In the run-up to its London AGM on Thursday, British mining giant Vedanta Resources has been faced with eighth tribal village out of 12 in Odisha yesterday voting against the company's plans to build an open-pit bauxite mine on their sacred mountain.
The village meetings or gram sabhas are taking place in Dongria Kondh communities following a landmark Supreme Court order in April 2013 which ruled that all communities affected by the Vedanta Resources project must be consulted – a major victory in the recognition of the rights of tribal peoples to have a say in projects on their land.
However, the Odisha state government has singled out only 12 villages out of more than a hundred villages to conduct the consultations, a policy crticised by activists, union minister of tribal affairs KC Deo, and leaders of the Dongria and Majhi Kondh tribes.
The Dongria have demanded all affected villages be consulted and are organising their own consultations in the remaining villages.
Eight villages have voted so far – and all have voted unanimously against the mine.
According to tribal rights non-profit group Survival International, "The Dongria's united stand against the mine has been heralded as courageous, amidst mounting intimidation and harassment by police and paramilitaries since the April ruling. Dongria women say they fear going into the forest because of the heavy police presence.
Ahead of its AGM, Putri, a Dongria woman, told Vedanta in a message: "This Niyamgiri Hill is our God, our Lord, our Goddess, our father, our mother, our life, our death, our flesh, our blood, our bones. We get our food, drink and air from Niyamgiri and it sustains our life. It is therefore our right to stand together to protect and safeguard Niyamgiri."
Criticism has also been directed at the state government's selection of the 12 villages – Dongria spokesmen report that one village consists of just one non-resident family and that new houses are being hastily built by the government to bring outsiders into some of the villages.
Consultations will run until 19 August 2013, after which the final decision about the mine will lie with the ministry of environment and forests.
Vedanta has attempting to mine the Niyamgiri Hills since 2003, but has encountered determined opposition by the Dongria, activists, central government officials.
"Despite facing intimidation and harassment at every turn, the Dongria have shown truly inspiring determination and courage in their stand against the Vedanta mine," says Stephen Corry, director, Survival International. "We hope that this process, flawed though it may be, marks a new shift in India towards companies requiring the consent from tribal people before embarking on projects on their land."