And now, tribesmen challenge Vedanta's alumina refinery in Odisha
13 June 2018
Resources giant Vedanta Ltd is in for more trouble after its copper smelter plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi, was forced to shut down after violent protests by pollution hit villagers and the death of 13 protesters in police firing (See: TN orders closure of Sterlite's copper smelter in Thoothukudi).
Now, Vedanta Limited’s alumina plant in Odisha’s Lanjigarh is facing similar protests by local tribesmen. Axe-toting tribals backed by environmentalists have demanded closure of the alumina refinery, according to a Reuters report.
The Dongria Kondh tribe people backed by activists have for years blocked London-listed Vedanta’s plans to mine bauxite in the green, jungle-clad Niyamgiri hills of eastern Odisha, which the tribespeople consider sacred.
The closure of the Tamil Nadu smelter following violent protest by local villagers has given fresh impetus to the Odisha campaign to close the alumina refinery run by the company’s Indian unit.
Vedanta Ltd is seeking to expand the plant, according to the Reuters report.
“We’ll shed our blood for Niyamgiri, we will die for Niyamgiri,” tribal leader Lado Sikaka told a crowd of several hundred at a rally near the refinery, in Lanjigarh, on 5 June. The protesters carried posters saying, “Polluter and killer company Vedanta to quit India. Tribute to martyrs of Tuticorin”.
“Vedanta can give jobs to only a few but Niyam Raja has given us everything,” he said, referring to the hill-god of the community’s traditional animist religion. “We will keep fighting till the end. We will intensify our agitation.”
In Tuticorin, officially known as Thoothukudi, Vedanta has been accused by local residents and environmentalists of polluting the air and groundwater. The police shootings on 22 May came after at least 50,000 people gathered on the 100th day of their campaign to oppose the expansion of the smelter.
The Odisha alumina refinery mostly uses costly bauxite imported from Brazil and Guinea and transported by rail from a port in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
Sikaka and other representatives of the Dongria Kondh tribe, with an estimated population of up to 16,000, say they fear the company may revive plans to tap the high-quality bauxite beneath the pristine Niyamgiri hills.