The Indian government is not providing adequate information about the hazards caused by an aluminium refinery of British mining major Vedanta in Orissa though it poses a serious threat to the health of the local communities, an Amnesty International report released here Tuesday said.
The report, ‘Don’t Mine Us out of Existence: Bauxite Mine and Refinery Devastate Lives in India’, documented how the refinery, operated by a subsidiary of Britain-based Vedanta Resources in Orissa, is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of the local people and their access to water.
Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International’s researcher in South Asia, said: “People are living in the shadow of a massive refinery, breathing polluted air and afraid to drink from and bathe in a river that is one of the main sources of water in the region.
“It is shocking how those who are most affected by the project have been provided with the least information. The local people, who constitute Adivasis, Dalit and other marginalised sections of the society have told us how authorities have told them that the refinery would transform the area into another Mumbai or Dubai,” he added.
According to Gopalakrishnan, the Orissa state pollution control board has documented air and water pollution from Vedanta Aluminium’s refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa. The refinery is near a river and although it is clear that the polluted air and water is a health hazard, there is no health monitoring being done.
Quoting one of the local Adivasi woman, the report said: “We used to bathe in the river, but now I am scared of taking my children there. Both my sons have had rashes and blisters”.
Gopalakrishnan said: “Despite the threats, there are plans for a six-fold expansion of the refinery which will compound these problems. Neither the Indian authorities nor Vedanta has shared information on the extent of pollution and its possible effects on local communities.
“The Orissa Mining Corporation and another Vedanta resources subsidiary also plan to mine bauxite in the nearby Niyamgiri Hills. The proposed mine threatens the very existence of the Dongria Kondh, an 8,000 strong protected indigenous community that has lived on the Niyamgiri hills for centuries,” he added.
The Niyamgiri hills are considered sacred by the Dongria Kondh and are essential for their economic, physical and cultural survival, yet, according to the report, no process to seek the community’s informed consent has been established.
Quoting a Dongria Kondh tribe member, the report said: “The hill is our god and the earth our goddess. Between the two we have the rains and the water. Those wanting to mine here will slowly take over this. Where will we go then?”
“The people of Orissa are among the poorest in India and their health is being threatened on a daily basis by the refinery. We, therefore, call upon the Indian government and Vedanta Resources to ensure that there is no expansion of the refinery and mining does not go ahead until existing problems are resolved,” Gopalakrishnan said.
The report is based on research over a period between August, 2008 and September, 2009.