The seventh gram sabha held on Monday to decide proposed bauxite mining in Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills for Vedanta Group’s alumina refinery at its slope voted against it with the tribals asserting their religious and cultural rights over the hills.
The gram sabha was held at Phuldumer village in Kalahandi district, more than 500 km southwest of Bhubaneswar. “Out of the total 65 voters, 49, including 32 women, were present in the gram sabha,” said a district administration official.
Reflecting the same view as the earlier six gram sabhas, the seventh one too passed a resolution stating that mining would not be allowed under any circumstances as it would adversely affect the tribals’ religious and cultural rights.
“The whole Niyamgiri is our God Niyamraja,” the resolution said.
This is real bad news for the group as well as state owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), which was supposed to supply bauxite from the hills to the former’s refinery, because a majority of the 12 villages where gram sabhas have scheduled to be held as per a Supreme Court order have already rejected the proposed mining plan.
As such, state government officials said, opposition to mining even from a single gram sabha was enough to attract serious attention from the Union ministry for environment and forest.
Odisha scheduled tribe and scheduled caste secretary Santosh Sarangi said after gram sabha process was completed in all the 12 villages around the hills, the state government would forward their outcome to the Union environment and forest ministry.
“They will take a final call on it,” Sarangi said.
On April 18, the Supreme Court in its order had said the decision of the gram sabhas of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts was crucial on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in the hills – home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribals, besides other tribal groups.
Following the apex court’s order, the Odisha government had issued notices to the collectors of the two districts to complete the process of gram sabhas in 12 villages – five in Kalahandi and seven in Rayagada – between July 18 and August 19.
The proposed mining in Niyamgiri hills is vital for Vedanta Group, which has signed a MoU in 2004 with the Odisha government. The MoU includes supply of 78 million tonnes of bauxite by the OMC to Vedanta’s alumina refinery at the hills’ slope in Lanjigarh in Kalahandi.
Not being able to mine the hills due to stiff protests from tribals, who rever the hills as their god ‘Niyamraja’ and problems in getting clearance from the Union ministry for environment and forest, the OMC had moved the Supreme Court.