“It is time now for Vedanta to gracefully respect public sentiment and pack off its establishment”
Efforts of Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL), belonging to London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc, to mine bauxite ore in Niyamgiri hills in Odisha received a severe blow on Monday with the 12 palli (gram) sabha also voting against mining there.
This is the first time an environmental referendum is conducted on a directive by the Supreme Court to find out whether mining in Niyamgiri will tantamount to an infringement of the religious, cultural, community and individual rights of local forest-dwellers.
The gram sabha held here – a non-descript inaccessible village about 85 km from the district headquarters town of Rayagada district of Odisha – was the final one in a row of palli sabhas held so far in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts that rejected mining in the hills.
VAL has already set in motion the process to put pressure on the State government for allotment of alternative mining sites in nearby areas.
Niyamgiri hills, home to 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs, a primitive tribal group, a few hundred Kutia Kondhs and other forest-dwellers who eke out a living cultivating pulses, paddy and collecting naturally-grown horticultural crops, is considered sacred by the indigenous tribes and others as it is the abode of Niyamraja – their presiding deity.
After the unanimous resolution opposing mining was adopted, tribal people from neighbouring areas celebrated the ‘success’ of their decade-old agitation against mining in Niyamgiri by dancing with traditional musical instruments.
Braving heavy rain, 12 voters from Jarapa said they were ready to face bullets to stop digging of bauxite in Niyamgiri.
“Niyamraja has blessed us with a rich forest and eco-system. We will not allow anyone to damage the sacred mountain on top of which he lives from time immemorial,” declared local activist Lada Sikaka.
District Judge Sarat Chandra Mishra told The Hindu that all resolutions passed at the gram sabhas would be sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests as per the court order.
Mr. Mishra, who trekked nearly 60 km to attend seven gram sabhas as an observer, said it was a challenging experience for him as the villages are located on remote hilly terrains.
“As all gram sabhas unanimously have rejected mining in the hills despite the sinister design by the Odisha government and ruffians engaged by Vedanta, it is time for Vedanta to gracefully respect public sentiment and pack off its establishment,” Lingaraj Azad, leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, told The Hindu.
Sterlite (now VAL) signed a MoU with the Orissa Mining Corporation for a joint venture to mine bauxite ore from Niyamgiri in 2003. VAL commissioned its alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, located at the foothills of Niyamgiri, in 2007, by investing R.4,500 crore with an initial capacity of one million tonne per annum. After shutting it down for eight months due to raw material scarcity, it was reopened in July and now runs at almost half of its rated capacity.
A top official of Vedanta, before attending the AGM of Vedanta Resources in London, was quoted as asking where else one could run an alumina refinery if not in Odisha? Informed sources told The Hindu that 19 mining leases applied by VAL were pending before the State government.
The sources said that even if chances to extract ore from Niyamgiri were bleak, there was scope for mining in Kurlapeta, Sanbarmalli, Boflamalli, Chandalgiri, Kotikidongar and other hills close to Niyamgiri. “The entire hill range is rich in bauxite ore,” a senior revenue official said.
Keywords: Niyamgiri hills, 12 gram sabhas, Vedanta mining, illegal mining, Dongria Kondhs, Vedanta Aluminium Limited