In 2003, Vedanta Resources, a UK-based mining company signed an MoU with the Government of Orissa (GoO) to construct a 1 MTPA alumina refinery and coal thermal plant (75 MW – half a million TPA of coal) at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district. In September 2004, The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave environmental clearance to the company on the basis of the company’s assertion that it would not divert forestland. The alumina refinery project will require 3 million tones per annum bauxite which is proposed to be sourced from the nearby Niyamgiri hills, sacred to the local indigenous tribe the Dongria Kondh.
Following this, in 2004 the clearances granted to the Lanjigarh alumina refinery of Sterlite Industries were challenged by local activists and a special committee was sent to investigate and report back to the Supreme Court. The committee noted the lack of in-depth studies about impacts of the mine on the water regime, flora, fauna and on the Dongria Kondh tribes living at Niyamgiri Hills. Its report also pointed out that the area came under Schedule V of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits the transfer of tribal land to a non-tribal group. Furthermore, the report accused Vedanta of providing wrongful information and thereby circumventing the law. While the arguments continued in the Supreme Court, the company meanwhile continued with the construction of the refinery in 2006, causing the displacement of over a hundred tribal families, and the company then proceeded to argue that the adjacent mine was essential to the refinery.
In 2007, the Supreme Court granted permission to a Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite, to proceed with the mining, despite the committees report and the mobilization of local communities, as long as they paid some extra damages to offset the negative externalities of the project. However, while environmental clearance was granted, forest clearance was still pending, and following a report in 2010 by the Saxena Committee that argued that the local tribals should have the right to protect their rights under the Forest Rights Act.
Finally in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the local inhabitants should decide if mining in Niyamgiri hills will affect their religious and cultural rights as protected by the FRA.
Following this, the Odisha government drew a list of 12 affected villages in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, to hold palli sabha (referenda in their local councils). In July 2013, the 12 villages unanimously voted to reject the mining project in the first ever environmental referendum in India.
The case is now up to the Central Government to decide and it appears that Vedanta has lost this battle, but the rejection of mining in Niyamgiri means Vedantas gaze has now shifted to neighbouring districts that hold bauxite deposits of some 1.8 billion tonnes to feed the refinery. Whether the communities there will also be granted the same right to decide remains to be seen.
In 2017, Prafulla Samantara, one of the social activists in the area and born in a family of farmers, was granted the Goldman Environmental prize  for his hard work against mining but also dams in the Mahanadi river. He is also a member of the Anti-POSCO Movement (POSCO Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti) and of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAMP). This award recognizes the indispensable defense of life that these communities are doing not only to preserve the environment but also lives and livelihoods.
|Name of conflict:||Niyamgiri-Vedanta Bauxite Mining, India|
|State or province:||Orissa|
|Location of conflict:||Lanjigarh, Kalahandi District|
|Accuracy of location||HIGH (Local level)|
|Type of conflict. 1st level:||Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction|
|Type of conflict. 2nd level:||Water access rights and entitlements|
Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Tailings from mines
Land acquisition conflicts
One million tonnes of alumina produced three million tonnes of bauxite two million tonnes per annum red mud total bauxite reserves of 73 million tons
|Level of Investment for the conflictive project||10,000,000,000 |
|Type of population||Rural|
|Start of the conflict:||2003|
|Company names or state enterprises:||Vedanta from United Kingdom|
|Relevant government actors:||Orissa Mining Corporation, Ministry of Environmental Affairs , Orissa Government, Forest Department|
|Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:||Environmental Protection Group Orissa, Action Aid, UK, Amnesty International, Survival International, Mining Watch, Foil Vedanta, Indian Groups, EPG Orissa, Niyamgiri Vedanta Nagar(Rehabilitation Colony), Lanjigarh Anchalika Bikash Parishad, Nabin Vikash Trust, Lanjigarh Unnayan Anchalika Samiti, Alumina Refinery Labour Union, Niyamgiri Adivasi Vikash Parishad, Shakti Organisation, Kui Bikash Parishad|
|Intensity||HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)|
|Reaction stage||PREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)|
|Groups mobilizing:||Indigenous groups or traditional communities|
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Adivasis, Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondh
|Forms of mobilization:||Threats to use arms|
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Objections to the EIA
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Media based activism/alternative media
Boycotts of companies-products
Official complaint letters and petitions
Referendum other local consultations
Development of a network/collective action
Appeal to religion (Niyamgiri Hill is a god in the Dongris Kondhs pantheon)
|Environmental Impacts||Visible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity|
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Mine tailing spills
|Health Impacts||Visible: Accidents|
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
|Socio-economical Impacts||Visible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place|
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Specific impacts on women
|Conflict outcome / response:||Application of existing regulations|
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
There was a long process of litigation for 10 years. There was support from international actors against Vedanta in London. Legislation protecting forest of adivasi groups has been applied.
A precedent was set for the first environmental referendum to decide a mining project in India.
|Proposal and development of alternatives:||The proposal is to leave the Niyamgiri hills undisturbed. The sacredness argument was decisive in the end.|
|Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:||Yes|
|Briefly explain:||While the refinery in Lanjigarh has been built, it depends on bauxite brought by train and truck from far away. |
Vedanta Ltd has been unable to get final permission for mining bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills. The Supreme Court of India asked in April 2013 for public consultations in villages and hamlets in the Niyamgiri hills. Unanimous rejection was recorded in July and August 2013.
|Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)|
|References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries|
|Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network|