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In India, local tribe battles UK giant Vedanta over bauxite mining

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Even remote areas of densely populated India are inhabited by unskilled, impoverished people who cannot easily diversify away from farming or forest-dwelling. But India’s 1-billion-plus population – around 40 percent of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank – needs the economic growth that only industrial growth will bring.

Tribal people are among India’s poorest, scoring lowest on all economic and social indicators from income to literacy.

Tribal people’s rights

Earlier this month, commenting on the government panel’s findings, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said Vedanta may have violated rights of the 8,000-member Dongria Kondh. "The letter and spirit of the Forest Rights Act of 2006 has not been implemented by Vedanta," he told journalists, referring to the law that governs rights of tribes on forest lands they inhabit.

Mukesh Kumar, chief operating officer of the project, denies that Vedanta has violated any rights. “This thing will not affect anything,” he says, referring to the government report. “We expect the government to give us permission to start operations any day now.”

He adds that no tribal people lived in the 721-hectare area covered by the mining lease. “Where there is bauxite it is totally barren; there will only be mining,” he says.

But nongovernmental organizations and activists who oppose the mine say the project could have catastrophic effects on the local environment. It is feared the mine could dry up dozens of perennial streams and two rivers that run through the hills, while pollution could damage fruit orchards and plants said to possess medicinal properties.

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