Writer and social activist Arundhati Roy on Sunday said saving Niyamgiri hill was a greater achievement than any literary accomplishment.
“In today’s world, saving a hill is a very big thing. Writing a book or winning the Booker Prize is nothing compared to it,” the Man Booker Prize winner (1997) said at a function organised by Bhubaneswar-based literary magazine Nishan.
Praising the Dongria Kondh tribals of Niyamgiri who successfully stalled Vedanta Group’s proposed bauxite mining in the hill, Roy said they showed to the world the art of resistance.
“Some continued struggle inside the forest, some outside it. Some took the struggle to the streets of New Delhi and stock exchanges of London.”
Roy, however, cautioned that the struggle was not over yet, as the company still had its alumina refinery at the slope of the hill in Kalahandi district, about 500 km southwest of Bhubaneswar.
“Lot of games will be played to run the refinery. If not Niyamgiri, they will try to source bauxite from some other hill and that has to be checked,” she said, adding that the struggle would continue till the refinery was closed for good.
According to a 2004 memorandum of understanding between the Vedanta Group and Odisha government, state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) had to supply bauxite to Vedanta’s 1 million-tonne refinery.
Not able to mine the hill due to stiff protest from the tribals, who revere the hill as their god ‘Niyamraja’, and problems in getting clearance from the Union ministry for environment and forest, the OMC had moved the Supreme Court.
In an order on April 18, the Supreme Court asked the forest dwellers to decide if mining in Niyamgiri hills — home to nearly 10,000 Dongria Kondh tribals, besides other tribal groups — would affect their religious and cultural rights.
In accordance with the order, gram sabha (village councils) meetings were held in 12 villages in Niyamgiri hill, spread over Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, between July 18 and August 19.
All 12 gram sabhas unanimously voted against bauxite mining.