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Indian court reserves judgement on Vedanta mining

NEW DELHI, July 25 (Reuters) - Britain's Vedanta Resources Plc VED.L agreed on Friday to pay compensation to tribal people displaced by a planned bauxite mine in eastern India, as India's Supreme Court concluded hearings and reserved judgement.

ActionAid, which has been campaigning against the mine, said the court was now expected to issue a written report on the “modalities and conditions” under which mining could proceed.

The court had earlier asked Vedanta's Indian subsidiary Sterlite Industries STRL.BO to draw up a decent rehabilitation and environmental protection package before giving the green light to the $800 million project.

On Friday, Sterlite promised to spend five percent of the profits from the bauxite mine, as well as from an adjacent aluminium refinery, on rehabilitation.

The court reserved its judgement until a later date, but conservationists said irrespective of the verdict, the fight by the tribal people of the area will continue.

“The discussion in the courtroom today was all about financial profit and loss,” Alice Willson, a spokeswoman for ActionAid.

“We are awaiting the judgement, but the resolve of the people to protect their homes, their land, their food and their religion and livelihood is strong as ever,” she said.

Vedanta wants to dig open-cast mines in the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa state to feed the refinery it has already built there.

The local Dongria Kondh tribe says the mine will destroy hills they consider sacred, force them from their homes and destroy their forest-dependent livelihoods.

“It is a very important project not only for us but for the state of Orissa,” C.V. Krishnan, a senior Vedanta official told Reuters.

Lawyers opposing the Vedanta project argued that a more detailed rehabilitation package should be worked out.

Willson said it was "baffling" to see the government backing Vedanta's plan and arguing "for the wholesale sell-off of precious minerals at bucket-shop prices". (Reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Simon Denyer) (For the latest Reuters news on India see in.reuters.com, for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in/.)

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