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India Tribes To Fight On After Vedanta
Suffers Setback

By Nita Bhalla

19 February, 2010

NEW DELHI - Indian tribals campaigning to stop Vedanta Resources (VED.L) from mining their ancestral homeland vowed on Thursday to persist with their fight as another investor sold its stake in the company over ethical concerns.

Britain's Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust sold its 1.9 million pound share in the London-listed corporate, citing concerns about Vedanta, which it said was "pushing industrialisation to the detriment of the lives of local people."

Vedanta has denied allegations that its planned bauxite mine in eastern India would violate the rights of thousands of poor indigenous tribes people, saying that all its projects are conducted within the law and using international best practices.

"We are disappointed by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust's decision to sell their holding in Vedanta," company spokesman Pavan Kaushik said.

"Vedanta remains committed to pursuing its investments in a responsible manner, respecting the environment and human rights. We will continue to engage closely with the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to address the concerns they have raised."

This is the latest blow to Vedanta which has now seen four organisations dis-invest since 2007, citing concerns over the project in the impoverished mineral-rich state of Orissa.

"The fact that four international organisations have decided to take their money out of Vedanta proves that our seven-year struggle is valid," Kumti Majhi, a 62-year-old tribesman living close to the mine site, told reporters in New Delhi.

"We feel vindicated and we will continue our fight, until more and more people see what Vedanta is doing and pull out all their support ... Vedanta will eventually have to leave."

Majhi said they were planning street protests and demonstrations and would continue to petition Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Earlier this month, the Church of England sold its 3.6 million pound stock in the company, joining former shareholders, the Norway Pension Fund and Edinburgh-based investment fund Martin Currie, who have also withdrawn.

Vedanta, listed on the FTSE 100 top shares index, wants to mine bauxite for its alumina refinery in the Niyamgiri mountain.

But the project has been stalled since 2005, opposed by activists who say it will rob around 8,000 indigenous tribes people of their ancestral home and traditional way of life.

Groups like ActionAid and Amnesty International say the site is home to three of India's most vulnerable tribes -- the Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondh and Jharania Kondh -- who rely on the mountain's springs for water and its fruit and animals for food.

They also worship the Niyamgiri mountain as their living god and hold the mountain's forests sacred.

Vedanta says it plans to mine less than one percent of the mountain range to produce one million tonnes of alumina annually. It has already invested $22 million in development.

"We want to help people in this poor area of the country and even plan to invest $130 million in socio-economic programmes in the first five years of the mine becoming operational," said Kaushik, Vedanta's spokesman.

India's Supreme Court approved the project in August 2008 after years of legal wrangles and Vedanta is now awaiting clearance from India's environment ministry.

(Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved





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