Environment ministry rejects Vedanta's Niyamgiri project

Just hours after clearing South Korean major Posco’s multi-crore steel project in coastal Jagatsinghpur district in Odisha, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on Saturday refused to give its nod to another controversial project in the eastern state — the London-based Vedanta group’s proposed bauxite mining project in eco-sensitive Niyamgiri hills, spread over the two tribal-dominated districts of Kalahandi and Rayagara.

The MoEF’s decision, however, has not come as a big surprise to anybody in the state, not even the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government, which had tried hard to see the project through, because all 12 gram sabhas (village meetings) in the two districts convened last year to decided the fate of the multi-crore project had strongly disapproved the proposal. 

“After the 12 gram sabhas, it had almost become certain that the project would be rejected by the Central government,” said the state’s Steel and Mines Minister R K Singh.

The village meetings — five in Kalahandi district and seven in Rayagara — were organised by the state government on the direction of the Supreme Court. The judges of the local courts in both districts had supervised the meetings as per the order of the apex court. The outcome of the meetings was conveyed in writing by the state government to the Centre last year. The state unit of the Congress has welcomed the MoEF’s decision, saying that it was a much-awaited victory for the tribals of the Niyamgiri hills, who had fought relentlessly against the implementation of the project.

The ruling BJD, on the other hand, expressed displeasure over the decision. “The gram sabhas should have been organised in all the villages in and around Niyamgiri hills and not in 12 villages only. If these village meetings were organised in a free and fair manner, the final outcome would have been different,” said Balabhadra Majhi, the Kalahandi district unit president of the BJD.

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