Vedanta's new mine threatens the cultural and economic rights of the Dongria Kondh people who live in the Niyamgiri hills in easten India Photograph: guardian.co.uk
Local councils and the Church of England will come under fire tomorrow for holding shares in a top London-based company alleged to be pursuing an industrial scheme that would damage a sacred site and increase the threat of climate change.
Bianca Jagger, the human rights campaigner, will use the annual general meeting of Vedanta Resources to urge investors to use their influence and prevent the business from opening a massive open-cast bauxite mine in virgin forests on the mountain of Niyam Raja in eastern India – considered a holy site by the local Dongria Kondh people.
"I will be appealing to investors, which include the [UK] government's own staff pension fund, the Church of England and borough councils such as Middlesbrough to stop Vedanta going ahead with a mine that will damage the cultural and economic rights of the Kondh people as well as the fight against climate change," Jagger said last night.
There is plenty of proof that the best protectors of the forests and other vital eco-systems are local people themselves, said Jagger, who is chair of the World Future Council and is working in cooperation with the British charity ActionAid. "All the studies in Latin America show that land suffers when indigenous people are chased out of their ancestral land by gas, oil and logging concessions," she said.
Vedanta was not available for comment but the group, a member of the FTSE 100 group of leading London stock market players, has previously argued that the project in the Orissa region will bring vital jobs and economic development to an impoverished area.
Headed by the billionaire Anil Agarwal, Vedanta has won the support of the Indian government for a project that would exploit more than 670 hectares of land and for which a bauxite refinery has already been built.
Jagger and others from ActionAid plan to be outside the Vedanta meeting at Lincoln's Inn with a yellow mining digger to illustrate the kind of mining assault waiting to be unleashed on the Niyamgiri Hills and the sacred mountain.
They are not the only ones that have been highly critical of Vedanta with Norway's sovereign wealth fund ejecting the mining group from its list of approved investments on the basis of a poor reputation on the environment and human rights.
Critics claim Vedanta promised not to go ahead with the scheme if the local people objected but even though there have been protests, Vedanta is proceeding. Sitaram Kulisika, a Kondh tribal member who will be at the meeting, will tell shareholders – if given the chance to speak – that his people's way of life and even their future is threatened.
Jagger says it is "absolutely scandalous" that local inhabitants have to implore investors and companies to respect their human rights. She believes there needs to be an environmental court of justice set up to protect these interests.
"I appeal to the Church of England to realise that this mining project not only endangers the culture and beliefs of the tribal community but is also extremely damaging to the environment," she said.
"It will have a severe impact on wildlife in the area - including leopards and tigers - in addition to destroying rivers, streams and plant life."
The Church has shares in Vedanta worth £2.5m ($4.1m).
Vedanta is about to start mining bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills, to be processed at a refinery that has already been built in the area.
Bauxite is used to make aluminium.
The company and its Indian partner have been accused of forcing people to move from the land.
Many tribal peoples in the area are animists and regard the Niyamgiri hills as sacred.
Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group spokesman Edward Mason said that he would meet tribal representatives and officials from Vedanta to discuss the project, which was a cause of concern.
"We are keen to use our influence as a shareholder to improve corporate behaviour," he said. "We work to a robust ethical investment policy... in areas where there are concerns we talk with the companies and hear what they have to say and what we expect from them."
A statement by Vedanta issued to the BBC said that the company was committed to developing the project "in line with the best international standards for environmental management" and in such a way that it benefited people living in the region.
"We are proceeding with the project on the basis agreed with the Indian Supreme Court, and we urge campaigning groups to respect the decision of the legitimate authority in India, the world's largest democracy," the statement said.
LONDON: The Church of England and other shareholders of the mining company Vedanta braced for major protests at their annual meeting with a young Kondh tribal joining celebrities to demand an end to mining plans on the bauxite-rich mountains of Nyamgiri in Orissa.
As major shareholders, who also include local councils in Britain, gathered for the Annual General Meeting, the movement against Vedanta operations in Nyamgiri gathered the celebrity support of human rights campaigners Bianca Jagger and Arundhati Roy.
Owned by Indian-origin billionaire Anil Aggarwal, Vedanta's plans to build an open-pit mine for bauxite threaten the ecologically sensitive mountain, which is a sacred site for the Kondhs, said Sitaram, a representative of the tribe, who travelled all the way from Nyamgiri.
"We cannot live without our god mountain and the forest and we will continue our peaceful struggle. It is a life and death battle and Kondh people are united on this," said Sitaram, whose travel was sponsored by ActionAid, a campaigning nongovernment body.
Jagger and Roy also lent their voices to the mounting protests against Vedanta Resources plc, which is a member of the FTSE 100 group of leading companies in the London Stock Exchange.
"I will be appealing to investors, which include the [British] government's own staff pension fund, the Church of England and borough councils such as Middlesbrough to stop Vedanta going ahead with a mine that will damage the cultural and economic rights of the Kondh people as well as the fight against climate change," Jagger said.
Vedanta, the core of whose assets lies in India, was not immediately available for comment but the group has previously argued that the project will bring vital jobs and economic development to the region.
Writer and activist Arundhati Roy, in a recent letter to protesters, said bauxite mountains are part of a very delicate ecosystem.
"...Today, in the era of climate change, surely it's time to realise that forests, river systems, mountain ranges and people who know to live in ecologically sustainable ways, are worth more than all the bauxite in the world," Roy said.
Vedanta chairman Aggarwal said in the Annual Report published last week: "I am ...pleased to report that the Indian Supreme Court has cleared the bauxite mining project at Niyamgiri. We expect to commence mining our own bauxite from Niyamgiri in the current year."
Protesters, who include large NGOs such as Survival International, Amnesty International, Action Aid, War on Want and many Indian activists, hope to replicate their campaigning success with the Norwegian government.
In 2007, the Norwegian Ministry of Finance excluded Vedanta from further investmentsof the Norwegian government's pension fund after its Council on Ethics warned of "an unacceptable risk of contributing to severe environmental damages and serious or systematic violations of human rights by continuing to invest in the company".
Vedanta Resources plc, the company behind a devastating new mine in India, is facing disruption to its London AGM over its actions
The campaign against a British mining company which plans to destroy the mountain homeland of a remote Indian tribe is being brought to the streets of London today.
Activists are marching on the AGM of Vendanta Resources plc, calling on shareholders to vote against proposals to open a massive bauxite mine in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. Mining will destory a large part of the Niyamgiri Mountain, spiritual home of the Kondh tribal people.
The 8,000-strong Kondh tribe is dependent on the mountain for their crops, water and livelihoods.
Halifax Pension Fund, Lloyds TSB Group Pension Fund, Norwich Union Life and Pensions Ltd and Unilever Pension Fund, amongst others, are all named as beneficial shareholders in the controversial mining conglomerate.
A number of local and regional authorities - including Suffolk County Council, Havering Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council - appear in the register by virtue of their pension funds.
The Church of England and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have also indirectly bought shares in Vedanta.
Protests block progress
Repeated protests by the tribal people have blocked the mining plans of one of Britain’s biggest companies, leading to a costly delay.
Vendanta announced in January that the mine would start ‘in a month or two’ but so far protests have prevented any progress.
ActionAid, which is asking shareholders to oppose the mining, pointed out that the destruction of an equivalent iconic cultural site such as Stonehenge would not be tolerated in the UK.
'Last year Vedanta directors promised not to mine without our consent,' said tribal activist Sitaram Kulisika.
'I am here to request all shareholders to honour that promise and save our livelihood and our god. We have been living in harmony with this mountain, these forests, these animals for generations. Vedanta has been here for less than 10 years. They cannot tell us what is best for our future.'
Vedanta runs into a London storm over Orissa mining plans