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Niyamgiri-Vedanta Bauxite Mining, India


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 [2] 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. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Niyamgiri-Vedanta Bauxite Mining, India
State or province:Orissa
Location of conflict:Lanjigarh, Kalahandi District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

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
Specific commodities:Aluminum/Bauxite

Project Details and Actors

Project details

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

Project area:235000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project10,000,000,000 [1]
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10000
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

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
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
Public campaigns
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Shareholder/financial activism.
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 ImpactsVisible: 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 ImpactsVisible: Accidents
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: 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


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Project cancelled
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.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion (article 25 of the constitution)

Right to live in dignity (Article 21 of the constitution).

Recognition of Forest Rights Act Section 2a regarding Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers.

Right of tribals to equality and equal protection under the law (Article 14 of the constitution).

Right to life and existence.

Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and Forest Protection Act (tribal peoples)

UN Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 2: right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Geetanjoy, S. Mining in the Niyamgiri Hills and Tribal Rights. Economic & Political Weekly. April 12, 2008





Temper, Leah & Joan Martinez-Alier. The God of the Mountain and the Godavaram Case: Net Present Value, indigenous territorial rights and sacredness in one bauxite mining conflict in India. Ecological Economics.

Rosencranz, A., Lélé, S., 2008. Supreme Court and India’s Forests. Economic and Political Weekly. Feb. 2, 2008

Kashipur Solidarity

CEC Report on Lanjigadh


[1] Foil Vedanta

[2] The Goldman Environmental Prize 2017


Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine clearance rejected

Survival International

The Hindu:

EJOLT blog

Kractivist - Inside report from the Supreme Court Niyamgiri case against #Vedanta #mustread #mustshare - 01 MAR 2013

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Meta information

Contributor:Leah Temper
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:378