Rahul vows to protect tribals

Says true development is respecting the poor, not muffling their voice

Rahul vows to protect tribals

 Making a visit here against the backdrop of the Centre rejecting environment clearance for the Vedanta’s bauxite mining project, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday hailed the decision as a victory for the tribals and vowed to fight for their cause.

“True development takes place by respecting interests of the poor and tribals and not by muffling their voice,” he said refuting charges that the Centre’s action in negating bauxite mining in Niyamgiri was against development and progress.

Two days after the Union Environment Ministry rejected environment clearance to UK-based Vedanta’s $1.7 billion bauxite mining project in the Nyamgiri hills citing serious violation of forest and environment laws, Gandhi arrived here on a brief visit to show solidarity with the tribals.

Addressing a tribal rally marking “Adivasi Adhikar Diwas” (Rights Day) in Jagannathpur village at the foothills of Niyamgiri hills close to Vedanta’s alumina refinery, he said he would he would be their “soldier” in Delhi and continue their fight.

“In my religion, all are equ-al — whether it is rich or poor, dalits or adivasis. Wherever an individual’s voice is being stifled, that is against my religion,” he said addressing the tribals without making any direct reference to the Vedanta project.

There has been criticism of the project to mine bauxite in the tribal-dominated hills which the locals and the activists say would deprive them of their livelihood.

Recalling his visit to the area in 2008, Gandhi said a group of advasi youth had told him then that the hill is their god and that it is being destroyed. They worshiped the hills as their god with utmost devotion.

“This is your victory. It is a victory of your voice, it is a victory of the adivasis,” Gandhi said to the loud cheers of the assembled gathering which shouted slogans hailing him.

Citing examples of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and New Delhi, he said development in Congress-ruled states was taking place rapidly by hearing the voice of the poor and weaker sections.

Constant support

Reaching out to the tribals, Gandhi said though he extended constant support, the tribals of bauxite-rich Niyamgiri have tasted victory by saving their land, habitat and rights through their own peaceful battle.

Maintaining that his job as a soldier of tribals was not over, he said it was only a beginning as he along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi would continue to fight for the rights and interests of the tribals.

Rejecting the criticism that Centre’s decision to deny environment clearance was against development, Gandhi said in the name of development, rights of adivasis were being suppressed.

“It is not development when rights of the poor is taken away. Development means to take everybody onboard,” Gandhi said.

Those seeking to pursue industrialisation must realise that development cannot be achieved by snatching away the rights and land of the poor, he said, adding, it was the UPA government which sincerely heard and honoured the voices of the poor tribals of Niyamgiri.

38 arrested before Rahul’s visit

At least 38 persons belonging to pro-Vedanta group were on Thursday taken into custody while attempting to stage a black flag demonstration at the venue of the public meeting of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, reports PTI from Lanjigarh, quoting police sources.

Local people under the banner of ‘Lanjigarh Anchalika Vikas Parishad’, which called a two-day bundh in this industrial town, arrived at the ground at Jagannathpur located behind Vedantas refinery unit with black flags. They were booked under section 151 of the CrPC as a preventive measure and released after the departure of Gandhi.

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