Vedanta down 0-2 in bauxite match, targets new game

Written by Sandip Das | Kesarpadi | Updated: Jul 23 2013, 07:51am hrs
Although the second gram sabha held in Kesarpadi village, Rayagada district, Orissa, on Monday unanimously rejected the proposal to allow bauxite to be mined in the neighbouring Niyamgiri hills, Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) is hopeful the state government will help supply the raw material for its $1-billion tonne alumina plant at Lanjigarh, from some alternate site. This is the second rejection by a village gram sabha; on July 18, villagers of Serkapadi village, had opposed the mining of bauxite.

While VAL did not officially comment on the adverse outcome of Monday's gram sabha meeting, COO Mukesh Kumar said an inter-ministerial group, constituted by the Orissa government, was expected to come up with a solution. VAL officials said bauxite reserves were present in the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Korput range some 70-100 km away from the companys alumina plant in Lanjigarh.

We are hopeful the IMG's recommendation will make available bauxite for VALs refinery, Kumar told FE. Kumar met state chief secretary JK Mohapatra on Monday to apprise him of the difficulties faced by the company in the running of its refinery.

We have submitted that we be given some closed bauxite mines to operate. Even the OMC can be given the same and we would take the ore from them. We have also filed an application for mining from 25-26 small mines. Hopefully, the IMG would have considered that, Kumar said.

Orissa has one of the largest reserves of bauxite 2.5 billion tonnes and the state government needs to identify a new mining site and provide fresh mining lease to the OMC. Currently, the OMC also has the mining lease for the Niyamgiri hills and Vedanta has a sale-purchase agreement with it for the bauxite.

On Monday, all the 33 residents who were present and voted at the gram sabha meeting at the Kesarpadi village in the Rayagada district rejected the proposal.

We do not want to give up Niyamgiri hills as it's our lifeline. Mining on these hill ranges will destroy the forest upon which we depend and hurt our religious feelings, Arju Kuturuka, a resident of Kesarpadi told FE.

In the resolution passed in the gram sabha supervised by Rayagada district judge Sarat Chandar Mishra, villagers said that the entire Niyamgiri hill range is sacred as Dongoria Konds worship their deity Niyam Raja.

The various gram sabhas are being organised as part of the Supreme Court directive. Ten more such meetings are to be held with the next three slated to be held in adjoining Kalahandi districts during July 23-25 at Tadijhola, Kunakadu and Palberi villages respectively. The last such meeting would be held on August 19 at Jarpa village in the Kalahandi district. Finally, the reports of all the 12 gram sabhas will be submitted to the Supreme Court by collectors of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts by end August. The SC had also directed the ministry of environment and forests to take action in two months after it receives a report from the gram sabhas.

Vedanta, which had shut down the refinery in December 2012, re-started it from July 11 and is currently running it by sourcing bauxite from Gujarat. Company officials say bauxite, otherwise available at around Rs 500-600 per tonne, sees a price escalation if sourced from Gujarat due to transportation costs to around Rs 2,400 a tonne.

(With inputs from Dilip Bisoi in Bhubaneswar)