ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Voices from Niyamgiri

The unanimous vote by 12 gram sabhas in Odisha's Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, rejecting Vedanta Aluminium and the Orissa Mining Corporation's plan to extract bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills, is a historic and significant precedent that could determine the course of similar developments in other tribal areas in India.

The recent assertion of religious and cultural rights over their habitat and habitation, recognised by the Supreme Court under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act – better known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 – by 12 villages of indigenous Dongria Kondh communities in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts of Odisha is a landmark development. Not only will it have a negatively impact on the course of global mining giant Vedanta Aluminium, the Indian arm of London-based Vedanta Resources Plc’s Rs 50,000 crore investment in bauxite mining and an alumina refinery, but it also lays the legal ground for many more communities in India to fight displacement on religious and cultural considerations.1

This development also brings to the fore the importance of the little known and less practised Human Rights Impact Assessment under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – the “protect, respect and remedy” framework.2 And it will remind future investors of the implications of turning a blind eye to undertaking such an assessment and sharing it with the affected communities, before putting a project on the ground. This is the costly omission that the roughly 400 forest dwellers brought forcefully to the notice of Vedanta and the state’s Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) at the 12 gram sabhas (village councils) that took place over two months, the last of them on 19 August 2013.

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