India forms new tribal council in wake of Vedanta victory

September 9, 2010

The Dongria Kondh are just one of many tribes in India. © Jason Taylor

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Following the Dongria Kondh tribe’s groundbreaking successful defense of their mountain homeland, the Prime Minister of India has created a new committee for tribal rights.

Led by the Prime Minister, the new ‘National Council for Tribal Welfare’ will review and guide India’s policies affecting the over 80 million tribal people living in the country. The council will bring together Ministers responsible for finance, mines, power generation, the environment, the elected heads of India’s tribal regions and others.

The Dongria Kondh’s victory two weeks ago in blocking a mine, planned by Vedanta Resources and the Orissa state government, sent shockwaves throughout India. The Environment Minister cited ‘a very serious violation of laws’ and a ‘blatant disregard for the rights of the tribal groups’ when rejecting the project.

India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram told journalists that, ‘We will not allow these extractive industries if it means destroying the environment and the natural habitat of the tribal people’.

Vedanta has also been given until 15th September to defend its refinery, built at the base of the Dongria’s hills to process bauxite from the banned mine. According to the Environment Ministry, Vedanta’s refinery has demonstrated ‘serious non-compliance’ with environmental standards and has been illegally expanded. The Ministry has asked Vedanta why it should not be immediately shut down.

Last week thousands of angry men stormed Vedanta’s refinery, causing considerable damage and bringing operations to a halt, according to reports. The men had been working on the illegal refinery expansion, and were angry at being suddenly sacked when Vedanta was forced to slam the brakes on the work.

Dongria Kondh