iconimg Sunday, July 05, 2015

Priya Ranjan Sahu, Hindustan Times
Bhubaneswar, July 19, 2013
Vedanta Aluminum’s proposal to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills for its aluminum plant was rejected unanimously at the first gram sabha held on Thursday, with tribal people asserting their religious and cultural rights over the hills.

The gram sabha was held at Serkapadi village in Rayagada district, 500 km southwest of Bhubaneswar. It passed a resolution stating that mining would not be allowed under any circumstances as it would impinge the religious and cultural rights of the tribal people.

“Out of the total 44 registered voters in the village, 36 were present at the gram sabha,” Rayagada collector Sashi Bhusan Padhi said.

All those present, including 20 men and 16 women, opposed mining.

On April 18, the Supreme Court had passed an order stating the decision of the gram sabhas of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts was crucial to whether mining should be allowed in the hills – home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribal people.              

Following the apex court’s order, the Odisha government had issued notices to the collectors of the two districts to hold gram sabhas in 12 villages, five in Kalahandi and seven in Rayagada, between July 18 and August 19.  

The state government’s decision, however, has drawn flak from social activists as well as Union tribal affairs ministry who said gram sabhas should be held in more than 100 tribal villages around Niyamgiri hills.

The proposed mining in Niyamgiri hills is vital for the Vedanta Group, which has signed a MoU in 2004 with the Odisha government. The MoU includes supply of 78 million tonnes of bauxite to Vedanta’s alumina refinery near the hills in Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district by stated-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC).

Not being able to mine the hills due to stiff protests from locals, who revere the hills as their god ‘Niyamraja’, and problems in getting clearance from the Union ministry for environment and forest, OMC had moved the Supreme Court.