“No government has authority to call gram sabha. It is only supposed to assist gram sabha called by villagers for settling claims,” said Lok Shakti Abhiyan president Prafulla Samantara, an intervener in the Odisha Mining Corporation versus Union ministry of environment and forest case in Supreme Court relating to bauxite mining in the hills for Vedanta group’s alumina plant at its slope.
Describing the the state government’s decision to conduct gram sabha in 12 villages as “arbitrary and unlawful”, Samantara said the Odisha government should withdraw the notifications for the meetings and inform the villagers to have their gram sabha with individual community and religious right claims.
On April 18, the Supreme Court in its order had said the decision of the gram sabhas of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts was crucial on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in the hills – home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribals, portrayed in western media as “Na’vi” from Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.
The Odisha government had issued notices to the collectors of the two districts to call gram sabha meetings in 12 villages – five in Kalahandi and seven in Rayagada – and complete the process within three months as stipulated by the Supreme Court. Last week, it decided to hold the meetings between July 18 and August 19.
But the state government’s move has drawn flak from social activists as well as the Union tribal affairs ministry. Besides, selection of just 12 villages while there are more than 100 villages in and around the hill has also raised eyebrows, though the state government has maintained that it was only following the apex court order.
The Union ministry has asked the state government to arrive at the exact number of villages where gram sabha was to be held. On the other hand, Union tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has sought the Odisha governor SC Jamir’s intervention to protect the interests of the tribals.