Dongria Kondhs in Odisha Win against Vedanta as Supreme Court Bans Mining in Niyamgiri

Reported by

Ankur Paliwal

Legal Data by

Edited by

Updated by

Published on

October 22, 2016

October 22, 2016

Updated on

October 22, 2016

Location of Conflict

Niyamgiri, Kalahandi

Rayagada

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Bauxite Mining

(

)

People Affected by Conflict

8000

Households Affected by Conflict

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

731

ha

Starting Year

2003

State

Odisha

Sector

Mining

The peaceful existence of the Dongria Gondh tribe and their practice of sustainable agriculture based on the forest produce was brought under threat when on June 7, 2003, Vedanta Aluminum Limited signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Odisha for the construction of a 1 MTPA (one million ton per annum) alumina refinery, along with a 75megawatt coalbased power plant in the Lanjigarh region of Kalahandi district. For the purpose of obtaining bauxite for this alumina refinery, Vedantaowned Sterlite Industries also entered the picture, with plans to construct an openpit, 3 MTPA bauxite mining plant at the top of the sacred Niyam Dongar mountain. In March 2004, Sterlite applied for environmental clearance to the refinery, arguing that the plant is independent of the proposed mine and falsely claiming that the construction of the refinery will not involve diversion of forestland. Despite several inconsistencies in the application, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) granted clearance to the refinery. While Vedantas dubious methods were being ignored by the MoEFCC, three petitioners subsequently filed applications with the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court to investigate the environmental clearances granted. In 2005, in a scathing report to the Supreme Court, the CEC noted that the MoEFCC had wrongfully given clearance to Vedanta and that it had ignored the various environmental threats that would arise from the proposed project, pointing out how the project violated the Forest Rights Act, the Forest (Conservation) Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It recommended that the environmental clearance granted to Vedanta be revoked, the company be directed to stop further work on the project and mining on Niyamgiri Hills be banned. On August 8, 2008 the Supreme Court completely disregarded the CECs recommendations and approved the clearance of forestland for mining in the Niyamgiri Hills. Despite the vociferous protests, environmental clearance was granted to Sterlite Industries in April 2009 for mining operations a decision which spelled doom for the Dongria Kondh tribe. In the aftermath of the Supreme Courts decision, the movement against Vedanta, which had so far been marked by a steady stream of protests, gained momentum. It soon became a transnational movement. Organisations like Survival International and Amnesty International visited the protest site in India regularly and also organised mass rallies outside Vedanta's London office. Witnessing the companys treatment towards the Dongria Kondh tribe and its involvement in the blatant violation of human rights, many international investors like the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, Martin Currie, the Church of England and Marlborough Ethical Fund sold their stocks in the company. Fueled by the continuous protests and mass support for the tribe, the Government of India sent a team of experts to the Niyamgiri Hills in 2010. The Dongria Kondhs emerged victorious on August 21, 2010, when a review of the mining project carried out by the MoEFCC exposed the violation of a number of environmental regulations by the company. After denying the company forest clearance in 2010, then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh delivered a final blow by revoking Vedantas environmental clearance in July 2011. The Odisha government – through the stateowned company Orissa Mining Corporation petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the mining ban on Vedanta and to allow the sixfold expansion of the alumina refinery. In a landmark decision for tribes rights in India, the Supreme Court on April 18, 2013, rejected the appeal on the mining ban and decreed that the Dongria Kondh tribe would have a decisive say in giving the goahead to Vedantas mining project. Twelve gram sabhas were chosen by the state government to make the crucial decision. In the three months after the Supreme Court ruling, amidst heavy police presence and persistent threats from Vedanta, 11 gram sabhas voted against the mining project, and on August 19, 2013, the 12th and final gram sabha delivered a resounding No. In January 2014, the MoEFCC, which had earlier aided Vedantas invasion of Niyamgiri, crushed the companys mining ambitions by completely rejecting the project. However, the community and their land continue to be under threat. On February 25, 2016, the OMC filed an application with the Supreme Court, challenging its previous judgement, alleging that the gram sabha resolutions had technical errors; the apex court upheld its earlier judgement by rejecting the OMC's petition. There have been reports of clashes between the tribespeople and the authorities/security forces, with several members of the Niyamgiri Surakhsha Samiti being arrested and paraded as maoists, in what they claim is an attempt by the government to weaken the movement against the refinery's planned expansion and its repeated attempts to review the mining ban. From 2018 onwards, Vedanta has made official announcements regarding its plan to expand its refinery in Langigarh, which has been operational since 2005. Local residents, meanwhile, continue to fight as the refinery has caused ecological degradation in the area. In February 2021, the Board of Directors of Vedanta approved the expansion of the Langigarh plant from 2MTPA to 5MTPA at the cost of INR 3,779 crore seeking for it to be one of the world's largest single location alumni refinery complex.

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Opposition against environmental degradation

Refusal to give up land for the project

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Demand to declare the Niyamgiri hills as Dongria Kondh habitat as per the Forest Rights Act

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Forest

Total investment involved (in Crores):

4000

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Page Number In Investment Document:

Has the Conflict Ended?

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Forest and Scheduled Area Governance Laws, Environmental Laws, Land Acquisition Laws, Other, Central/State Government Policy, Constitutional Law

Legislations/Policies Involved

Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
Section 4 (2)(e) [Free informed consent of the gram sabha for resettlement and the compensation package in writing]; Section 3(1) [This section enlists the rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers, which include right to hold and live on the forestland, right to protect any community forest resource traditionally used, and the right to rehabilitation in case of displacement]; Section 5 [Duties of forest rights holders and gram sabha to protect wildlife, forest, biodiversity and against activities that affect cultural and natural heritage]
Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
Section 2(ii) [Authorities or state government can pass orders for use of forestland for non-forest purposes only with the prior approval of the Central government]; Section 2(iii) [Assigning of forestland to private parties or authority or corporation only to be done with prior approval of the Central government]
Electricity Act, 2003
Section 3 [Power of the Central government to take measures to protect and improve the environment]; Section 6(2)(e) [The Central government has the power to make rules restricting or prohibiting industries to be established in certain locations, and regarding processes and operations]
Odisha Forest Act, 1972
Section 24 [Restriction on acquiring rights over reserved forestlands]; Section 25 [Rights not to be alienated without sanction of the state government]; Section 41 [Acquisition of land for public purpose to be done by the state as per the Land Acquisition Act, 1894]
Odisha Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy, 2006
Section 4 [Objectives of the Policy include avoiding displacement, emphasising needs of indigenous communities and environmental sustainability]; Section 5(g) [Consulting gram sabha or panchayat before initiating land acquisition proposals in Scheduled Areas]
Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957
Section 5 [This section provides for restrictions on the grant of prospecting licences or mining leases]; Section 20A [Central government has the power to issue directions, which include those related to mitigating environmental impact and minimising ecological disturbance]
Section 11(2)(iii) [The Forest Settlement officer may acquire land as per the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894]; Section 24 [Rights shall not be alienated without the sanction of the State government]; Section 84 [Land required under this Act shall be deemed to be needed for public purpose under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894]
Article 244(1) [The administration of the Scheduled Areas shall be in accordance with the Fifth Schedule]
Section 4(i) [Gram sabha or panchayat to be consulted before land acquisition and rehabilitation]
Section 8 [Examination of proposals and Social Impact Assessment by appropriate government authority]; Section 41(9) [Alienation of land to be deemed null and void due to disregard of regulations]; Section 41 [Special provisions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Scheduled Areas and prior consent of gram sabha or panchayat or Autonomous District Councils]; Section 24 [Exception for the application of the provisions of the LARR Act, 2013, when there is a lapse of proceedings with respect to land acquired under the 1894 Act]
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Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Non-implementation/violation of FRA

Violation of free prior informed consent

Non-implementation/violation of LARR Act

Controversial land acquisition by the government

Violation of environmental laws

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Disposed

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

Yes

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

Supreme Court of India

Case Number

WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 180 OF 2011

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Arrest/detention/imprisonment

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

Reported Details of the Violation:

Date of Violation

Location of Violation

Nature of Protest

Advocacy (for inclusion in courts)

Campaigns (grassroots organisations/press releases/media)

Complaints/petitions/letters/memorandums to officials

Involvement of national and international NGOs

Referendum and other local consultations

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Odisha Mining Corporation

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Vedanta Aluminium Limited

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

Odisha Lok Sangram Manch, Survival International, Amnesty International, Action Aid, Green Kalahandi, Niyamgiri Suraksa Samiti

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:

Image Credit:  

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Reviewed By

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Updated By

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Edited By

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