04 August 2011
India: Human rights of Indigenous communities under threat again by ongoing legal challenge

An unfinished conveyor belt designed to transport bauxite ore from the Niyamgiri hills to the Vedanta Alumina plant, Lanjigarh, Orissa, India, June 2008 (Credit Sanjit Das).

The Dongria Kondh are an Indian adivasi (Indigenous) community living in the Niyamgiri Hills in the eastern state of Orissa. The Dongria Kondh consider the Niyamgiri Hills as sacred and depend on them as their source for water, food and cultural values.
Over the last few years, the human rights of the Dongria Kondh have been under threat by commercial plans to develop a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills without the free, prior and informed consent of the community. 

In 2009, the Indian Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF) provided clearance for the development of a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills to a joint-venture between state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and Sterlite Industries India (Sterlite), a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta Resources (Vedanta). This decision led to protests among the Dongria Kondh who fear that the proposed project will result in violations of their rights as an indigenous community to water, food, health, work and other rights to protection of their culture and identify. Furthermore, the Indian authorities had failed to consult with the community to seek their consent or provide them with prior information on the project. [1]

In August 2010, the Indian MoEF rejected the forest clearance and suspended the environmental clearance for the proposed bauxite mine after finding that the project was already extensively violating forest and environmental laws and would perpetrate abuses against the Dongria Kondh on the hills. [2]

Amnesty International is concerned that the rights of Dongria Kondh are once again under threat by OMC’s persistence to go to any lengths to get clearances to develop the bauxite mine without satisfying necessary human rights conditions.

In April 2011, OMC filed a petition before the Indian Supreme Court challenging the MoEF decision and their refusal to provide forest clearance for the bauxite mine. Human Rights defenders in Orissa are filing a petition with the Indian Supreme Court supporting the decision to deny the clearances. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the near future.

It is imperative that the Indian MoEF ensures that human rights pre-conditions be met before clearances are provided and any development of the bauxite mine is allowed to proceed. Until today, both OMC and Sterlite India have failed to undertake a proper Environmental Impact Assessment and failed to get the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous community. [3] 


[1] These adverse impacts have been extensively documented by Amnesty International in its report Don’t Mine us out of Existence: Bauxite Mine and Refinery Devastate Lives in India, 9 February 2010.

[2] Press release: India’s Government Rejection of the Bauxite Mine a “landmark victory” for Indigenous Rights. 24 August 2010.

[3] Generalisations, Omissions, Assumptions. Amnesty International. 24 July 2011.

This work is part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. The campaign will mobilise people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights. For more information visit Demand Dignity section.

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