's courts needing to step in resolve disputes involving big projects, including South Korea's POSCO's proposed $12 billion steel plant, also in Orissa.

Political opposition and demonstrations by farmers also forced Tata Motors to move a factory for its low-cost Nano car out of West Bengal in October.

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