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Mining Conflict in the Niyamgiri Hills, India

Type of conflict main
Intensity 1.5
Region
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.

Outlook
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
Intensities
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Fatalities
0
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Resources
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


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Dongria tribe
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Vedanta
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
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Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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