How a Huge Indian Alumina Refinery Lies in the Hands of a Local Tribe

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They may be few in numbers, but are enough to take on the might of a US $1.7 billion dollar alumina project.

For at least five years now, a tribe in India’s eastern state of Odisha has being steadfastly opposing the mining of bauxite by Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL), a unit of the multinational Vedanta Resources run by billionaire Anil Agarwal.

The opposition has been so fervent that the 1-million-ton-per-year plant had to shut down and remain closed for seven months at a stretch after it ran out of bauxite. A few days ago, the plant came back online, but the tribe, the Dongria Kondhs, whose welfare rights are protected by the Indian Constitution, remains resolute.

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It seems to be in no mood to relent or accede to the need of VAL to mine bauxite from their land situated in Kalahandi, a district that once became infamous throughout India for its extreme poverty levels and starvation deaths.

At the center of the controversy is a hill that not only has the community temple, but also a forest from which the tribe earns its livelihood. Unluckily for Vedanta, this is also the hill that has a high amount of bauxite, a much-needed raw material in producing alumina. Vedanta is still optimistic that the tribe members will give in.

A report filed by the Press Trust of India just days after the refinery re-started had quoted the company’s COO Mukesh Kumar as saying he was hopeful that at the end, his company would start receiving the raw material from Odisha itself. In a telling remark of the frustration being felt by the VAL officials, the COO went on to add that if aluminum industries were not able to survive in Odisha, which had the highest concentrate of bauxite, then they could not come up anywhere else in India.

For five years, VAL has been keeping its fingers crossed, hoping against hope that it would be allowed to mine the local bauxite.

To be continued in Part Two.

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