Niyamgiri: Vedanta Resources plans to mine bauxite to feed its alumina refinery in Odisha - a project worth Rs 50,000 crores - are in serious jeopardy after all 12 villages whose opinion was sought have voted against mining around the hills they consider sacred.
Failure to source bauxite from within the state might force the London-listed company to reconsider its 1-million-tonne-per-year plant, which has already been shut several times due to a shortage of the raw material.
In April, the Supreme Court ordered the Odisha government to submit a report in three months based on the views of the villagers to the Environment Ministry, which had earlier opposed the project. (Vedanta vote: Ecology vs economy?)
The ministry's final decision would be due two months after that, the court had ruled.
The area is home to Dongaria Kondhs, a tribe that worships the Niyamgiri hills, beneath which large reserves of bauxite lie.
Today, the Jarpa village which has just four families, voted under tight security. "Whatever happens, even if we get killed we won't allow mining to happen here," said a young woman wearing a bright red dress.
The Lanjigarh plant in Kalahandi district, about 450 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, has been struggling to source bauxite since its commissioning in August 2007.
The company recently restarted the plant after a shutdown of nearly seven months as it sourced bauxite from other states, but executives have said that cannot be sustained unless it acquires the raw material in Odisha.
"I believe the state government is working and we will get bauxite. And we will get the plant running," said Anil Aggarwal, Chairman, Vedanta Resources.
The state's mining minister Rajnikant Singh said today that the referendum is "not a question of victory of anybody or defeat of anybody".
He added that the government "is exploring the possibility of looking at aluminium reserves within Odisha at those in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts. Fresh possibility of exploring is being made."