Victory for Indian tribespeople as Vedanta mine is blocked

The Dongria Kondh in India have won a landmark victory against metal mining giant Vedanta, as plans for a bauxite mine are rejected in a move that could set a new precedent for tribal rights

The Indian Environment Ministry has barred bauxite mining by British metals giant Vedanta Resources in a mountain range revered by local tribespeople.

The landmark decision follows unusually determined protests by the Dongria Kondh tribe, a group of about 8,000 people who worship the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India.

In a series of formal referenda last summer, a dozen Dongria villages overcame intense pressure from Vedanta supporters and unanimously rejected plans to mine the publicly- owned land. Their stand drew national and international attention, making it hard for government officials to renege on their pledge to respect the results of the vote.

“There’s no precedent for this – what happened for the Dongria is unique in Indian history,” said Jo Woodman, a campaigner for Survival International. “The Dongria were incredibly tenacious and determined. There was just no shifting them.”

Activists had feared that the planned open-cast mine would cause environmental destruction, and that associated developments would spell the end for local villagers’ traditional way of life. Similar projects elsewhere in India have seen forests cleared and tribes forced to relocate to ‘rehab’ camps.

Vedanta had been so confident of receiving permission for the mine that it had already spent $800m (£488m) building a plant to process the bauxite into aluminium. Campaigners hope the project’s disruption will serve as a warning to other companies that seek to launch industrial projects without the support of local residents.

The outcome “has set a new precedent for tribal rights in India,” said Survival International director, Stephen Corry.