After an Indian state shut a copper smelter run by Vedanta Resources following deadly protests, the company faces another challenge 1,000 miles away, where axe-toting tribesmen and environmentalists have joined forces to demand the closure of an alumina refinery.
An alliance of activists and local people have for years blocked London-listed Vedanta’s plans to mine bauxite in the green, jungle-clad Niyamgiri hills of eastern Odisha state, which the tribespeople consider sacred.
The killing by police of 13 people protesting against the copper smelter in Tamil Nadu, to the south, has given fresh impetus to their campaign to also close the Odisha refinery run by the company’s Indian unit, Vedanta Ltd. The company is seeking to expand the plant.
“We’ll shed our blood for Niyamgiri, we will die for Niyamgiri,” tribal leader Lado Sikaka, carrying an axe hooked onto his shoulder blade in the fashion of men from his community, told a crowd of several hundred at a rally near the refinery, in the remote town of Lanjigarh, on June 5.
“Vedanta can give jobs to only a few but Niyam Raja has given us everything,” he said, referring to the hill-god of the community’s traditional animist religion. “We will keep fighting till the end. We will intensify our agitation.”
The poster behind him demanded: “Polluter and killer company Vedanta to quit India. Tribute to martyrs of Tuticorin”.