On August 24, India’s Environment Ministry rejected a plan by a global metals mining company to mine bauxite in India’s east coastal State of Orissa. The proposed mine area, the Niyamgiri Hills, is the ancestral home of highly traditional tribal people, as well as an abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna. The ministry’s decision resulted from multi-pronged strategy that included a series of cases brought before the Supreme Court of India. Advocacy in the cases relied, in part, on briefing assistance prepared by Bill Lockhart, a professor of law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, in cooperation with the principal Indian attorney, Shri Ritwick Dutta.
“This is a victory for survival of vulnerable tribal peoples whose very livelihoods and culture would inevitably have been destroyed,” Lockhart stressed. “It’s also a major win for an important and sensitive ecosystem, including critical Asian elephant habitat and elephant migration corridor.”
The Niyamgiri decision follows on earlier success in obtaining another important order by the Delhi High Court in a similar case challenging bauxite mining of tribal mountain lands near the village of Jerilla in the adjacent State of Andhra Pradesh. In April, the Delhi High Court rejected arguments by the State, Central Government and mining company, and required them to respond in detail to pleadings and briefing prepared for Advocate Ritwick Dutta by Professor Lockhart and students in his spring 2009 International Environmental Practicum. The claims were presented on behalf of Samata, an Indian non-governmental organization that works on behalf of tribal peoples. They included arguments based on India’s equivalent of the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act, and also demanded compliance with traditional and customary rights granted to tribal peoples under India’s Forest Rights Act and Constitution, further supported by a challenge to the formula being applied for bauxite pricing, which they claim grossly diminished any compensation due to the tribal people.
The latter case was the subject of an extended article jointly prepared by Professor Lockhart and the Practicum students, and published by the ERC Journal in Spring 2009, titled “Institutional Civil Disobedience vs. The Rule of Law” arguing that the decision by the Government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests to approve the mine in question so thoroughly disregarded basic requirements of law that it constituted institutional civil disobedience, but without any of the redeeming value of that strategy.
Click here to read an Economic Times article about the Niyamgiri controversy.
Click here to read an article in India’s Deccan Chronical about the Delhi High Court decision in the Jerilla Village matter.
Click here for an update on the Ministry of Mines’ decision not to permit bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district by AP Mineral Development Corporation until environmental and tribal concerns are addressed.
For a sense of the place and the affected tribe, see the video The Real Avatar: Mine – Story of a Sacred Mountain here.