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India’s Rahul Gandhi to Meet Tribes at Vedanta Refinery Site

India’s Rahul Gandhi will hold a rally tomorrow at the site of an aluminum refinery of Vedanta Resources Plc, whose plan to mine bauxite in the area was rejected as a threat to local tribes and the environment.

Gandhi, general secretary of the ruling Congress party, is scheduled to address members of the Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh communities at Lanjigarh in Orissa, said Prasad Harichandan, a member of Gandhi’s party in the state, where it is part of the opposition.

Vedanta, controlled by billionaire Anil Agarwal, was awaiting permission to mine bauxite, used to make aluminum, for more than four years. The Environment Ministry yesterday dismissed Vedanta’s plan, saying it would affect the tribes and wildlife.

The tribal 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.

The tribes, which consider the hills sacred, feared losing natural resources they depend on for a living.

Gandhi 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. Three of Gandhi’s ancestors -- Jawarhalal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and his father Rajiv Gandhi -- have ruled India as prime minister for 38 of the country’s 63 years.

Calls to Rahul Gandhi’s office in New Delhi to confirm his visit went unanswered.

$8 Billion Expansion

Vedanta’s refinery may already be getting bauxite from mines without environmental approval and must show its operating permit is valid, Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said. Withdrawal of the permit would threaten a planned $8 billion expansion of the complex.

A four-member panel set up by the environment ministry to assess Vedanta’s proposal said “allowing mining in the proposed lease area by depriving two primitive tribal groups of their rights over the proposed mining sites in order to benefit a private company would shake the faith of tribal people in the laws of the land,” according to an Aug. 16 report.

The company has breached laws including the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act, the panel said.

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