15 January 2014

In India, a first ‘‘environmental  referendum’’ saves the Dongria Kondh

The Dongria Kondh are a tribe of around 8000 persons who live in the Niyamgiri Hills of the State of Odisha (formerly Orissa), a state of more than 40 millions inhabitants located in the East of India (between West-Bengal and Andhra Pradesh).

The  Dongria Kondh rely heavily on the forest wherefrom they draw most of their resources (fuelwood and construction wood, wild mangoes, pineapple, honey, various medicinal plants, etc.). They also cultivate about one hundred plants and have orchards on the slopes (oranges, papaya, aromatic plants). 

It was in 2003 that the mining company Vedanta Resources appeared in the Dongria Kondh area, following the discovery that one of their mountains contained a particularly rich kind of bauxite ore. Present on the London Stock Exchange, employing 100,000 people and belonging to an Indian billionaire, Vedanta Resources did everything possible to exploit this ore, requesting the expropriation of the Dongria Kondh and promising them marvels in case the company could start its activities. 

With the mobilisation of their population, the support provided by the international NGO Survival and even of Rahul Gandhi who is expected to replace the current Indian Prime Minister as head of the majority Congress Party, the Dongria Kondh obtained from the Supreme Court, after years of struggle, the right to determine by vote the future of the mining project. Finally, having unanimously rejected the project during the consultation ordained by the Supreme Court in April 2013, the Dongria Kondh won, and Indian authorities decided to cancel the project.

Let’s remind here that since 2006, India has a law that recognises the rights of indigenous people (Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act - Recognition of Forest Rights of 2006, promulgated in 2008). The implementation process of this law has been slow and variable depending on the states, as the land isue, like agriculture, are part of the state responsibilities in India and not of Union Government responsibilities. In October  2012, a march, the «Jan Satyagraha» had mobilised 45,000 poor and landless to defend their right of access to land and forest resources.

Here we have an example, small when compared to the size of the Indian sub-continent, but that demonstrates that it is possible for local communities to defend their rights of access to natural resources, provided they mobilise and succeed in getting national and international support.


Further information and readings

  1. -Survival, Victory: India saves ‘Avatar tribe’ from Vedanta mine, 13 janvier 2014

  2. -The Guardian, Tribal survival: the Dongria Kondh

  1. -Forests: rural communities caught between markets and the objective of conserving the planet, on


Last update:    January 2014

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