“The decision to abandon the project does not mean that the government is against development,” Gandhi, a general secretary of the ruling Congress party headed by his mother, told members of the Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh communities at Lanjigarh in Orissa today. “No development can take place at the cost of the livelihoods of the poor and tribals.”
Vedanta, controlled by billionaire Anil Agarwal, was awaiting permission to mine bauxite, used to make aluminum, for more than four years. The Environment Ministry on Aug. 24 dismissed Vedanta’s plan, saying it would damage the tribes’ way of life and the environment of the Niyamgiri hills they revere.
Gandhi, visiting Lanjigarh for the first time in two years, said he had promised the local population he would fight for their cause in New Delhi. The tribes feared losing natural resources they depend on for a living.
The groups, supported by human rights campaigner Amnesty International, Aviva Investors, the fund unit of the U.K.’s second-largest insurer, a Vedanta shareholder, and the Church of England opposed Vedanta’s plans to mine the Niyamgiri hills to feed its 1 million-metric-ton refinery.
Gandhi had last year declined public appeals by leaders of the Indian National Congress to take a cabinet position as preparation to become India’s prime minister, and has focused on building and democratizing his party.
Protests over securing land for industry have delayed projects, especially those of global steelmakers. Posco, South Korea’s biggest steel company, has had a plant proposed for Orissa delayed by farmers’ protests since 2005.
Proposals by the world’s largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, to set up a $10 billion factory each in Orissa and neighboring Jharkhand state have also been thwarted because of delays in land acquisition.