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India Rejects Mining Project to Protect Indigenous Tribal Land

  • Anjana Pasricha

The Indian government has rejected a controversial mining project that it believes would have threatened the survival of an indigenous tribal group. The government's action is being seen as a new effort to protect the rights of indigenous tribes and ensure sustainable growth.

The Indian government rejected British-based Vedanta Resources' plan to mine bauxite in the eastern Orissa state after a government report concluded the project would deprive tribal people their rights and source of livelihood.

The report also said the proposed open cast mine would drastically affect the ecosystems vital to the Kutia and Dongria Kondh indigenous tribes.

These tribes regard the Niyamgiri Hill range – the site of the proposed mining project – as sacred. They also rely on the land for their livelihood.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh declared as "unacceptable" any violation of the protection extended to the habitat of these tribes.

A high profile leader of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, told the tribes they had won the battle for their rights.

He said they had been successful in making their voice heard far away, and had fought for their rights peacefully. He said they had managed to save their land.

The project had been the target of a high-profile global campaign. Activists had compared the plight of these tribes to that of the fictional Na'vi tribe portrayed in the Oscar-winning Hollywood film "Avatar." In the film, the Na'vi is desperately trying to stop humans from mining under their sacred home.

The company had said that the project will bring jobs and development to one of India's poorest regions. It said the mine would cause minimal disturbance to the habitat.

The government says it is not opposed to expansion of mining and industrial projects. But it says any development will have to follow rules and laws.

The bauxite mining project is one of several industrial projects that are being closely watched to ensure compliance with environmental laws.

The government says it is also wants to avoid alienating farmers and local communities whose land may be used for mining, industrial and infrastructure projects.

Development experts say India faces a struggle to ensure sustainable growth as the demands of an expanding industry come in conflict with the needs of rural India.

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