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How Orissa tried to mislead Vedanta panel members

delhi Updated: Aug 17, 2010 00:46 IST

Not just threats, the Environment Ministry panel on Vedanta's bauxite mining in Lanjigarh district was taken for a ride for two days allegedly by Orissa government officials.

"We were made to meet tribal groups who favoured the bauxite mining project," said a committee member, not willing to be quoted.

All four members did not visit the project location at the same time. While N C Saxena, who was first to visit did not face any such problem, other members such as S Parasuraman, Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, had to hire a private taxi to meet the Dongaria in Nyamgiri Hills to find why they opposed the project.

"We felt that something was wrong when we did not find any opposition as there had been complaints against the project. The initial visits were orchestrated," he said.

What they found at the hills was reflected in the report submitted to Environment and Forest minister Jairam Ramesh.

"We worship Niyam Raja and Dharini Penu. That is why we don't fall ill," said Narendra Majhi, a Kutia Kondh from Similibhata village, while emphasising on why the forest land should be protected.

A Dongaria Kondh tribal Sikoka Lodo, from Lakpadar village said: "As long as the mountain is alive, we will not die".

The two primitive tribes have been dependant on Nyamgiri Hills for centuries for their livelihood.

"Since the forest resource satisfy the bulk of their material needs, only four households out of 50 supplement their income with wage labour," the report said.

The report also said the forestland, where the project was coming up, was sacred for the tribals as they practiced rotational cultivation to maintain "soil fertility," thereby making majority of the families self reliant.

One indication of this economic well-being cited in the report was the bride-price recently paid in the Dongaria Kondh village, where Rs 50,000 in cash, two buffaloes, 20 kg of rice and 10 kg of salt, chillies and ragi was paid to bride's family.

"Despite the scale of such outlay, no funds were borrowed from moneylenders…This entire sum was raised by the sale of agricultural and forest produce. No one in the village has ever worked for a wage," the report said.

These were some of the reasons citied in the report for opposition to bauxite mining.

Ramesh had earlier said that some members of the committee were threatened in Lanjigarh during their inspection of the project area, where 1.21 lakh trees are to be cut for bauxite mining of three million tonnes every year and it was reflected in submissions of some of the members.