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India's First Environmental Referendum: How Tribal People Protected the Environment

July 2015

Citation: ELR 10656

Author: Mahesh Menon

In an unprecedented event in 2013, a group of tribal villagers in the Indian state of Orissa (also known as Odisha) rejected the proposal of Vedanta Aluminium Ltd. to mine for bauxite in their territory. The rejection was made through environmental referendums held pursuant to orders of the Supreme Court of India. The result of the referendums put to rest, at least for now, the plans of Vedanta Resources PLC, a London-based major mining company, to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri range, a hill tract that the Dongria Kondh, the local tribal group, considers to be one of their sacred sites. Although the referendums have now forced the government to deny permission to mine at Niyamgiri, closer analysis reveals systemic failures of all government agencies involved in this project to consider the interests of the Kondh tribal people, and it is reasonable to expect that the environmental victory may be short lived.

Mahesh Menon is Assistant Professor of Law at West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences.

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