Early this year I visited Papua New Guinea to investigate the exploitation of resources by Western multinationals under the guise of development.
Tragically, similar things are happening across the world, often away from the mainstream media’s gaza.
When I arrived at Biju Patnaik Airport, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, I was struck by a billboard above the luggage carousel: “Mining happiness for the people of Orissa – Vedanta.”
What cruel irony. The poster should have read instead, “Undermining happiness for the people of Orissa.” The opening of an aluminum refinery in Lanjigarh, in south-west Orissa in eastern India, by the Vedanta Aluminum Limited (VAL), a subsidiary of British based mining group, Vedanta Resources plc, has brought nothing but misery, disease and impoverishment to the Kondh communities of the area.
Vedanta has received unconditional support from the State of Orissa, to start an open pit bauxite mine in Niyamgiri Mountain. It has also been given the green light from the Supreme Court of India. However the Court has left the final decision with the Ministry of Environments and Forests. The minister, Jairam Ramesh, has told the parliament that Vedanta does not have final forest clearance, a prerequisite for starting the mining work.
If Vedanta’s bauxite mining project is allowed to go ahead it will endanger the very survival of the Kondh, a unique and already vulnerable tribe who have lived there for generations. They rely on the forest and streams to graze livestock and gather food, medicines and vital drinking water. The lush forests of Niyamgiri Mountain are a pristine ecosystem of great conservation significance. So important is the local environment to the Kondh that they consider the mountain to be a living God and claim that their spiritual, cultural and economic well-being are embedded deep within it.