India’s Supreme Court Rejects Bauxite Mining in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills

India’s Supreme Court Rejects Bauxite Mining in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills
A sunset view from Kalahandi District. Source: Wikipedia

India’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that it could not issue an order for bauxite mining to begin in Odisha without getting input from local governments and other stakeholders in the area.

The court required that the Odisha Mining Corporation add the fourteen gram sabhas (local councils) that objected to the move as parties to the suit. The firm approached the councils anew in order to seek permission to conduct mining in the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hills.

The controversy began in 2010 when Odisha Mining and Vedanta formed a joint venture to seek government approval to conduct operations in Niyamgiri hills. The move led to protests by the local Kondh tribal people, who established a committee to determine whether the joint venture complied with the relevant environmental laws. The committee determined that it had not.

Three years later, the Supreme Court ordered new local councils be formed to take up the question. The local councils again rejected the project.

In Friday’s proceedings, Justice Ranjan Gogoi told the joint venture’s attorney that, unless local councils were added as parties to the suit, ruling on the merits would not be proper. Sanjay Parekh, an environmental attorney, told the court that issuing such permits to the joint venture violates the constitutional rights of the environment and the people of the tribes involved. However, the issue of the tribal councils proved decisive.

The issue arrived at the court in January 2014 on an appeal from the ministry of environment and forest’s decision to reject the joint venture’s application on the grounds of the lack of approval by the local councils. The court denied the claim at that time owing to a ruling by the lower court in favor of the local councils in 2013, also citing the local councils’ disapproval of the joint venture’s request to mine bauxite in the area.