Billionaire NRI Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Resources has made it clear that it will not look at mining bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills to feed its Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Odisha until it gets approval from the local community.
"In deference to the sentiments of the community, Vedanta confirms it is not seeking to source bauxite from Niyamgiri bauxite deposit for its alumina refinery operations and will not do so until we have the consent of the local communities," Vedanta said in a statement on Friday.
The announcement comes nearly four months after the Ministry of Environment and Forest turned down Vedanta's mining proposal, paying heed to the local villagers' verdict.
All the 12 gram sabhas held in July-August last year had unanimously expressed opposition to the mining operation in the hills saying it would violate their social, cultural and religious rights.
"Accordingly, in terms of the MoU with the government of Odisha, which assures supply of 150 million tonnes of bauxite for our processing facility, we are working with the state government and pursuing alternate options for our long-term bauxite security," Vedanta said.
The tribal villages, located on the hill slopes, are part of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.
They were selected after a Supreme Court order directing the Odisha government to conduct meetings of gram sabhas for deciding whether mining will impact the religious, community and cultural rights of the villagers, especially their right to worship Niyam Raja, the deity.
Agarwal had earlier told PTI, "Niyamgiri was a very small deposit and they (the Odisha government) have promised us that they will give this and also work on other deposits.
They are working on other deposits and I am looking forward if they can take faster decision."
The mining plan at the "sacred" hills had in the past received a lot of flak from both within and outside after the local tribal Dongria Kondh and Kutia tribes raised hue and cry. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi also extended his support to the locals.
"All operations of Vedanta are following IFC guidelines for sustainable development, adopting the principle of environmentally responsible growth with an eco-human countenance and we shall continue to work closely for community development in and around the refinery location,"Vedanta said.
The one million tonne per annum (mtpa) Lanjigarh alumina refinery and mining in the Niyamgiri hills have been surrounded by controversies since the beginning and Vedanta and its partner Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) have been battling it out during the last few years at different courts to keep the two projects alive.