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Families threatened by India refinery

Families living near the Lanjigarh refinery in Orissa breathe polluted air and are afraid of washing in and drinking local water, Amnesty International said. And the Vedanta mine, run by a UK-based firm, threatens the very existence of the Dongria Kondh, an indigenous community of 8,000 people, the campaign group said. "People have a right to water and to a healthy environment but Vedanta has failed to respect these rights in Orissa,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director. “Villagers were given scant and misleading information about the potential impact of the alumina refinery and mining project. “They are living in the shadow of a massive refinery, breathing polluted air and afraid to drink from and bathe in a river that is one of the main sources of water in the region."

One woman told Amnesty that she used to bathe in the river but is now scared of taking her children there. "Both my sons have had rashes and blisters," she said. Other people told the group how the dust settled in their homes and on their clothes, left deposits on their trees, fruits, crops and water, and even on prepared food. "I was finding it hard to see before and now this constant dust from the refinery is making it even harder for me to see. My throat is constantly sore as I inhale so much smoke and dust," said a woman in Bandaguda.

Vedanta wants to expand the refinery to six times its current size but Amnesty said that the FTSE 100 company must make sure its existing operations respect human rights first. But Vedanta rejects the allegations and says the project meets government pollution guidelines and will boost the local economy, especially historically underdeveloped areas of Orissa. Vedanta says it has rehabilitated 120 families affected by the project so far, with a member of each family being given a job at the Lanjigarh refinery. Yesterday UK tribal rights group Survival International appealed to James Cameron, director of the blockbuster movie Avatar, to support the cause people uprooted by the project. It said the film's theme mirrored the tribal struggle against Vedanta. "Avatar is fantasy... and real. The Dongria Kondh tribe in India are struggling to defend their land against a mining company hell-bent on destroying their sacred mountain," it said. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children