Monday, July 28, 2008

Bauxite vs beliefs in India: The case of Sterlite & the Dongria Kondh

Vedanta Resources wants to dig into the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa to feed an alumina refinery. The native Dongria, who are animists, claim that this will desecrate their sacred hills & upset their mode of life. From the Oxford Analytica
"The David and Goliath battle will be settled a thousand miles away in New Delhi by solemn moustaches in subfusc cloaks. India's Supreme Court will decide whether Sterlite Industries, Vedanta's Indian subsidiary, can proceed with the project. If this were a Bollywood film, the villagers would destroy their rapacious corporate oppressors in a game of cricket; yet in real life, big business usually triumphs"
I liked the Lagaan reference. Orissa has ~70% of the Indian bauxite deposits. The Niyamgiri hills have ~73 million tonnes of high quality bauxite. The 1995 recoverable reserves of bauxite were 2462 million tonnes. In perspective, the Niyamgiri hills have ~3% of the total Indian bauxite deposits. One thing that strikes me is that this indicates that there are other places which make up 63% of the Indian bauxite reserves. An overly simplistic solution may be to look for a different site. This is not feasible because the company has already built a processing plant at the base of the hills. Some cost-benefit analyses might be in order to settle this. Both industry and environmentalists in India will be closely watching this verdict.

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Resources:

Distinctions among different types of aluminas (bauxite is hydrated alumia).
USGS minerals sheet on bauxite.
A somewhat old report from TERI on the bauxite reserves in India.

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