Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation



Mining Conflict in the Niyamgiri Hills, India

Type of conflict main
Intensity 1.5
Southern Asia
Time 2009 ‐ ongoing
Countries India
Resources Biodiversity, Water, Forests
Conflict Summary Plans to mine the Niyamgiri Hills fostered conflicts between indigenous peoples in the eastern Indian state of Odisha and a large multinational mining...
Mining Conflict in the Niyamgiri Hills, India
Plans to mine the Niyamgiri Hills fostered conflicts between indigenous peoples in the eastern Indian state of Odisha and a large multinational mining corporation based in the UK. The local indigenous groups have successfully protested and forced India’s Supreme Court to stop all plans to mine the Niyamgiri.
Conceptual Model

Intermediary Mechanisms

The Niyamgiri Hills is home to the Dongria tribe; a group of approximately 7000 people, whose cultural and spiritual identity is deeply tied to the hills. Vendata’s project would have disrupted the social, cultural, and ecological fabric of the life of the tribe.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

The process of building the refinery was fraught with multiple conflicts, including the forced resettlement of over a hundred tribal families, the pollution of land and water, and the loss of traditional livelihoods. Seeing the negative impacts experienced by neighboring tribal communities, the Dongria tribe vehemently protested against Vedanta’s mining license to expand operations to their hills and forests.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversEconomic developments lead to changes in land use.Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity undermines the livelihoods of agricultural producers.Livelihood insecurity fuels grievances between groups.Livelihood insecurity leads to growing discontent with the state.A broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
Conflict History

This conflict has been a well-known case in the mineral-rich state of Odisha in India, involving some of the world’s oldest surviving indigenous peoples. The Dongria tribe of Eastern India has been under intense pressure from the state government as well as Vedanta, a London based mining company, to make way for Bauxite mining.

The Dongria tribe and the Niyamgiri Hills 
For many centuries, the highly endangered Dongria tribe have inhabited the hills that contain an estimated $2 billion worth of bauxite deposits (Bennett, 2014). The Dongria are a group of approximately 7000 people who have lived peacefully across the hills in small villages scouring the hill forests for food, growing crops and worshipping Niyam Raja, their Mountain God. Their cultural and spiritual identity is deeply tied to the Niyamgiri Hills; the Dongria believe these hills have been responsible for sustaining humanity by ensuring a system of thriving streams, forests and biodiversity. The Niyamgiri Hills are acknowledged in the Indian Wildlife Act for their natural beauty and rich wildlife (George, 2014).

Vedanta’s proposed project
Vedanta’s proposed project was to mine approximately 72 million tonnes of bauxite from these hills over more than two decades (Chaturvedi, 2014). This would have included blowing off the top of Niyam Raja, and disrupting the social, cultural and ecological fabric of the life the tribe has successfully preserved for a long time. Much before Vedanta received permission to mine, it invested several million dollars in setting up an alumina refinery downstream in the foothills of Niyamgiri that would be fed bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills to produce high quality aluminium. The process of building this refinery has been fraught with multiple conflicts, including illegal encroachments on forest land, under-valued land acquisitions leading to forced resettlement of over a hundred tribal families (Wasley, 2009), unregulated pollution of land and water, and loss of traditional livelihood opportunities (Odisha Sun Times, 2014).

The Dongria tribe's Response 
The Dongria tribe has taken particular lessons from the experiences of neighbouring tribal communities impacted by the setting up of Vedanta’s refinery to raise unequivocal concern against the company’s plans to expand operations and mine their hills and forests. The Dongrias have protested locally and nationally against Vedanta’s mining license for more than a decade, including holding a number of public demonstrations, eventually forcing the Supreme Court of India to intervene. The court required 12 of the most impacted Dongria Kondh villages to vote their opinion and decide the fate of Vedanta’s mining proposal (Chaturvedi, 2014). 

Resolution Efforts

In a landmark decision, all of the 12 village councils voted against Vedanta and denied the company any legitimacy to mine the Niyamgiri Hills.  The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the tribe’s denial to mining has allowed this conflict rooted in environmental and socio-cultural values to become an exemplar case (George, 2014) worldwide demonstrating an indigenous group’s fight against state government-led support to a mining company.

Aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Vedanta’s plans to mine Niyamgiri hills for Bauxite have now been completely stalled and have cost the company up to $10 Billion (Chaturvedi, 2014).  The scarcity of bauxite has also meant the refinery being shut down intermittently in the past, resulting in widespread economic losses for Vedanta. The communities of Lanjigarh, the area surrounding the refinery, have also been impacted by unstable employment and resulting loss of livelihood sources. With no bauxite mine of its own (Odisha Sun Times, 2014), Vedanta’s refinery plant has been operating at 25% of its current capacity over the past several months (Dehury, 2013). The company therefore, continues to actively engage with the state government to find new mines to ensure bauxite supply for its refinery.

With support from the state government, Vedanta is currently pursuing plans for a six-fold expansion of the Lanjigarh refinery, moving from the current 1 million ton per annum (MTPA) to six MTPA in the future (Dehury, 2013). Expansion plans and public meetings have so far met with strong protests, including some incidence of violence and widespread local opposition not only from the Dongria tribe of the Niyamgiri hills (George, 2014) but also local Lanjigarh residents and the Jharania Kondh (Helyar, 2009).

Future concerns
At the same time, there remain serious concerns over the future of the Dongria tribe in light of their proximity to the refinery downstream (the Dongris dwellings are located only 3.5 kilometers away from the refinery) (PTI, 2014). Additionally, the emergence of a new pro-industry central government in power in 2014 may bring other options for Vedanta. The company may decide to challenge the Court’s decision, hold community consultations with the Dongria tribe and the 12 village councils that voted against mining in 2013.

The conflict is far from over yet. The threat of a mining invasion on the Niyamgiri remains with potentially serious consequences for the physical, spiritual and mental health of the Dongria community (Mazoomdaar, 2013). Vedanta’s past performance in addressing social and environmental impacts, as well as revenue mismanagement across their mining operations in other parts of Odisha (Odisha Sun Times, 2014), India (PTI, 2014) and overseas, particularly Zambia (Zambia Lii, 2011), does not instill confidence in the communities currently opposing its refinery expansion and bauxite mining plans in and around the Niyamgiri Hills. 

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Biodiversity, Water, Forests
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence Violence has ceded completely.
Reduction in geographical scope The geographical scope of the conflict has decreased.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Conflict resolution strategies have been clearly responsible for the decrease in conflict intensity.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Dongria tribe
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Indian Government
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Other local residents
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Surpeme Court of India
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Mediation & arbitration The Supreme Court of India intervened and required 12 of the impacted Dongria villages to vote for or against the company’s mining proposal. After the villages unanimously voted against the mining project, the Supreme Court upheld the landmark decision and Vedanta’s plans to mine the Niyamgiri Hills has been completely stalled.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse