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Vedanta Flouting Laws: Environment Minister

NEW DELHI - India's environment minister on Saturday accused London-based resource giant Vedanta of violating local laws with a mining project in an area held sacred by a tribal group.

Vedanta's 125-billion-rupee (2.7-billion-dollar) investment in the Niyamgiri Hills in the eastern state of Orissa has emerged as a test case in India, pitting industrial interests against those of indigenous peoples and the environment.

The open-caste bauxite mine is intended to feed a nearby aluminium refinery already built by the company and currently supplied with bauxite from other Indian states.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh said an official team visiting the site had found several violations by the firm, which has come under fire from rights and environmental groups.

"I would not subscribe to the high-profile campaign in the case by various groups," the Press Trust of India quoted him as saying.

"I am looking at the case on merit basis.... But I can say that they have violated Forest Rights Act, without taking consideration of the tribal rights," Ramesh told the news agency in New Delhi.

The 2006 Forest Rights Act offers protection to various forest-dwelling communities of India.

Ramesh did not go into details on the alleged violations but said the company had already started construction on state land without government approval.

His comments come less than a month after Vedanta denied the company would be mining anywhere near the tribal site in Orissa and said it would bring employment and development to the impoverished region.

(AFP, 14th March, 2010)