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Tribals scuttle Odisha government, Vedanta's dreams

S T Beuria BHUBANESWAR: August 19, 2013 3:17 IST
Local tribals in the two backward Odisha districts of Kalahandi and Rayagara have dashed the state government and London-based private sector company Vedanta’s ambitious plan to build a bauxite mining project in eco-sensitive Niyamgiri hills.

In all the 12 “Gram Sabhas” (village meetings) held in the tribal villages located on the hills, spread over the two districts, to decide the fate of the mining project as per the directive of the Supreme Court, the villagers completely rejected the state government and Vedanta’s proposals.

The local administration of the two districts had organised the meetings under the supervision of the judge of a local court chosen by the Orissa High Court as per the order of the apex court in April this year.

The last of the 12 Gram Sabhas was held on Monday at Jarapa under the Muniguda block of Rayagara district.

As expected, locals belonging to the primitive tribe Gandaria Kondh objected to the mining project on the ground that they not only depend on the important hills for their livelihood but had also been worshipping it for generations.

“We will not allow the mining project at any cost. There will be a bloodbath if the project is implemented forcibly. We will not permit anybody to touch our Niyam Baba,” a highly-placed source in the Rayagara district administration told Deccan Herald, quoting the tribals.

The Niyamgiri Surakhya Manch, the local organisation that has long been spearheading the tribals’ protests against the proposed project with the help of NGOs both inside and outside the country, organised a Vijay Utsav (victory celebration) after the last Gram Sabha on Monday.

The tribals were also backed the Congress and the UPA government at the Centre which had rejected the mining project, leading to the Supreme Court's intervention.

The Gram Sabhas, however, had their share of controversies too. The ruling regional outfit in the state, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and a local organisation supporting the project had raised their objections to the presence of local Congress leaders, including Lok Sabha member from Kalahandi Bhakta Charan Das, and NGO representatives in the meetings, and accused them of influencing the tribals into violating the Supreme Court order.

Das, an All India Congress Committee spokespersons, had rejected allegation that he was trying to influence the tribals, but had justified his presence in some of the Gram Sabhas, insisting that he had the right, being the local elected representative.

Similarly, the presence of two foreign nationals in one of the Gram Sabhas had also raised a question mark. Interestingly, during the village meetings in the two tribal districts, activists had staged demonstrations against the project in New Delhi as well as London.

The development has once again cast a shadow over the future of Vedanta’s existing one-million-tonne-per-annum capacity aluminium plant at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district, for which bauxite was to be mined from the nearby Niyamgiri hills through a joint venture.
However, the Odisha government has reportedly assured the London-based company of providing the raw materials from other sources.

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