India Top Court Says Niyamgiri Tribes to Decide Vedanta Mining

Vedanta Resources Plc, seeking to mine bauxite in the eastern state of Odisha for a $9 billion aluminum project, must win the approval of the tribes inhabiting the Niyamgiri hills, India’s top court said.

Tribal right over land is recognized and the local authority of the tribes must clear the proposal, a three-judge panel headed by Aftab Alam of the Supreme Court said today in its ruling. The environment ministry will take a decision on granting a lease in three months, based on the report of a panel to be appointed by the Odisha High Court, it said.

Vedanta’s partner Orissa Mining Corp. had challenged the federal government’s August 2010 decision to deny permission because it would affect the livelihood of the Niyamgiri hill tribes. Orissa Mining has a pact with Vedanta, owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal, for supply of bauxite from these mines.

Unit Vedanta Aluminium Ltd., which operates a 500,000 metric ton smelter in Odisha state, is delaying commissioning a new 1.25 million ton factory for want of alumina. Its alumina refinery has been shut since December as local supplies of bauxite suffered after permits held by miners in the neighboring states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh expired.

The environment ministry said March 13 the mines don’t need fresh approvals to renew those licenses, clarifying an earlier court order and paving the way for supplies to Vedanta to resume.

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