Kalahandi's Dongria Kondhs refuse to allow Vedanta mine bauxite from Niyamgiri hills
The villagers have made it clear that mining of bauxite at the Niyamgiri hills would adversely affect their religious, cultural life and their livelihood.
“We will not leave Niyamgiri. This is our place”. “Niyamgiri is our father, mother, God and main source of livelihood. We will prefer to die than leave the hills to Vedanta or any other company for mining of bauxite”. These were some of the statements by 36 voters whose opinions were ascertained in the Gram Sabha as per the April 18 order of the Supreme Court.
The apex court had ordered that the villagers would have to be provided with basic forest rights in the form of land titles and they alone can decide whether the proposed bauxite mining project would cause harm to their religious right of worshipping Niyam Raja at Hundaljali, about 10 km from the identified mines area.
In the first of 12 Gram Sabhas at Serkapadi in Rayagada district, the tribal inhabitants put forth their views in the presence of district judge Sarat Chandra Mishra, host of officials, NGO activists and media persons. The serene Niyamgiri hills, a chain of 4,500-ft high mountains, is spread across 20 km in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts and inhabited by about 2,000 Dongria Kondhs. The villagers have made it clear that mining of bauxite at the Niyamgiri hills would adversely affect their religious and cultural life along with their livelihood.
Presided over by ward member Sriram Garadia, the tribals claimed their rights over the whole Niyamgiri hill range, according to Muniguda Tehasildar Tapan Satpathy. “We have recorded their views and will accordingly inform the Supreme Court in due course. The apex court will take a final call on the issue,” Satpathy on Thursday told ET. Out of 46 voters, 36, including 16 women, were present in the Gram Sabha meeting flanked by four platoons of armed force, hundreds of Dongria, Kutia and other tribals armed with their traditional weapons.
The views of tribals have been video recorded as per the apex court’s order, sources said. In the early 1980s, Kalahandi hit headlines for starvation deaths following which top Congress leaders, including former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, visited the region. But it continued to be neglected till Vedanta Alumina’s one million tonne refinery came up in 2007. The refinery was closed down on December 5 last year due to non-availability of bauxite due to the UPA government’s refusal to allow mining at Niyamgiri bauxite reserves.
Ironically, Kalahandi district has vast reserves of bauxite. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in September 2010 visited Lanjigarh and backed the ban on mining at Niyamgiri. He had then said he is a ‘sepoy’ of the aboriginals living in the hills and would carry their voice to Delhi. Later, union rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh visited Kalahandi district and announced a series of sops for the tribals of the district. Ramesh, as the minister for environment and forest, had blocked mining at Niyamgiri leading to the closure of the refinery.
Some 7,000 people have been affected due to the closure of the plant.