March 17, 2008 / 9:04 AM / 11 years ago

India tribe sacrifices animals to stop mine

BHUBANESWAR, India, March 17 (Reuters) - An ancient Indian tribe opposed to an alumina refinery by Britain’s Vedanta Resources has sacrificed dozens of chickens and goats in the hope their gods will prevent the firm’s mining plans.

Vedanta VED.L wants to dig open-cast mines in the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa state to feed an alumina refinery it has already built in the area. It is spending $800 million on the project.

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

Many of them participated at the weekend in a ritualistic sacrifice of chickens and goats as an offering to their gods and vowed to fight Vedanta off their lands.

“We performed the rituals because some of us have seen the gods in dreams telling us to protect the hills, Kumuti Majhi, a tribal woman leader, said on Monday.

The tribesmen danced for hours in front of a stone and wooden pillar, representing their gods, while shamans chanted tribal prayers to the beat of drums, police and eyewitnesses said.

After protests, India’s Supreme Court barred Vedanta in November from mining bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.

But it left a window ajar for the project by asking Vedanta’s Indian unit, Sterlite Industries STRL.BO, to come back with a fresh proposal on safeguarding the rights of local tribal people through a new investment firm.

The case comes up for hearing this week.

Environmentalists say the open-cast mine would also wreck the rich biodiversity of the remote hills and disrupt key water sources that supply springs and streams in the area and feed two rivers that irrigate large areas of farmland.

Vedanta now runs its refinery with bauxite brought from other Indian states.

“If we don’t get bauxite here locally it will not be viable for us,” Sanjay Patnaik, a company official, told Reuters. (Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)

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