In the poor state of Orissa in India, resides an isolated tribe called the Dongria Kondh. Dongrias have survived for centuries following the same traditional methods of agriculture and food gathering. They live in the rich and forested hills of Niyamgiri, which not only provides them with food and shelter, but is also sacred to them and is worshiped as a living god (Mittal, 2008). Unfortunately, Niyamgiri is also home to about 2 billion dollars worth of bauxite (an aluminum rich ore) (Survival International, n.d). The bauxite rich hills attracted Vedanta Resources, a giant British mining company, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. According to the Indian laws, large mining projects, such as the planned bauxite mining project of Vedanta Resources, require a comprehensive EIA and public consultation of the affected parties (Murthy & Patra, 2005). Being in a dire need for an economic boost, the officials of the state of Orissa sided with Vedanta Resources and took the responsibility of obtaining the necessary mining clearances (EPG, 2005). Needless to say, undertaking such mining project would end the traditional way of life of the Dongria Kondhs and irreversibly damage the Niyamgiri environment (EPG, 2005; Schucking, 2009).
In 2003, when Vedanta Resources applied for clearance from India’s Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), only a rapid EIA was carried out for the project (Schucking, 2009). Furthermore, several surveys and site inspection reports have indicated the frustration and the lack of information that various Dongria Kondh village settlers have about the Vedanta’s project (MOEF, 2010), showing a lack of proper public consultation. While Vedanta Resources and the state of Orissa were pushing for the final clearances, the Dongria Kondhs and several international NGOs, such as the Survival International, were expanding their own fight against the project through the many rallies and protests in which they demanded the officials to carry out a comprehensive EIA and to revoke Vedanta’s granted permits. Nevertheless, in 2008, India’s Supreme Court approved the Niyamgiri mining project (Bhattacharya, 2010).
In light of the findings of several independent EIAs (Schucking, 2009),and as a result of growing controversy caused by the case, in 2010 in an unprecedented move, India’s Environment Minister put a halt to Vedanta’s mining project based on its violation of the forest laws and disregard of the native people (Bhattacharya, 2010). However, the Dongrias and the NGOs opposed to the project have not yet won. The Orissa government has promised Vedanta access to bauxite in Niyamgiri (Bhattacharya, 2010), and in 2011 they appealed to the Supreme Court challenging the MoEF decision in cancelling Vadenta’s mining clearance (The Economic Times, 2011). With all the reconsiderations in this case it would be of no surprise if the project is once again approved in the near future.
In my opinion, three aspects of this case are especially intriguing. Firstly, there is no denying that such large scale projects could be of high economic benefit to the poor people of Orissa. Nevertheless, this should not serve as an excuse for the project to avoid comprehensive EIA. Instead, the potential economic benefits should be part of the EIA so that all the relevant information is considered in reaching the final decision about the project. Secondly, it is apparent from this case that international NGOs have amassed great influence and power, with which, comes great responsibility. It is important that NGOs make sure that they represent the views of all the locals, avoid any bias, and consider the effects of the projects on various scales. Indeed, if they are not careful, it is possible for powerful NGOs with adamant principles to do more harm than good. Lastly, having experienced EIA’s lack of influence in developing countries, the halt of a major mining project conducted by a very powerful mining company in India gives me hope for the future stance and power of EIA in the developing world.
Bhattacharya, Prasenjit (2010) “Vedanta Won’t Abandon India’s Niyamgiri Mining Project” Dow Jones Newswires. Retrieved from: http://www.epcengineer.com/news/post/1728/vedanta-wont-abandon-indias-niyamgiri-mining-project
EPG (Environmental protection group) (2005). “A Brief Report on Ecological and Biodiversity Importance of NiyamgiriHill and Implications of Bauxite Mining”. Retrieved from: http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb5/soziologie/sel/naturbezug/docs/epg_orissa_report.pdf
Mittal, T. (2008). ” The Many Keepers of Niyam Raja”. Tehelka Magazine,5 (31). Retrived from: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main40.asp?filename=hub090808themany_keepers.asp
MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) (2010). Retrieved from: http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/rpt_usha.pdf
Murthy, A & Patra, H.S (2005) “Environment Impact Assessment Process in India and the Drawbacks” Retrived from:http://www.freewebs.com/epgorissa/ENVIRONMENT%20IMPACT%20ASSESSMENT%20PROCESS%20IN%20INDIA%20AND%20THE%20DRAWBACKS-1.pdf
Schucking, Heffa. (2009) “Briefing on Vedanta and Niyamgiri Hills” Sassenberg: Urgewald
Survival International. (n.d) Retrived from: http://www.survivalinternational.org/about/niyamgiri
The Economic Times. (2011) “ Niyamgiri Bauxite Mining Project: SC Issues Notice to MoEF, Orissa govt, Sterlite Retrieved from: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-04-22/news/29463083_1_niyamgiri-hills-environmental-clearance-forest-advisory-committee