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Dongria Kondh fest: Fiat against Vedanta (VAL) icing on the cake

TNN | Feb 22, 2014, 12.21 PM IST

BHAWANIPATNA: It’s festive time for Dongria Kondhs, living on Niyamgiri Hills at Lanjigarh inKalahandi district. They started their three-day annual worship on top of the mountain, about 3 km from the foothills, on Friday.The Kondhs shot into limelight for their prolonged opposition to proposed mining of Niyamgiri Hills by Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL).

Hundreds of Kondhs from Kalahandi and Rayagada are celebrating the festival by dancing and singing traditional songs followed by sacrificing of hens, pigs and buffaloes. This time the recent rejection of forest clearance for Vedanta‘s bauxite mining project by Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has added to the joy.

Kumuti Majhi, president of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, which spearheaded the anti-Vedanta stir, said their efforts to save the hills have finally yielded results. “Our prayers to dharni penu (Niyam raja) have been answered and now we can live in peace.”

They are praying the nature god for betterment of their lives. In the morning, the tribals erected a wooden pillar, ‘khamba basa’, on the hilltop. Then they made a temporary temple of clay and started worshipping the deity known as ‘dharni penu’. The worship will continue till Sunday amid lighting of bonfires.

The MoEF rejected the forest clearance for Vedanta’s project in January. Twelve gram sabhasheld in Kalahandi and Rayagada last year had vetoed the mining proposal. The Supreme Courthad empowered the gram sabhas to decide on the project.

Read more here —


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POSCO – Shove Comes To Push – Bend It Like Moily

Steel vs steely resolve A Dongriya Kondh girl expresses solidarity with the anti-Posco cause
Shove Comes To Push
The real story of a ‘decisive’ UPA blowing away the eight-year cloud around Posco’s project

Bend It Like Moily

Seven reasons why UPA’s pre-poll green clearance for Posco is more about spiel than steel

  1. Posco got green clearance after the sudden removal of MoEF Jayanthi Natarajan, who was reluctant to sign on the file.
  2. The nod came days before South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit; Manmohan Singh keen to send positive signal to investors.
  3. Green clearance has little value without a forest clearance, which is not yet forthcoming from a sluggish Orissa govt.
  4. A captive iron ore mine and captive port were strategic to Posco’s steel plant. But the nod is only for the steel plant. Why the delink?
  5. Ignores on-ground agitation by eight coastal gram panchayats who have been protesting against their land being acquired.
  6. The forest clearance will certainly be legally challenged; the gram panchayats may vote against land acquisition.
  7. Most of these issues will fester in the pre-election period; after the announcement, UPA is leaving the headache for the next government.


On the face of it, a government in its dying days has served up a much-needed self-image booster—a decision showcasing decisiveness, speed and with high symbolism. In giving the green clearance to India’s biggest foreign direct investment (FDI) proposal by South Korean steel major Posco, the UPA government is on target in sending the right signal to global investors (rightfully) seeking more promise in India. Of course, it’s also wonderfully timed as the nod for Posco came days before South Korean President Park Geun-hye came visiting on January 15.

It was preceded, of course, by a few  deft chess moves—in late December environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan was shown the door and rep­laced by Veerappa Moily (who now holds the unique distinction of being energy and environment minister at the same time). Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi simultaneously made all the right noises about driving trucks through loopholes. And a flurry of environmental clearances—70 at last count, though the ministry website is not being updated that regularly now—paved the way for the clearance of Posco’s steel plant. The government collected its fair share of hosannas in the national media (though the local media in Orissa has been strangely muted).

Obviously, there’s a big problem here—and (this must be stated upfront) it’s got nothing to do with FDI. Many environmental and rehabilitation concerns have been raised about this massive project. By all indications, they have been swept under the carpet—or left for the courts and the future government to decide. For instance, the environment nod for Posco’s steel plant is useless without a forest clearance, which the Orissa government still needs to provide. Also, the project has been conveniently cleared by delinking it—the clearance given only to the steel plant, not to the integrated project that also envisages a port and an iron ore mining proposal.

But even in opening the door for Posco’s steel plant, has the government overlooked the people’s concerns raised by green tribunals and at least four committees? There are ser­ious agitations on the ground as we speak (see following article). It does not appear that these problems will disappear overnight. Does this nod not smack of a charade by the UPA government to show its investor-friendly credentials? Official sources agree that till the replacement of Jayanthi Natarajan, there was no talk of clearing the Posco steel project. “Just for creating some goodwill it has been cleared. There is also the question of perception and credibility of India as an investment destination,” they say.

But why would the UPA allow the open maligning of Jayanthi, a loyal party worker by all accounts? Or is there some truth to the ‘Jayanthi tax’ statement Narendra Modi made after her removal? In her own defence, Jayanthi told Outlook, “My mandate was to prevent the destruction of the environment. I do not see the environment ministry as a clearance house, therefore I needed to study every project for impact assessment.” On Moily, Jayanthi comes up with a politically correct response, stating that he is a “very seasoned politician. I am sure he will take the right decision in the interest of the country.”

Burning ambition A Dhinkia gram panchayat demonstration. (Photograph by Sanjib Mukherjee)

Modi, of course, has an axe to grind. The farmers of Orissa can take heart from the success of their brethren in Navinal village of Gujarat who earlier this month won a favourable verdict from the Gujarat High Court for their plea against the Modi government giving away their cattle grazing land to the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) project at Mundra in Kutch district. The court observed that the Adani SEZ had started operations without getting necessary environment clearances, a development that led Modi to charge that Jayanthi had been deliberately delaying clearance to collect the ‘Jayanthi tax’.


“Moily should know that clearing a file is easy but to safeguard India’s threatened environment is far more challenging.”E.A.S. Sarma, Former Power Secretary

According to an official who has worked with both Jairam Jairam and Jayanthi, while the former was superfast in some cases, he was also known to be super-slow in tricky cases. When forced into a corner, Jairam would put riders to the decisions. Jayanthi, however, was generally slow in clearing files but would try to keep to the time schedule of projects. In fact, in the Posco case, it appears Jayanthi took a cue from Jairam—not giving the environmental clearance unless all the pending cases on some 1,000 acres of tribal land were resolved.

The reports of files (around 300) having been kept pending by Jayanthi has added to the usual whispers about a pre-election funds collection for the party. As of now, it remains unclear why she was sitting on  the files. The official reason was that she was creating ‘environment bottlenecks’ in project implementation. This was reinforced by PMO sources stating that the former minister was perceived to be “generally slow. Given the situation (slowdown in economic growth and investment inflow), it was not very encouraging”. There is, however, ack­nowledgement that Jayanthi had “several complicated issues” to look into and resolve, including the case of Posco.

It’s also no secret that there has been a consistent push by the PMO over the last eight years to get the Posco project cleared. “There have been clear letters written from the prime minister’s office back in 2010 and also in 2007 when the first clearances were granted. This was also one of the submissions during the green tribunal arguments back in 2011-2012,” says Kanchi Kohli of the environmental NGO Kalpavriksha.

On the other hand, questions are being raised on the undue haste Moily has shown in clearing over 70 files within just three weeks of taking charge. Has the environment ministry become the single-point reform and clearing house for projects in the few months’ window before the elections? While Moily’s jet-speed decision-making—whether yes or no—is raising investor perception, it has made many, apart from the green lobby, very jittery.

“It is ridiculous to push through statutory clearances to please foreign dignitaries!” says former power secretary E.A.S. Sarma. “As in the case of Posco, this happened in the case of Jaitapur. Imagine, foreign governments saying, ‘Don’t worry about the environment clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act for our project. We will arrange our PM’s visit and India will cave in.’ This makes India a veritable banana republic.”

There are other issues being raised about Moily’s clearance for Posco. “By clearing Posco’s steel project in isolation, he has brazenly violated the spirit underlying the National Green Tribunal’s order of March 2012,” argues Sarma. The ngt advi­sed the MoEF to issue “clear guidelines for project developers that they need to apply for a single EC (environment clearance) if it involves components that are essential part to the main industry”, steel in this case.

Setting the limit Posco builds a boundary wall. (Photograph by Raj Chaudhury)

A sensible response to the tribunal’s order would have been to appraise the steel and the port projects together and study their cumulative impact on the people and environment. Unfortunately, in the eight years since the South Korean steel major started the process of acquiring land and getting the necessary clearances and licences, it has failed to meet many of the prerequisites as per law. Chief among them is the impact assessment of the total 12 million tonne steel plant. MoEF officials say the assessment submitted by Posco pertains only to four mt capacity.


“The pace of clearances is a hurried exercise to show favour to the industrialists before the 2014 general election.”Medha Patkar, Environmental Activist

National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena says there is considerable confusion over forest clearances. There is also a major issue with land acquisition. While the government owns 90 per cent of the 4,004 acres of the land required for the Posco project, there is a major complication as tribals have been cultivating horticulture produce there for decades. “The land required by Posco is about rich farmers. There are over 500 families who have been cultivating betel leaf and other horticulture produce on government land. Most of them earn Rs 1 lakh and some even Rs 3-4 lakh a year while the government is willing to offer only Rs 5 lakh as compensation,” says Saxena.

Apart from finding a clear case of a violation of the Forest Rights Act, Saxena—who headed a panel in 2010 to study such fra violations by Posco—finds it incomprehensible that the government has made no attempt in the last several years to prepare the families for relocation and employment as the locals are ill-equipped and face the disadvantage of not knowing even Oriya. That’s why the on-ground agitation shows no signs of petering off.

Drawing similarities with the Vedanta project which has been denied mining clearance in the Niyamgiri hills by Moily, Tushar Dash of Orissa-based NGO Vasundhara states that while both the projects are set to affect large population of tribals, it is the Supreme Court intervention that has protected the rights of Niyamgiri tribals. “In the case of Posco, the procedure of recognising and identification of the rights of the people and getting their informed consent through gram sabhas before the clearance process has not been carried out,” says Dash. He fears that after the approval for the steel plant, the port and mining proposal may also be cleared.

Kohli of Kalpavriksha hopes that it won’t be such a fait accompli as even after the delinking, “Posco can’t go ahead with the construction on the ground as another case is pending before the green tribunal from where it is clear that the Section 2 order for forest diversion has not been issued by the state government.” The environmental activist reveals that the Orissa government has just two days back recommended to the Centre that the Khandadhar mine be given in favour of Posco to source iron ore. However, we are far from environment clearance process there as well.

With many more clearances still awaited and the issues of agitating people still unresolved, there is a wait on the side of both Posco and the government to hasten the $12 bn project. It is not as yet clear whether Posco will move ahead with the construction of the steel plant sans the mine and port project clearance. “This is not the final clearance for the project. Even now the forest clearance is under challenge before the National Green Tribunal, which has stopped it from felling any trees. This has been on since April last year. The next hearing is on January 21,” says Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer.

Dutta points that the government decision of giving the steel plant a go-ahead is flawed as without the captive mine, it does not make sense for Posco to set up a mega plant in Orissa with the current supplies of iron ore produced in the state being committed. Moreover, procuring iron ore on commercial terms may mean paying four to five times more for raw input.

But try telling that to a government hell-bent on symbolism. Ahead of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India in December 2010, the environment ministry (under Jairam Ramesh) had similarly given its go-ahead—albeit with 35 conditions and safeguards—to the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, even before the MoU was signed. Jairam Ramesh, the then environment minister, had said, “Economic growth, fuel mix diversification, global dip­lomacy and environmental protection were the key objectives while giving the go-ahead.” As the French put it so well, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


Posco Players

Manmohan Singh The prime minister personally, repeatedly, enquired about the progress of the clearances for Posco; was keen to send a signal to woo back disenchanted investors on the eve of elections. Veerappa Moily Energy minister holding the green ministry portfolio? The speed of Moily’s clearances has green lobby worried on ‘conflict of interest’.

Jayanthi Natarajan The haste with which projects are being cleared since her “resignation” from the environment ministry fuels talk about ‘Jayanthi tax’ Narendra Modi Gujarat CM’s attack on Natarajan has exposed his close links with the Adanis, whose SEZ project has run afoul of farmers and green rules.

Rahul Gandhi Decries slow clearances but his identification with Niyamgiri tribals has ensured that Vedanta’s mine proposal is turned down yet again. Naveen Patnaik The Orissa chief minister’s strong support of the Posco project is believed to have waned in recent years; will have to walk the talk.


Posco Ticker

  • 2005: MoU signed between Posco and the government of Orissa. Original proposal for 5,300 acres (currently 4,004 acres, according to Posco).
  • 2007: Posco seeks and gets environmental clearance for four million tonne plant capacity (down from original proposal of 12 mt) when Manmohan Singh is in charge of green ministry
  • 2008: Supreme Court okay for “forest conversion” of site
  • 2009: Orissa government makes recommendation to Centre for giving prospecting licence to Posco for Khandadhar mines
  • 2010: Jairam Ramesh sets up four-member panel, headed by ex-environment secretary Meena Gupta, to look into environmental clearance
  • 2010: Orissa govt loses case of mines recommendation at HC; N.C. Saxena committee finds major violations of Forest Rights Act. MoEF stops land evacuation work.
  • 2011: MoEF gives final approval for “forest conversion”; Orissa HC orders status quo on private land acquisition
  • 2012: National Green Tribunal orders MoEF to conduct fresh review. (SC rules in La Farge case that environment clearance cannot be given without prior forest clearance.)
  • 2013: Final SC verdict on mining licence case in favour of Orissa govt and Posco; but no
    movement since then. Green tribunal halts land acquisition for Posco. NGT questions the two-stage forest clearance given to the project. Despite this, Posco completes land acquisition and begins boundary wall construction at plant site.
  • 2014: MoEF gives Posco environmental clearance.

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#Goodnews – Env Ministry rejects Vedanta’s mining proposal in Niyamgiri

By Urmi A Goswami & MEERA MOHANTY, ET Bureau | 11 Jan, 2014,


Environment Ministry today rejected Vedanta's controversial bauxite mining proposal in Odisha's Niyamgiri, official sources said
Environment Ministry today rejected Vedanta’s controversial bauxite mining proposal in Odisha‘s Niyamgiri, official sources said
NEW DELHI: Environment Minister Veerappa Moily has decided not to allow theVedanta Group to mine the Niyamgiri Hills for bauxite, the raw material that it needs for its Rs 4,500-crore alumina plant at Lanjigarh, ministry officials said. The decision will be conveyed to the Supreme Court this month, they added.
Moily’s decision brings to a close Agarwal’s decade-long efforts, both in and outside the courts, to source bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills, which is held sacred by the Dongria Kondh tribe. The mines were to be developed by a joint venture between Vedanta group company Sterlite and the Orissa Mining Corp (OMC). Sterlite holds majority stake in the joint venture.

The minister’s decision comes on the back of the overwhelming rejection by 12 state-government designated villages of the proposal to mine the Niyamgiri Hills. In April, the Supreme Court had ruled that villages in the two districts of Rayagada and Kalahandi were to decide if mining should be allowed in the Niyamgiri Hills


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#India – Faking Happiness is forced to Present the ‘ VEDANTA ANTHEM” #HipHop #mustshare




An Indo-German collaboration with production by the talented DJ BC from Germany and the lyrics and vocals by A-List from India. A List is a raptivist and a member of Faking Happiness campaign. This track is a quick freestyle in response to Vedanta trying to salvage it’s reputation by sponsoring , NDTV‘S ”  Our Girls Our Pride ” , a  PR Exercise and a desperate attempt to salvage themselevs after they were kicked out  by the Gramsabhas and after attempting to exploit the Dongria Kondh  tribal community in Odhisa for the Niyamgiri Hills.


Pic- courtesy Down to Earth

It has been learnt that Mining Giant Vedanta, is shitting  in their pants after  their exposure by  Faking Happiness: Activists Strike Back at Vedanta Ad Campaign, which was such a huge set back. Recently , after they were Kicked out in a Match of 12-0, by the Dongria Kondh ,  tribal of Odisha, they have once again planned a Corporate social responsibility ( CSR)  campaign, called ‘Our Girls our pride and once again, we are back with a   BANG.


Our two petitions  to NDTV and Priyanka Chopra haS crossed the 2500 mark, do sign if you have not so far, if you have not  ?





Faking Happiness also  sent birthday wishes wishes Happy Birthday Dr Prannoy Roy – Withdraw Vedanta #ourgirlsourpride

So, Now Vedanta, CSR initiative is in a soup , as many  Craetive Faces with Political Voices, join Faking Happiness Anti Vedanta Campaign , and the voices are increasing every day

Hence, what they did ?

 They kidnapped, our very own , Ashwini Mishra aka A-list while he was  recording at his studio, and  coerced him to  to sing the ‘ VEDANTA ANTHEM “, they wanted to tell world that…… they will not take their defeat down and here are the lyrics—-

We are Vedanta, everywhere that we go,
Faking Happiness, you know how we roll,
We are Vedanta, everywhere that we go,
Faking Happiness, you know how we roll,
That’s right, this is the Vedanta anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them,
That’s right, this the Vedanta anthem,
All the corporate greedy people anthem,
That’s right, let’s go ahead and do this,
We thought we’d put our corporate greed to some music,
And tell you exactly where we come from,
Come on man, this is not a protest, this not a dumb song,
You see we kidnapped A-List, he’s in the back,
So Vedanta rep could come here and rap,
And tell you the truth,
That is the youth,
That needs to understand this is so much more than booth,
Listen to this, let the world know,
Matter of fact, for the girls though,
Let’s really talk about ‘coz the world dies,
When we build a mine, but we do the girl child,
We do a program for them on NDTV,
And now look, all these emcees be free,
But they never really talk about what we do,
“Coz corporate sponsorship taken, BOOM!
Now what you gonna do, what you gonna say,
‘Coz we do this like every single day,
Exploiting poor people like it is fun,
Actually it is when that shit has done

This is Vedanta and this is our anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them,
This is Vedanta and this is our anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them

That’s right, ain’t this a crazy world,
We are evil but we got Desi Girl,
That’s right, we got Priyanka Chopra to endorse us,
Now we got all kinds of endorsements,
All sorts of people saying that it’s cool,
What they did in the past, but they sent kids to school,
But hear the truth, we didn’t send anyone though,
That’s right, and that’s how we get through the flow,
That’s right, yo, this is such a crappy fest,
We make an art form out of  faking happiness,
And that’s us, that’s the Vedanta anthem,
All the corporate greedy people chant them,
And yo, you know Niyamgiri’s ill,
And we will come back, we will take Niyamgiri Hill,
And all the tribal people who had opposed us,
Come on man, you had proposed us
To be gone, but we will be back,
And when we come, we will come, we will be wrath,
We will buy over the police and the army,
That’s right, I’m rich, tell me who’ll harm me,

Vedanta Signing Out.



Niyamgiri hills, home to 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs, 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.

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had rejected (Stage-II /final approval) Forest Clearance on 24.8.2010 for the Bauxite mining on the basis of issues outlined by the Forest Advisory Committee which stated that ‘the Primitive Tribal Groups were not consulted in the process of seeking project clearance and also noticed the violation of the provisions of Forest Rights Act, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Environmental Protection Act, 1986 and also the impact on ecological and biodiversity values of the Niyamgiri hills upon which the Dongaria Kondh and Kutia Kondh depend’ and the detailed report of Naresh Sexana Committee specially appointed to look into the issue. This MoEF Order was challenged in a petition at the Supreme Court of India by Orissa Mining Corporation.

The Supreme Court of India had decided on 18 April 2013 that if Bauxite Mining Project of Vedanta affects the religious right of Schedule Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others over the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha ‘right has to be preserved and protected’. The Court has left it to the Gram Sabhas to decide if such right is affected by the proposed mine.cts.

In India  first time an environmental referendum was 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. During July-August this year, 12 gram sabhas, selected by the Odisha government for the referendum on mining in Niyamgiri hills, had rejected the proposal. The tribal villages, located on the hill slopes, are part of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.


1.   The first  village council  was held at Serakpadi village of Raygada district.  In the sabha 36 out of 38 voters in the first Palli Sabha in Niyamgiri have voted against mining in Niyamgiri.

2.T he second, three hour long ,  village council meeting at Kesarpadi in Rayagada district-, in which -Thirty-three of 36 eligible voters , including all 23 women, voted against bauxite mining……At the three-hour-long sabha, 33 of 36 adult voters from Kesarpadi  unanimously adopted a resolution as per the Forest Rights Act, conveying their opposition to mining in the Niyamgiri hills.

3  The third village council meeting was held in a non -tribal forest hamlet of Tadijhola, which is imporant note also  unanimously rejected proposed bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills t.Nineteen of the 22 voters in the village were present  including eighty-seven year old Sugri Gouda. Hard of hearing and barely able to stand on her own, she insisted on signing the resolution before leaving the meeting venue. Three bare words she uttered drew a cheer from those present: “Niyamgiri dibu nai” (won’t give up Niyamgiri). Gauda was the also most sought after by media, with a slew of video cameras following her fragile steps as a family member walked her home.

4.  The villagers of Kunakeda, a Dongaria Kondh village in Kalahandi district, today unanimously rejected the proposal for mining in Niyamgir..All 21 out of 22 voters, who attended the meeting, voiced their opposition to Vedanta .

5  The 5th village coucil meeting w s held at Palberi, where .Fifteen of the 16 adult voters from the forest village were in attendance. and voted out vedanta.


6 The sixth Pali sabha , Batudi rejected settlement of community forest claims in Niyamgiri ,  31 among 40 voters from the hamlet in attendance, also rejected a joint verification report to settle community and religious rights to the forests granted under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

7  The seventh village council , Phuldumer – again voted unanimously to reject Vedanta’s mine.—49 of the 65 listed voters were present to voice their opinion, in the meeting.

8  Ijurupa  village council meeting was a CLASSIC ,  where there is just a famiily, and the  four  members of te family nailed down a 72 MT mining proposalvillage in Kalahandi district, Odisha

9   At Lamba ninth pallisabha ,Braving intermittent rain, the 38 voters in the remote village, ousted Vedanta

10.The largest village council fo 12 villages , Lakhpadar village under Kalyansinghpur of Rayagada district located on the slopes of Niyamgiri, the 97 Dongaria Kondhs present in the pallisabha unanimously rejected the proposal to mine the hills for bauxite.

11. Khambasi village in Rayagada district , was the  the eleventh palli sabha , which  also unanimously opposed Vedanta

12-   On August 19th In Jerapa, 16 out of 26 voters, including 10 women, gathered at the final Palli Sabha on Niyamgiri. Under heavy police presence, and in heavy rain, they repeated the statements given in previous meetings – that they opposed the mine and would not leave the mountain no matter what. The twelve voters said they were ready to face bullets to prevent the digging of their sacred mountain.

On August 19th, NDTV and VEDANTA LAUNCHED the ‘ our girls our pride’ campaign. Coincidence ?


While our friends at  FOIL VEDANTA protested on the streets of london , On August 1st at the AGM  of Vedanta , When asked about Lanjigarh refinery and the scandal that is the attempted Niyamgiri mine, Anil Aggarwal ,  responded with a dreamy speech about believing that Niyamgiri was meant for Vedanta. he talked about hearing about Kalahandi as a child – a ‘black spot’ on India, and its ‘poorest poorest place’, and how he’d always wanted to do something about it. He said:

“We took courage to go there, no road even or bridge, it was all isolated, we created infrastructure, 7000 got work, not a blade of grass was moved in Niyamgiri .”







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#India – Niyamraja’s Tribals won’t bow to #Vedanta #indigenous #mustread

Dilip SatapathyLanjigarh 



The battle is won but celebrations are awaited – that sums up the mood of tribals who unanimously rejected the plan to mine bauxite on Odisha‘s Niyamgiri hills during the course of 12 gram sabhas held here recently.

Celebrations, of course, will happen when Congress scion, Rahul Gandhi, who anointed himself as the “sepoy of Niyamgiri tribals in Delhi” at a public meeting here in 2008, visits the area again shortly.

“A delegation of 50 people from four blocks went to Delhi last month and briefed Rahul Gandhi about the outcome of the gram sabhas. He has promised us to visit Niyamgiri soon to celebrate our victory,” said Kumuti Majhi, president of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, agitating against the mining project.

It is one and half months since the gram sabhas ended. And, the villagers who participated in the referendum are still as resilient against the project as they were on the eve of the gram sabhas.

Abode of Niyamraja 
“We will not allow mining to happen on Niyamgiri hills”, Majhi said and went on to justify, “The hill is not only the abode of our sacred deity Niyamraja but also the source of our livelihood.”

Interestingly, though the Supreme Court had ordered the holding of gram sabhas to decide, if the tribals’ right to worship Niyamraja at Hundaljali, a hilltop in the Niyamgiri range, be affected by taking up mining activity 10 km away at Niyam Dangar, the tribals consider the entire 250 sq km spread of the Niyamgiri hill range straddling the two districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada as sacred to their religious belief.

“We are not aware of any Hundaljali. Our Niyamraja sits on Niyam Dangar where mining will be done,” said Ratu Sikaka of Phuldumer village.

Fears over livelihood
But more than the concern over sacrilege of their religious belief, 8,000 Dongaria Kondhs and other tribes living on the slopes of the hill range are worried over the loss of livelihood if mining is taken up there. Apart from being home to many varieties of fruit-bearing trees, the hill slopes provide thousands of acres of free agriculture land on which the tribals have claimed their ownership according to the Forest Rights Act.

In the absence of any structured land holding, tribals are ploughing on as much land as they can, to farm paddy, pulses, vegetables and spices.

“I produce enough to meet the needs of my 18-member family throughout the year and sell the surplus grain, vegetables and spices in the local market to earn Rs 2,000 every week,” says Labanya Gouda of Ijurupa village, who is cultivating on 70 acres on the hill slope.

Supported by such a self-sustaining economy and various assistance received from different government welfare schemes, tribals with limited materialist needs and unexposed to industrialisation, do not see any benefit fromVedanta‘s alumina plant or the mining project. Rather, they consider these activities a threat to their status quo. “The mining will dry up the perennial streams coming down from the hills and irrigating our land throughout the year,” Gouda said. The Vedanta Aluminium (VAL) authorities, however, discard these fears, citing the studies done by Central Mine Planning and Design Institute, a Coal India unit and Wildlife Institute of India. “There will be no impact on the streams according to the reports of these institutions,” said a VAL official.

Meanwhile, scepticism of local villagers over getting jobs in the project has further fuelled opposition against it. “Though I had lost 27 decimal land for Vedanta’s alumina refinery, I have not got a job. With the company not offering any direct job, I had approached the contractors for a job, but was disappointed when they asked for bribes,” says Sada Nayak of Kendubaradi village.

But such allegations are refuted by VAL. “Of 3,000 people working in our plant (600 permanent employees and the rest contractual jobs), nearly 80 per cent are locals,” pointed out an officer of the company. But locals, as defined by the official includes the entire state, not just the villages in the vicinity of the project.


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Ijurupa, where a family of four nailed down a 72 MT Vedanta mining proposal

Author(s): Sayantan Bera
Jul 31, 2013 | 
It’s the eighth village to reject proposed mining in a row in Niyamgiri hills

A tribal forest dweller observes Palli Sabha proceedings at Ijurupa village amid tight security (photos: Sayantan Bera)A tribal forest dweller observes Palli Sabha proceedings at Ijurupa village amid tight security (photos: Sayantan Bera) The irony was unmistakable. To take the opinion of four forest dwellers belonging to one family on the proposed bauxite mining next door, the entire state machinery was present in full swing in Ijurupa village on July 30. Somewhere in his 80s, Labanya Gouda was taken aback by the overbearing presence of 15 cars, government officials, paramilitary forces, a district judge, scores of journalists and activists at his doorstep. The family huddled inside the tent with a heavy downpour outside. Ijurupa is at the entrance to the Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi district of Odisha. The bauxite-rich flat top hills—proposed mining site spanning 660 ha—is barely one and a half kilometre from his house. The four members of the Gouda family beat expectations by rejecting the mining proposal unanimously in the Palli Sabha or village council meeting. Activists had earlier alleged that the state government selected the one-family village, leaving more than 100 other villages that will be affected by mining, to rig results in its favour. Yesterday, Ijurupa became the 8th village in a row to reject the proposal to mine the Niyamgiris for 72 million tonnes of bauxite. Four remaining villages from Rayagada district—Lamba, Lakhpadar, Khambesi and Jarappa—will take a call on between August 1 and 19 and are widely expected to reject proposed mining. Pursuant to a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court in April this year, the Odisha government drew up a list of 12 villages spread across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, adjacent to the proposed mining site, to decide if bauxite mining to feed Vedanta’s Alumina refinery in Lanjigarh will infringe on religious and cultural rights of the tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers. The Dongria and Kutia Kondh tribals worship Niyamgiri forests as their source of sustenance due its perennial streams and bountiful produce and as the abode of their supreme deity and ancestral kin, Niyamraja. The Goudas sitting inside the Palli Sabha tent (in the foreground) surrounded by media, security personnel, activists and state officials The Goudas sitting inside the Palli Sabha tent (in the foreground) surrounded by media, security personnel, activists and state officials “Niyamraja has looked after me and my grandchildren for all these years,” said overwhelmed Labanya Gouda at the Palli Sabha. “Where will I go if the hills are mined?” he asked after a long silence. “I have never seen so much of the government before,” continued Dhana Gouda, Labanya’s son. “You might shift us to a city to make way for the mines but where will our wild leopards and bears go?” A few days ago when this correspondent had visited Ijurupa, the Goudas informed they sold Rs 40,000 worth of cauliflowers last year, grown on the foothills. Besides, the family have mango trees, plots of shift and burn cultivation to grow a mix of native millets and oil seeds, along with a vegetable garden. Gouda’s extended family with four sons and two daughters survive on the bounty of Niyamgiri. Labanya Gouda’s grandson now studies at a regional Industrial Training Institute, in preparation, if the family is shunted out for mining. With all forest villages registering their opinion against mining, such a possibility looks bleak in the near future. Ijurupa is famous for another reason. In 2010, Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the Indian National Congress, visited the village to meet the Dongria and Kutia Kondh tribals and famously said: “I will be your foot soldier in Delhi.” With a Congress-run government at the Centre, ever since, the mining project has faced hurdles and the proactive state of Odisha has been on a collision course with Union ministries. Labanya Gouda showed this correspondent the place where a makeshift toilet was prepared for Rahul Gandhi’s hour-long stay at Ijurupa. A tube well was also installed which stopped working later. Not that the Goudas care much. “There is plenty of water in the (perennial) streams,’ he said. Daka majhi poses for the camera outside his house next to Vedanta’s alumina refinery in LanjigarhDaka majhi poses for the camera outside his house next to Vedanta’s alumina refinery in Lanjigarh On the way back, this correspondent visited Daka Majhi in Bandguda village. He lives adjacent to Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. He was forced to part with four hectares for the refinery. The promised job never came by. The Rs 1 lakh per acre (0.4 ha) compensation he received was spent on health emergencies and marriages in the family. “Vedanta asked me to join the Industrial Training Institute before I could get the promised job,” tells Majhi, in his 30s. The mockery was not lost on Majhi for he never attended a school. Majhi still treks to the Niyamgiri hills to collect wild roots and tubers to even out uncertainties of being a casual labourer.


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Double Dhamaka against Vedanta – Second Niyamgiri vote also a no to bauxite mining #goodnews

33 villagers unanimously oppose bauxite mining

Second palli sabha in Niyamgiri deals double blow to Odisha government

Issue Date:

Kesarpadi residents cancel government’s settlement of community forest rights; unanimously reject Vedanta bauxite mining proposal

District judge Sarat  
Chandra Misra walks up the forest path to Kesarpadi, his  
“orderly” holding the umbrella, under a tight security cordon  
(Photos: Sayantan Bera)District judge Sarat Chandra Misra walks up the forest path to Kesarpadi, his “orderly” holding the umbrella, under a tight security cordon (Photos: Sayantan Bera)

Two days of pouring rain did little to dampen the spirit of the forest people of Niyamgiri. The second palli sabha or village council meeting at Kesarpadi in Rayagada district took a critical decision today: it cancelled Odisha state government’s proposed settlement of community and religious claims to the forests. The tribal hamlet also unanimously rejected the proposed bauxite mining inside the forest hills.

This double blow to the state government and Vedanta Aluminium Limited follows close on the heels of the first palli sabha at Serkapadi where residents rejected the mining proposal on July 18 last week [2]. Following up on the Supreme Court order of April 18 [3], the Odisha state government selected 12 villages—seven from Rayagada and five from Kalahandi district—to take a call on the proposed bauxite mining inside Niyamgiri hill range and whether it will infringe on their religious and cultural rights.

A joint venture of the Orissa Mining Corporation Limited (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries, the Indian arm of the London Stock Exchange-listed Vedanta, wants to mine the forests for bauxite, to feed Vedanta’s alumina refinery on the foothills of Niyamgiri hills at Lanjigarh. At stake is 72 million tonnes of estimated bauxite deposits and an investment of Rs 40,000 crore by Vedanta in the state of Odisha.

The palli sabha at Kesarpadi started almost forty minutes late because of rains. District judge of Rayagada, Sarat Chandra Misra, appointed observer by the Supreme Court, had to brave the rains and walk on the narrow forest path to reach Kesarpadi. Of the 36 voters in the Dongria Kondh tribal hamlet, 33 were in attendance—23 women outnumbering the 10 men.

Right at the beginning, Dondu Kutruka a young Dongria Kondh demanded the joint verification report by the state government, that proposed to settle the villagers’ community and religious claims to the forests, be rejected. “You people wrote everything in the office and never came to the village to verify. Now write whatever we say correctly and read it out. You cannot make a fool of us every time,” he warned the chair.

On July 6, a team from the state government visited Kesarpadi to prepare a joint verification report to settle the villagers’ community and religious claims to the forests. The settlement report arbitrarily allotted community claims, for instance between 0.5 to 1.9 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) for the five perennial streams in the village. The entire religious rights were settled with a mere 0.11 acres for local deities [4] (PDF of verification report[5]).

residents gave thumb impressions only after their rights over the entire  
Niyamgiri hills were recorded in the resolutionKesarpadi residents gave thumb impressions only after their rights over the entire Niyamgiri hills were recorded in the resolution

“The entire Niyamgiri spread over Rayagada and Kalahandi is ours. You can take our life but we will not give it for mining,” thundered Kutruka. “Your temples are made of brick and cement. Ours are made of earth, leaves and the forests,” said the bejuni, village priestess of Kesarpadi.

All the 33 residents of the village took the mike to reject proposed bauxite mining. “We get our Kosla and mandiya (minor millets) from the dongar (shift and burn cultivation plots on hill slope). These jungles are as much ours as it for the leopards and bears. We will not give it for mining,” said the village forest rights committee president Suku Kutruka.

Before signing the minutes of the meeting, Kesarpadi residents ensured that their religious and community claims to the entire Niyamgiri is recorded in the resolution. They also claimed the proposed bauxite mining site of Dhangrabhata or Niyamdongar—the mythical birthplace of their ancestral kin and principal deity Niyamraja—as part of their religious and cultural rights.

In an act  
of solidarity, Dongria Kondh women came from faraway villages and stood  
outside the Palli Sabha venueIn an act of solidarity, Dongria Kondh women came from faraway villages and stood outside the Palli Sabha venue

“We don’t want land titles in portions of the forests. Why should we, when everything belongs to us?” asked Lado Sikaka, leader of the Dongria Kondh who walked over three hours to reach Kesarpadi in time for the palli sabha. As happened in the previous palli sabha at Serkapadi, this one also saw several other tribals arriving at the venue and sitting outside in solidarity.

“People today rejected the faulty government report that tried to limit their community and religious claims. The mood is upbeat and we are expecting similar resolutions from all the other palli sabhas,” said a jubilant Bhala Chandra Sadangi, CPI (ML) leader and advisor to the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, the local resistance group.
Tomorrow, Tadijhola, a non-tribal village in Kalahandi district will take a call on the mining proposal. The village can only be reached on foot, an hour’s walk through forest hills from the nearest docking point for cars and bikes. Hope the rains won’t play too much of a spoilsport.


* Thirty-three of 36 eligible voters of Kesarpadi village, including all 23 women, voted against bauxite mining at the second  palli sabha in Rayagada district

* Earlier, 38 villagers voted against mining at the first palli sabha in the district at Serkapadi last Thursday



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#India – Env Ministry recognises religious rights, pushes ecological concerns behind

Kumar Sambhav S…
Anupam Chakravartty
Issue Date:

Environment ministry recognises religious rights, pushes ecological concerns behind


IN FEBRUARY, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) took many by surprise when it opposed a mining project in Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills in the Supreme Court solely on the ground of violation of tribals’ religious rights. Extracting bauxite from the region would violate the fundamental right of a particularly vulnerable tribe, Dongria Kondh, who consider the Niyamgiri as the abode of their deity Niyam Raja, MoEF said. Till then MoEF had maintained violation of environmental laws as the reason for cancelling clearance of the project by Vedanta in 2010.

Three months later, MoEF served another shocker. On May 6, it told the apex court the ancient Dhari Devi temple in Uttarakhand, which was at risk of being submerged by a hydroelectric power project along the Alaknanda river, should not be relocated because it would affect people’s right to worship. In an affidavit to the court, MoEF drew parallel to the Niyamgiri case and said the present position and the right to worship at the Dhari Devi temple cannot be compromised. It also named leaders of political parties, including opposition BJP’s L K Advani, Uma Bharati, Arun Jaitley and then BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who have been opposing the temple’s relocation citing religious sentiments.

In the Vedanta case, the court left it to the gram sabhas (village councils) of the villages likely to be affected in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts to decide whether mining will affect religious rights of the tribals. It asked MoEF to take a final call based on the decision of the gram sabhas. In the Dhari Devi temple case the court expressed displeasure over difference in opinion of MoEF and its own committee that had said the temple could be raised to a higher level to avoid submergence. The court has reserved its decision on the case.

Though MoEF now has little say in the two projects, the eagerness with which it has argued for religious rights has stunned many. “Religious issues have been the bone of contention in many projects, but for the first time MoEF has argued its cases on religious grounds,” says a former member of the Forest Advisory Committee who does not wish to be named.

Religious rights v ecological issues

Many have hailed the Vedanta court judgement because it reaffirms the gram sabha’s authority in deciding matters related to tribal rights. The court said the gram sabha has a role to play in safeguarding religious rights of forest dwellers under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

image[1]FRA recognises traditional rights of forest dwellers over forest resources, including their way to worship. Analysts believe the judgement will come in handy for communities fighting for their sacred groves from development projects (see map [1]).

The way MoEF argued the case, however, has not gone down well with tribal rights activists. They say the ministry has reduced the larger issue of compliance with FRA to violation of religious rights. Ecological issues were also not properly argued for, add analysts.

In February MoEF was in a tricky situation. It had to defend its decision of rejecting the Vedanta project for violating FRA in the court. At the same time, there was pressure from industry and the Prime Minister’s Office to dilute powers of the gram sabha to veto a project using FRA. A 2009 MoEF order had made it mandatory for projects that require forestland diversion to obtain consent of the affected gram sabhas—something Vedanta failed to do. It was then that MoEF argued for religious rights.

The ministry told the court that people’s consent is required only in cases where a “large number of people are displaced” and “which affect their quality of life”. But in case of Vedanta, said MoEF, the project should not be allowed solely because it will affect the fundamental right of the 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs to worship. “In a way, MoEF restricted the scope of FRA to religious rights.

What about areas where a project will affect other rights of forest dwellers?” asks environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta, adding, “besides, MoEF did not define the large number of people and quality of life.” R Sreedhar, a litigant in the case, complains MoEF did not argue strongly on the violations of the Environment Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. “The ministry’s own committees had pointed that several conditions of in-principle forest and environment clearances were not met by the developer,” he says. Even in its judgement the court said it did not intend to pronounce on any issue except those on violation of FRA. It explicitly said that right to worship will have to be protected—and made no mention of how mining will affect other rights.

Perhaps excited by the success of its argument in the Vedanta case, MoEF issued a stop work notice to Alaknanda Hydro Power Co Ltd, which was trying to relocate the Dhari Devi temple despite the court reserving its judgement on the matter. Six days later on May 16, the ministry had to revoke the notice after the court’s intervention.

Analysts say the arguments of MoEF may lead to a situation where religious rights take precedence over ecological concerns in governance. “MoEF might be looking for an easy way out; religious arguments do evoke strong sentiments both in court and in public domain,” says Ashish Kothari of NGO Kalpvriksh, adding, “the government might be trying to gain political mileage with elections round the corner.”

MoEF has deliberately entered into a minefield. It seems the ministry did not have any option but to become a part of the exclusive and communal politics

Cultural claims can be dangerous, warns Amita Baviskar, sociologist at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi and former member of the Forest Advisory Committee. “It seems MoEF did not have any option but to become a part of the exclusive and communal politics.

Documentation of the environmental impact assessment was tailored to suit Vedanta’s case, while the impacts on local hydrology were ignored,” she says. At MoEF, there is no system to study the forest quality or understand geomorphology, claims Baviskar.

“In the Vedanta case, MoEF should have done a comprehensive mapping of the ecological landscape. The ministry should commission more studies on the ecological impacts of mining.”

Everybody’s deity

The trend of religious rights pushing ecological concerns behind is reflecting on the ground as well. Barely a month after MoEF came out in support of sacred rights, a faith-based turf war erupted in the forests of central India.



Constitution: Article 25, 26 guarantee people the right to practise and propagate matters of faith


Environmental Impact Assessment Notification: Impact on religious places and structures is one of the parameters on which a project will be assessed before it is granted environmental clearance under the Environment Protection Act


Panchayat Extention to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act: The law to extend the Panchayati Raj system to Scheduled Areas recognises communities’ customary laws, religious practices and management practices of community resources


Forest Rights Act (FRA): Religious rights are not explicitly mentioned. They are recognised as part of the traditional rights customarily enjoyed by forest dwellers and Scheduled Tribes, along with an individual’s right to cultivate forestland or community’s right to manage and protect community forests

On March 22, Amelia village in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli district performed a pooja to Dih Baba, deity and protector of Mahan forests. The residents worship Dih Baba every year before collecting forest produce. This March there was another reason for the pooja: people were claiming their land and religious rights over forests which were at risk because of a mining project, jointly proposed by Essar and Hindalco, in the Mahan Forest Range. Amelia has 200 families which rely on the forest for livelihood. The project falls in a dense forest which former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had declared a no-go area for mining because of its biodiversity. Yet, the project was given in-principle forest clearance last year.

To campaign against the project, the people at risk of being displaced formed the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS). They filed claims for community forest rights under FRA but they were rejected by the gram sabha. MSS alleges the sarpanch (village head) and patwari who control the gram sabha are in collusion with the developers and secretly passed the gram sabha resolution to allow the project. When nothing worked, people resorted to religious rights. “The only way now left for us to assert our rights is through Dih Baba,” says MSS member Bechau Lal. Religious sentiments can be a powerful tool to protect environment but they might not always guarantee security from development projects, cautions Shankar Gopalakrishnan of NGO Campaign for Survival and Dignity. “The religious argument is a double-edged sword. If the gram sabha is the deciding forum it is likely that people’s concerns will be addressed, but if the state gets to decide there is going to be scope for manipulation,” he explains.

The Vedanta judgement addresses Gopalakrishnan’s fear. The court maintained the gram sabha has the power to decide matters in Scheduled Areas and in areas where FRA is applicable. Outside such areas, religious or political groups can manipulate ecological concerns for vested interests. One such case is that of the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project in Tamil Nadu. The project, which aims to ease goods movement around the Indian peninsula, proposes to link the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar through the sea Setu Samudram and a chain of limestone shoals known as Ram Setu, a religious site. In March, AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government, which is against the project, filed an affidavit in the apex court pushing the case for making Ram Setu a national monument. Aligning with the Centre’s position, AIADMK’s arch rival, DMK, said there was no archaeological basis of the formation of Ram Setu. The case is pending in the court.

NASA image of Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoalsA NASA image of Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals (source: NASA)

Some 1,500,000 fisherfolk around the project site, who are at risk of being displaced, say the religious card is being used for political opportunism, while ecological concerns are being ignored. “If the Centre goes ahead with the project, the fisherfolk will be displaced, and if Ram Setu is declared a national monument, fisherfolk will not be allowed to fish in the area. Who will address their concerns?” asks T Peter, secretary, National Fishworkers’ Forum.

Every religious structure cannot be a case to oppose clearances. If a religious structure is connected to natural resources, the faith attached to it stands a chance of being argued for

An apex court-appointed committee had concluded that even if an alternative route is constructed to avoid using Ram Setu it would damage the Gulf of Munnar Biosphere Reserve, home to endangered marine flora and fauna.

While religious rights are being politicised, the channel through which they should be addressed is being ignnored. “Impact on religious aspects of the lives of affected people is part of the cultural impact assessment.

This is an important part of environment impact assessment under the Environment Protection Act. Unfortunately, this is hardly done,” says lawyer Dutta.

Environmental economist Aseem Shrivastava puts the debate in the context of a larger issue of development versus environment.

“Given the current model of globalised development, every project needs to be assessed on stronger parameters for socio-economic and ecological implications. The religious sentiments being evoked in this debate are in a narrow sense,” he says. Dongria Kondhs’ relationship with the Niyamgiri has a strong ecological and livelihood link.

The hill is made of bauxite which holds water. “One should ask MoEF and BJP to explain the ecological and economic worth of sinking the Dhari Devi temple. One wonders why BJP failed to oppose the Narmada project in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat which drowned many temples.”


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Anti-Vedanta campaign gathers steam

TNN May 28, 2013, 12.17AM IST

KORAPUT: With the Supreme Court leaving it to villagers to decide the fate of Vedanta‘s mining plan at Niyamgiri hills at gram sabhas, the anti-mining campaign at villages situated in and around Niyamgiri hills has gained momentum.

Hundreds of tribals, including Dongria Kondhs, assembled at Rayagada‘s Parsali village on Sunday and vowed not to allow an inch of Niyamgiri for bauxite mining.

“Niyamgiri is a source of livelihood for thousands of tribals of around 120 villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts. Once mining starts, the tribals will lose their livelihood and scores of perennial sources of water will dry up. We will fight tooth and nail against mining at Niyamgiri,” said sarpanch of Parsali Butu Khora.

According to the apex court’s April 18 order, the gram sabhas will also examine the cultural and religious claims of Dongria Kondhs over the hills.

The tribals, who had assembled under the banner CPI (ML), also decided to organize similar anti-mining meetings at all panchayats, which will be affected by the mining, and urge villagers to participate in large number at gram sabhas to oppose mining at Niyamgiri hills


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Inside report from the Supreme Court Niyamgiri case against #Vedanta #mustread #mustshare

Dongria demonstrate at Lanjigarh, 6th Dec 2012

This report comes from Foil Vedanta’s friend in the court room as the Niyamgiri case continues…

19th February 2013,

Last week, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in the ongoing Vedanta case, saying the government and not the tribals and forest dwellers will have the final say in diversion of forestland for mining projects. FRA states that forest dwellers cannot be resettled from forestland unless their traditional rights over such land are recognised, and a 2009 order of MoEF had made it mandatory for all the projects which require forestland diversion to obtain consent of the affected gram sabhas (village councils). In December last year, the ministry stated in the court that the forest dwellers protected by FRA cannot be displaced except for protection of wildlife. However, in a change of stance on February 15, the ministry said in the court that consent of the people will be required only in cases where displacement of large number of people is involved and which affect the quality of life of the people. While the ministry did not even mention its 2009 order in the affidavit, it said the mining proposal should not be allowed because Dongria Kondh tribals have been protecting and worshipping Niyamgiri hills for centuries as their sacred deity. Mining on that land will undermine the customary rights of Dongria Kondhs to manage their own affairs in the matter of religion and fundamental right to conserve their culture. This stance provided the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries (the Indian arm of Vedanta) fodder and weakened the case against Vedanta. Clearly, the ministry has backtracked when asked to take a stand on the issue by the court.

The day started with Mr.Sundaram laying arguments for Orissa Mining Corporation (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries, and making a desperate case for why mining should be allowed in the Niyamgiri hills. He stated that the question of ecology and environment had already been tackled in previous judgements in November, 2007 and August, 2008 which had considered all the alleged violations under the EPA and FCA. Hence, this need not be discussed further and the only thing that the counsel needs to counter is the accusation of violation of FRA. Mr.Sundaram stated that there are no individual claims under FRA remaining and all claims had been settled — except 185 pending cases, which however, are not under the ambit of the proposed mining area. At this point, Justice Aftab Alam interjected to say, “Mr.Sundaram, this statement of yours that there is no claim remaining in the mining area is rather suspicious”. To this, Mr.Sundaram went on to rapidly quote a whole string of data about claims which have been settled and about land allocated. Then he said that 6 community claims were made to the Gram Sabha. Out of the 6 cases, 3 cases were claims on “pinpointed” areas and those claims had been settled and 16055 acres were allotted. However, the remaining three claims are for the whole mountain as a sacred hill, which Mr.Sundaram tried to say is not valid, and he went on to make a whole host of ridiculous arguments to prove it. The fact that FRA mandates that forest dwellers cannot be evicted from the land under their occupation till the recognition and vesting of rights under the Act is complete applies to the land under occupation only and not to the undefined territories used by the communities, he said.“Recognition of community rights can be a continuous process”, screamed Mr.Sundaram, “besides, the project is not evicting the tribals from the land under their occupation; the vesting of individual rights is already complete”. He went on to explain how the meaning of “habitat” under the FRA should be read only as occupational right, and not as usage rights to a whole area, in this case, the whole mountain. Territorial right under the FRA, Sundaram claimed, has to be with “holding the land of occupation”, and community right as the “right to specific identified areas”, as in the case of the 3 community claims that have been settled. He further argued that only in the case of occupation, forest rights need to be recognised at the advent. Hence, according to the counsel, the 3 community claims to the whole mountain, “have no merit”. To this, Justice Aftab Alam said that this decision had to be made by the concerned gram sabha. Sundaram vehemently replied, “one gram sabha cannot hold state to ransom” —– “I am the State government, it is my mine and my minerals, my usage cannot be prevented by one gram sabha!” he asserted.

Even more ridiculous than the above arguments was when Mr.Sundaram sought to put forward the case for why the community claim to the mountain as a place of worship is not valid. Mr. Sundaram claimed that the FRA nowhere talks about religion, and hence sacred rights cannot be interpreted into the Act. He said that the FRA is not where scared rights come from, but from Article 25 and other provisions of the Constitution. At this, Justice Aftab Alam asked, “Why are you trying to split up rights? Sacred rights are as much part of identity as any right, which makes it a question of survival. You cannot tell the tribals take your God to another place.” Mr.Sundaram went on trying to desperately prove his point with statements such as this, “Religious right is different. Does your right to believe in all pervasive lord be taken to imply that even the building that we are arguing at this moment is an intrusion into God’s space?”; “Religious right gives you the right to worship, but not the right to property”; “there needs to be atleast a shrine or something, when one’s belief is so intangible and nebulous as in the case of the Dongria Kond, one cannot take it to the extreme in the forms of rights”; “there is anomaly, when you say this mountain is my God and then also graze cattle there”; “these community claims to the whole mountain were instigated by NGOs, it never came from the people”; “the question is how far we can stretch religious rights? Does FRA prevent development?”. This line of argument was also made possible by the weakened stand taken my MoEF in its affidavit in the court, which basically reduced the whole issue of compliance with FRA to the violation of sacred rights of Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs).

After arguing that religious rights do not include rights to property and that there needs to be tangible limitations to what right to worship encompasses, Mr.Sundaram very cunningly tried to make the case for how the “wrong hilltop” was being talked about. Presenting a map to the judges, he showed to the them how the highest peak of the mountain is not Niyamgiri, but Nimagiri, which is not under the proposed mining area —- “Nimagiri is the abode of their god and there is also some sort of concrete structure of worship at that peak”, he claimed. He talked about how the Saxena committee report had got it all wrong because it says that the Dongria Kond worship the highest peak, which in their report is Niyamgiri, which is factually incorrect. Mr.Sundaram thus, made the submission that the mining site is not the abode of God for the Dongria Kond, as it is not the highest peak. At this point, the bench asked, “So since Nimagiri is the highest point, are you trying to infer that it is the sacred peak and abode?” Mr.Sundaram also gave the judges copies of a 1986 publication by the Socio-cultural Research Institute in Bhuwaneshwar. He read out various passages from this book by ‘experts’, to show that “Niyam Raja is obsolete”, and since there are small structures dedicated to Niyamraja outside every village hut of the tribals, “it is in their houses that the gods are”. Here, Justice Aftab Alam made a very pertinent point, when he said, “Mr.Sundaram, it has happened so many times in history that some learned persons have told people – this is your religion, this is what your belief should be. We have to clarify what the tribals see as their belief.”. It is important to mention here, an exchange that took place in court during this conversation. Mr. Sundaram proclaimed, “Belief is not sacrosanct”. At this Justice Aftab Alam asked, “Bauxite is sacrosanct then, is it?”, to which Mr.Sundaram replied, “No, but Economic Development is sacrosanct. We are talking about one of the most backward districts in the country here.”

During this hearing, Mr.Sundaram also again reiterated the Orissa state government’s grievances on the Saxena Committee report. He mentioned how one hour after the state government had met with Jairam Ramesh raising objections to the report, Mr. Ramesh had gone on to announce the cancellation of mining based on the report. Mr.Sundaram complained that the report was biased, “I only had one meeting with NC Saxena, where he appreciated the implementation of FRA in Orissa as the minutes show”. The counsel also challenged the CEC’s calculation that with expansion of the refinery, bauxite from the mountain will run out in 4years — instead, they argued that it would last for the next 25years. The counsel also brought up the issue of the Mines and Minerals Act, and said how the FRA cannot neutralise the provisions of this Act, as the FRA itself states that it is in addition to, and not in derogation of other Acts. They also argued that the issue of expansion of the refinery is not relevant, as it is a separate matter from mining. The case was also made for rehabilitation and compensation, and about how the mining process will and has already generated employment in the area, while bringing in development and infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals, roads etc.

20th February

The hearing started with the Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran laying down his case. He stressed how the compliance with FRA needs to be “independently” acknowledged, and final clearance cannot be considered only after community rights have been secured. He also stated that Vedanta was guilty of not only non-compliance, but also of violation of numerous conditions. On being asked by the bench, the Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran listed in a detailed manner a series of 13 violations by Vedanta. Mr. Parasaran said that the court by its Aug 8, 2008, order had granted the clearance only for stage one of the project and the automatic clearance for stage two did not flow from that and it could not be reduced to a mere formality. Mr. Parasaran said the court by its order had itself said that the Ministry of Environment and Forest would decide clearing the stage two of the project in “accordance with law.”

Mr.Parasaran argued that since the meaning of habitat is ambiguous under the FRA, “it should be given the widest possible meaning, so as not to restrict the scope of the right, especially when it is a remedial right. He then elaborated on the ‘integrated’ way of life of the Dongria Kond, and the forms of their livelihood which included grazing, horticulture etc. — making the case for why access and usage rights to the mountain range is important to the tribals in numerous ways. Territorial rights under the FRA thereby, needs to be interpreted “beyond just village boundaries”. During this argument, Justice Aftab Alam asked, “But will tribals continue to be tribals all life? If offered the benefits of the modern age, will they not accept it? Will they live for ages and ages on grazing for their livelihood?”. Here, the Solicitor General, pointed out how the FRA provides for infrastructure and amenities such as schools, hospitals, roads, aaganwadis, drinking water, minor irrigation facilities, tanks, fair-price shops etc. Justice Alam was not convinced, and commented, “These amenities are beneficiary in nature to be provided by the state, what about generation of employment?”. There were other statements such as there from the bench “What if the tribals don’t want to continue how they are living and they want modern facilities?; If 5000 of the 7000 Dongria Kond say that they want development, you cannot tell them that – no you cannot have these modern amenities, as that is not what the FRA expects you to do.; What is it that the tribals really want?”. The bench also commented that it will have to be ascertained how much of the infrastructure and development espoused by Vedanta is actually there on the ground. They acknowledged the possibility that the tribals may want these developmental benefits, but still not want the company Vedanta to be there. To this, Mr.Sundaram from the company’s side interjected saying, “There is NO objection from tribals, my Lord”.

The Solicitor General also read out various sections from the NC Saxena Committee report, which included testimonials from individuals of the Dongria Kond who would be affected by the mining. When one of the testimonial was being read out, Justice Alam expressed confusion saying, “Why are people saying ‘we cannot leave our land’? Why this apprehension that they are going to be displaced, when the company says that there would be no displacement for mining? If the consequence of mining operation is that it will displace the tribals, that is a very serious matter and it demolishes Mr.Sundaram’s arguments from yesterday”. Mr.Parasan responded that even if mining might not be directly displacing the people, it has a severe impact on their lives. To this, Justice Radhakrishnan remarked, “By that logic, we would have to stop all mining in the country”. The Solicitor General argued that it does not always have to be the case, but sought to explain how with respect to Vedanta the consequences of mining would be disastrous on the Dongria Kond. He further read out the section on “Impact of Mining” from the NC Saxena Committee Report to support his argument.

Mohan Parasaran then went on to make the case for how religious and sacred rights come under the ambit of the FRA. He pointed out to clause 3.1.(j) which states “rights….which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State” and to clause 3.1.(l) which states “any other traditional right customarily enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers……….”. He reasoned that religious right in the form of right to their sacred mountain for the Dongria Kond has to be read as a customary and traditional right, which falls under the jurisdiction of the FRA. To this, Justice Radhakrishan enquired, “But the clauses you mention are under the heading of Forest Rights, why include religious right in an Act such as this?”. The Solicitor General responded saying that, “The FRA should not exclude any right for a forest-dweller.” He also referred to a previous court judgement with regard to a case involving Shias and Shunnis, that mentions “customary right to perform religious practice”.

The afternoon session of the hearing started with the Mr.Parasaran reading out the summary of the NC Saxena report, on request by the bench. When he was reading out the paragraph in the report that talks about how no consultations where conducted with the gram sabhas about this project, Justice Alam remarked how it was “a completely opposite picture” to what Mr.Sundaram had presented the day before. When the question about the the fact that the process of determination of rights under FRA had not been completed at the level of the gram sabha, the bench enquired if “the union can vest gram sabhas with such powers that the powers of the State government is nullified”. To this, the Solicitor General pointed to specific articles in the Constitution that empowered gram sabhas in this manner. He also mentioned that given that the mining area is notified as a Scheduled area, gram sabhas here especially have a strong mandate. Vedanta was hence, also guilty of non-implementation of PESA. Also he clarified that MoEF cannot grant clearance unless FRA procedure is fully complete, irrespective of the fact if people have filed claims or not.

The next submission of the day was by Advocate Sanjay Parekh who is representing the tribals in the case. He first expressed his grievance that he had not yet been allowed to present his case, given that the tribals ought to be the main affected party in this case. Mr.Parekh began his submission by quoting a paragraph from the book “Out of This Earth” by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, where to the question of “What is your religion?”, the Dongria Kond tribal replies, “Mountains”. In fact, the OMC lawyer objected to the reference from this book, saying that it was written by academics and activists who are politically motivated and have led a campaign against Vedanta. Mr.Parekh used this instance to illustrate how we have to understand and be sensitive to the culture and beliefs of the Dongria Kond, as it is very different from the mainstream perceptions of our society. He argued that the determination of the rights vested in this context has to be done by the gram sabha. Just a few minutes after Mr.Parekh had started his submission, the bench bombadred him with a whole host of questions that were steeped in a very poor understanding of tribal issues and values, and also displayed a highly patronising narrative. Some of those questions were – “Have the tribals been made aware of the material benefits that will come to them under the orders of this court? Only once they are aware of this, can they give conscious and informed consent!; Can you read out any section in the NC Saxena Committee report where they have specifically rejected the modern benefits?; The tribals have been living this way of life for hundreds of years, you want them to do that for hundred more years? They cannot remain primitive forever; Are you Mr.Parekh, of all people, trying to say that they are destined to live in poverty for the next hundred years also?; They are being told all negative impacts of mining, the FRA does not ban them from choosing modernity, if they see it as better for them”; As long as this court is there, how can their land be taken away? By an order of this court guaranteeing the benefits of modernity, wouldn’t we undo some of the historical injustice you refer to Mr. Parekh?”. Justice Aftab Alam emphasised that “this court will take utmost cognisance of the wish of tribals, but the wish must be conscious after being made aware of the good and bad impacts of mining”, although he said that “it will not be determinative”. To these various statements, Mr.Parekh tried to make the case for how the bench is using the wrong lens to look at the matter. “If we ask critically, development benefit has gone to whom, My Lord?”, asked Mr.Parekh. He argued how we cannot use the same parameters used for mainstream society to decide on what the tribals want – for instance, for most tribal communities, happiness is not derived from material wants, but from a sustainable way of life that lives in harmony with nature. “This integrated way of living should be protected”, said Mr.Parekh. Mr.Parekh also presented some individual tales of Dongria Kond tribals and their opinions about the adverse effect that the proposed mining will bring to their way of life. At this, the bench interjected to say, “I am sure the other side can present 15 affidavits from members of the Dongria Kond, along with photos, stating how the mining activity will change their lives for the better. One or two incidents cannot demonstrate the larger picture – which is what we are interested in”. Here, Mr.Parekh talked about the pollution of ground water caused by the refinery, and as well as how if the mining started, the source of the rivers at the top of the mountain, which allows for their livelihood and survival will be destroyed. These he claimed are gross and large scale violations of rights which has and will put the survival of the Dongria Kond at stake, and also provides us with a larger picture. Given the unethical practices of Vedanta so far, the Dongria Kond cannot trust the company at all. Mr. Parekh pointed out that “it is the responsibility of the state to provide and facilitate for development. The state has not been doing that, and how can we expect a private company to come in now and do this?”. He also mentioned that even in the case of the Jarava tribes of the Andamans, it was the same debate with regard to development through tourism. In this case, the court decided in favour of protection of the tribals.

The session ended with a short submission by the representative of CEC, Mr. Raj Pajwani, who argued that once mining starts, there might not be physical displacement, but the habitat of the Dongria Kond will be destroyed – “once you cut off the source, then what happens to rivers and agriculture?”, he said. The CEC’s submission also reiterated the various violations of procedure committed by Vedanta.

21st February

I was not present in Court this day. The day started with Mr.Parekh finishing his case on behalf of the tribals from the day before. The CEC also made another submission. It ended with OMC and Vedanta side presenting a response. The final arguments for the case have been laid down now. The bench has reserved judgement on the matter.


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