Odisha is seeking to revive a controversial plan to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills, a lushly forested area that the Dongria Kondh tribe considers sacred, a minister said on Wednesday.
The proposal, which sparked an angry response from green groups, comes nearly two years after local residents successfully blocked a request by London-listed Vedanta Resources (VED.L) to mine in the area.
“We want the revival of this mining project because some local peoples’ representatives have told us (to do so),” Odisha’s steel and mines minister, Prafulla Kumar Mallik, told Reuters.
“Besides, it’s required to ensure long-term bauxite supply to the struggling aluminium industry including Vedanta.”
Vedanta Ltd (VDAN.NS), controlled by metals mogul Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta Resources, has set up a big alumina plant in Odisha betting on bauxite supplies from Niyamgiri.
But residents of all the 12 villages, whose opinion the state sought for a court order in 2013, unanimously voted against allowing mining there.
The company has been forced to cut jobs and output at the 1 million tonne-a-year alumina refinery due to a shortage of the raw material bauxite and weak world prices.
Mallik said he hoped locals would not oppose the plans this time, as instead of a private company, the proposals for state-run Odisha Mining Corp to extract minerals from Niyamgiri.
The state will this week seek legal opinions from an expert and then seek to obtain a permit from the Supreme Court or the federal ministry of environment and forests.
Siddharth Nayak of Green Kalahandi, an organisation opposed to mining in Niaymgiri, said it would fight the move.
“When people of the area have already given their verdict how can the state government attempt to revive this?” he asked.
“We’ll not allow mining in Niyamgiri at any cost. Their will be huge protests.”
The Dongria Kondh’s cause has also been championed by top politicians such as Rahul Gandhi and international human rights groups such as London-based Survival International.
Surival dubbed the 2013 rejection for Vedanta as a victory for the “real Avatar tribe”, taking inspiration from James Cameron’s Oscar-winning “Avatar” movie where humans battled with indigenous people on an imaginary moon for mineral rights.