INDIA: Churches hail halting of permission for Vedanta's mining

September 1, 2010

Churches in India have welcomed the government in Delhi's decision to withdraw its permission for a mining project of the Vedanta group in the remote tribal areas of eastern Orissa state that stirred controversy.

"The decision of the Ministry of Forests and Environment is an achievement and a fruit of the peoples' struggle. It is proof that the peoples' movement and struggle is still powerful," said the National Council of Churches in India in a statement.

Vedanta's mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills had drawn criticism from environmentalists and human rights activists who said it was destroying the area's ecosystem and would have wiped out the Khond people's sacred mountains wile displacing thousands of other people.

The message from the national body for 30 Orthodox and Protestant churches followed the Aug. 24 announcement by Jairam Ramesh, the federal minister for forests and environment, that the government has withdrawn permission for the mining project of London-based Vedanta Resources.

"There has been very serious violation of the Environment Protection Act, Forest Conservation and Rights Acts by the Orissa government and Vedanta which mined bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills," Ramesh told journalists in New Delhi when he announced the government's decision that followed several inquiries and court orders since 2005.

Several church groups had joined protests of tribal people and others under the banner of the National Alliance of People's Movements, which had been at the forefront of the protests.

Congratulating the tribal people and others who struggled for their lives, the NCCI statement "commended the solidarity and support of the organizations, movements and well meaning people both in India and outside for their support and solidarity."

The Church of England in February divested its 3.6 million British pounds (US$5.6 million) from Vedanta because of concerns about the company's approach to relations with communities where it operates. This followed advice it got from its ethical adviser, who sent an investigator to visit the proposed site of the mining company's open-cast bauxite mine and its existing refinery in Orissa.

"This is a victory for the peoples' movement. We congratulate all those who stood up in this fight," Samuel Jeyakumar, chairperson of the NCCI's Commission for Justice, Peace and Creation, told ENInews on Aug. 31 after the church body collected thousands of online signatures against the Vedanta project.

The success will boost "ongoing peoples' protests" in several parts of India especially against South Korean steal company Posco, which is also in Orissa, said Jeyakumar, who is also the general secretary of the Student Christian Movement in India. The SCM wrote to counterparts in Korea and took part in a recent march against POSCO, which is trying to evict locals to set up its giant steel plant on the east coast of Orissa, Jeyakumar said.

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