Niyamgiri tribals keep fingers crossed as Vedanta hearing set to begin

London-listed but India-focussed mining giant Vedanta is challenging the ban on mining the sacred mountain of Indias Dongria Kondh tribe in the Niyamgiri Hills district of Orissa.

The Orissa high court will hear the case today.

The Dongria Kondh, whose plight has been compared to the fictional Navi in Hollywood blockbuster Avatar, won a victory against Vedanta last year, when the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) blocked Vedantas multimillion-dollar bid to create an open-pit bauxite mine on the Dongrias sacred mountain, stating that Vedanta had shown ˜blatant disregard for the rights of the tribal groups.

Since then, both Vedanta Aluminium (a subsidiary of Anil Agarwal's London-listed Vedanta Resources) and the Orissa Mining Corporation have filed petitions in Orissa challenging the decision, as well as an associated decision to restrict the growth of an alumina refinery also operated by Vedanta.

Speaking to the NGO Survival International recently, one Dongria Kondh man said, "We do not think that we have won. We hear that mining has been stopped but whilst the factory [refinery] is still there our people, our land, may be taken away some day."

Vedantas billionaire chairman Anil Agarwal held separate meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and environment minister Jairam Ramesh recently. Following their meeting, Ramesh told journalists, Mining is a closed chapter, but so far as the expansion project is concerned we can consider it  provided they meet some conditions.