The Dongria have lived in the Niyamgiri hills in a remote part of eastern India's Orissa state for centuries. They survive by gathering fruit, growing small crops of millet and selling jungle plants in the towns at the foot of the hills. The modern world has yet to reach Golgola - there's no electricity, no school, no television, no telephones.
"We get everything from the jungle like the fruits we take to the market. This is like our source of life for our Dongria Kondh peoples," says Jitu Jakeskia, a young Dongria Kondh activist. He's one of the few Dongria to have got a formal education, and he's now fighting to preserve his tribe's way of life. "We are not paying any money to get these fruits, this is free, it is like paradise for us here."
But the mining giant Vedanta Resources, one of Britain's biggest listed companies, wants the minerals from Niyamgiri hill. The range is rich in bauxite, from which aluminium is derived. An Indian subsidiary Vedanta Aluminium Limited has invested $1bn in a giant alumina refinery at Lanjigarh. It's a vast sprawling site right at the foot of Niyamgiri hill. A tangle of pipes, silos and vast processing towers cover around six square kilometres (3.75 miles).
The refinery is losing money. The Orissa government promised Vedanta access to the bauxite in the hills. However mining can't begin until India's Supreme Court has given its clearance. For now Vedanta is bringing in vast quantities of the red bauxite rock by rail and truck from mines elsewhere just to keep the refinery operating way below its full capacity.Vedanta has big plans.
"...once we start exploiting these ores, the day is not far away when we will see the same development in Orissa as we see in Australia." says chief operating officer of Vedanta Aluminium Ltd and head of the Lanjigarh refinery.
The bauxite in Orissa is extremely high quality which makes it relatively cheap to refine into aluminium. Vedanta wants to expand the site fivefold and make it the largest of its kind in the world.
India's Wildlife Institute has said that mining threatens an important ecosystem with irreversible changes.A Supreme Court committee which investigated the project said Vedanta Aluminium violated guidelines in the Forest Conservation Act when it built its refinery and should have its environmental clearance withdrawn.
And Norway's official Council on Ethics, which monitors investments for the country's huge state pension fund, said investing in Vedanta Resources, which has many mining interests, presented "an unacceptable risk of complicity in current and future severe environmental damage and human rights violations".Norway's government sold all the Vedanta shares it held which were worth $14m."If the Supreme Court will give a decision to allow mining here, all our Dongria Kondh people from children to old women will go to the factory and sleep on the road and say first you will kill us then you can mine, because we cannot live without our mountain,"
Jitu Jakeskia, a young Dongria Kondh activist. He's one of the few Dongria to have got a formal education, and he's now fighting to preserve his tribe's way of life.
Labels: India, indigenous peoples, mining, Orissa, Vedanta