Tribal body opposes move to clear Vedanta mining project

Bhubaneswar, July 9 (IANS) A tribal body Tuesday opposed the move by the Odisha government to hold gram sabhas in 12 villages to decide on the Vedanta mining project in Niyamgiri hills.

"The state government has unilaterally decided to hold gram sabhas in selected villages. This is against the directions of the Supreme Court. The government has no authority to identify and convene gram sabhas," Niyamgiri Suraksha Parishad president Kumuti Majhi told reporters here.

Majhi demanded that meetings be called in all the 112 villages around the Niyamgiri hills where people would be affected by mining activities. "Let the people file their claims freely," Majhi said.

The Supreme Court, she pointed out, has clearly directed the government to only work as a facilitator.

Vedanta has set up a one million tonne per annum alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district, about 600 km from here. However, it could never operate the plant at full capacity due to shortage of bauxite, the key raw material used to produce alumina.

The company shutdown the plant Dec 5, 2013, after the shortage worsened.

Vedanta had entered into an arrangement with the state government for supply of bauxite through a state agency from nearby Niyamgiri hills. But the move came under attack and was challenged by anti-displacement groups.

The Supreme Court April 18 asked the state to go back to the gram sabhas to understand religious and cultural aspects of tribals living in the region.

The apex court's forest bench, headed by Justice Aftab Alam, said the gram sabhas would look into the religious and cultural aspects of the (Dongaria Kondh) tribals in the region in three months' time and take a decision.

The state government last week decided to hold meetings in 12 villages between July 18 and Aug 19.

The state's Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes Development Minister Lalbihari Himirika said the government selected the villages as per the court order.

"We are strictly following the order of the Supreme Court. If anyone has any objection he has every right to move the apex court," he said.


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