At its summit, the northeastern ridge of the Niyamgiri hill range has a bald patch, typical of hilltops with bauxite deposits. A dense tree cover that provides a welcome shade to climbers struggling some 8 km up the steep forest path gives way to a vast stretch of open grassland.
A full-grown leopard silently pads across the open expanse. Up here, all is at peace. For now.
Down below, in Lanjigarh and in the faraway plains of Bhubaneswar and New Delhi, a battle is being fought over this hilltop. On one side are environmental, political and human rights activists and local people who wish to preserve this hill, its forests, and a way of life.
On the other, is a multi-million dollar company, Vedanta Resources Plc, powerful enough to bend rules, which wants to tear open the hilltop for what lies beneath, and a state government eager to hand over its mineral treasures to private companies. The final decision rests with the SupremeCourt. Stakes are high, on all sides.
Maureen Nandini Mitra visited Lanjigarh to understand the project, its promoters, its proponents and opponents and what all this holds for the environment and economy of the country.