ENGLAND: Anglicans probe Indian bauxite mining venture

November 4, 2009

The Church of England is assessing the ethical implications of a multi-million dollar investment in a company whose planned bauxite mine in Orissa, north east India, is opposed by conservationists.

The conservationists claim that the 2.5 million pound (US$4.2 million) investment is an aluminum project that threatens the future of the Dogria Kondh tribal people in the area.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams referred to the issue in a recent sermon in London when he said an official would examine a mining operation. This was later confirmed as the Vedanta project for an open caste bauxite mine on Niyamgiri mountain, which is sacred to the 8,000-strong tribe who believe it is the home of their God, Niyam Raja.

Anil Agarwal, promoter of Vedanta Aluminium Company, said in October that the Church of England enquiry into the project goes against the constitution of India and also violates rulings of the country's Supreme Court.

"We respect our investors and they should respect the constitution and also the highest judiciary," said Mukesh Kumar, chief executive officer of Vedanta at Lanjigarh. "We are happy to show the project area to the church officials. And also make them sure that not a single habitat will be affected by the project. They are respecting the development of the local communities, culture and livelihood."

A statement issued on Oct. 12 by a unit within the U.K. government's business department, which monitors international guidelines for multinational enterprises, alleged that Vedanta had failed to consider the impact of the construction on the tribe's rights or to consult with them.

British lawmaker Martin Horwood, who chairs the parliamentary group for tribal peoples, has described the British government's "damning verdict" as further evidence that Vedanta must fundamentally change the way it operates.

Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of endangered peoples, has met with members the Church of England's ethical advisory group to brief them on its campaign against the mine. It argues that the project will destroy not only the area's ecosystem, but the agricultural livelihood of the Dogria Kondh people and the foundation of their religion.

Vedanta Resources, a FTSE 100 company which employs 30,000 people globally, has consistently rejected as inaccurate the conclusions of the U.K. government. It has pointed out that the project will create several thousand jobs and has been approved by the Indian Supreme Court, which had directed Vedanta to create a tribal area fund for economic development.