Vedanta mining: amid Tribal ministry’s protest Odisha fixes Gram Sabha dates


Bhubaneswar, July 5, 2013

 The tribal busy at a paddy field at the foothills of Niyamgiri Hills in Kalhandi district of Odisha. In the background Vedanta Aluminium factory can be seen. A file photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury.

PTI

The Hindu The tribal busy at a paddy field at the foothills of Niyamgiri Hills in Kalhandi district of Odisha. In the background Vedanta Aluminium factory can be seen. A file photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury.

Ignoring objections by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Odisha government on Friday announced dates for conducting Gram Sabhas in 12 villages of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts to decide fate of the proposed bauxite mining for Vedanta atop Niyamgiri Hills.

“We have decided to hold Gram Sabha in 12 hill slope villages as per the April 18 Supreme Court order. While Gram Sabha will be held between July 18 and August 19 in seven villages of Rayagada district, similar exercise will be done between July 23 and 30 in five villages of Kalahandi district,” Odisha’s ST and SC development minister L B Himirika told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

To a question, Mr. Himirika said the state government had earlier decided to hold Gram Sabha in 12 limited villages and it would implement it. “We are going by the Apex Court’s order,” Mr. Himirika said sidestepping a question on the MoTA’s objection.

On April 18, the Supreme Court order asked the state government to hold gram sabhas to decide the fate of Vedanta’s plan to mine at Niyamgiri.

“We need at least 50 per cent attendance to conduct a gram sabha. One-third of them should be women. If quorum is not achieved, the gram sabha will be cancelled and conducted later,” Rayagada district collector Sashi Bhusan Padhi said.

Meanwhile, Odisha’s Advocate General (AG) in a report supported the state government’s decision in 12 hill slope villages of Niyamgiri. The state government had sought Law department and AG’s views on objections raised by MoTA.

Earlier, Union Minister of Tribal Affairs V Kishore Chandra Deo had said that limiting Gram Sabha proceedings to only 12 villages was not in accordance with the Supreme Court order dated April 18 and directions issued by the ministry under Section 12 of Forest Right Act (FRA).

Mr. Deo had also written a letter to Governor S C Jamir seeking his intervention in the matter, saying the areas where gram sabhas are proposed to be held fall under Schedule V categoty.

“The list of villages where rights of forest dwellers are guaranteed under the FRA or where cultural and religious rights are likely to be affected cannot be arbitrarily decided by the state government. It is to be decided by the people (Palli Sabha) where claims would be filed through a transparent manner so that no genuine Gram Sabha which has a legitimate claim is left out of the process. This is in line with Para 59 of the apex court judgement,” Vibha Puri Das, secretary, MoTA, had written to the state chief secretary recently.

The Ministry clarified that it had received several claims under FRA for various rights, including religious and cultural rights claimed over Niyamgiri forests and sacred areas from villages over and above the 12 villages selected by the state government.

It shows that Niyamgiri forests are shared by not just 12 villages, but many other villages in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts too share religious and cultural rights over Niyamgiri, the ministry observed.

Referring to Para 53 and 54 of the Supreme Court (SC) judgement, the MoTA letter said, “Such observations cannot be interpreted to assess the number of villages that need to be considered for recognition and vesting of claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Right) Act-2006.”

The Supreme Court in its order had directed the state government to complete Gram Sabhas within three months to get the mandate of the local people regarding the mining project.

The judgement had also called for considering all claims on community, individual, cultural and religious rights of the local inhabitants.

 

#India – Vedanta to revive lanjigarh by import from Indonesia, Tanzania, and Australia


Jayajit Dash  |  Bhubaneswar  June 19, 2013 ,BS

vedanta

 

Imports to revive Vedanta‘s Lanjigarh refinery

 After exhausting its options to source bauxite from the domestic market, Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) is mulling importing the raw material to resume operations at its Lanjigarh refinery.
The one-million alumina refinery has remained shut since December 5, 2012, on bauxite crunch and VAL has been making frantic efforts to restart the plant. The company recently announced it would resume operations of the refinery by the end of this month.

“We are looking at the possibility of importing bauxite as it will enable us to restart operations of the refinery quickly. VAL is exploring the possibility of imports from countries like Indonesia, Tanzania, and Australia. We hope to work out a deal in the next four-five days,” said a senior company official.

Although imported bauxite will be costlier for VAL, the firm is considering the option for the time being amid a hostile regulatory environment that has led to the suspension of many bauxite mines and also a lack of firm commitment from private miners on supplies.

Vedanta’s #CSR : Resettlement ‘prison’ and false arrests at Lanjigarh #WTFnews


18th June, 2013.  This report comes direct from members of the Foil Vedanta team on the ground in Niyamgiri:

Vedanta’s resettlment colony at Lanjigarh with Niyamgiri

Vedanta Raj- Age of New License Raj and Draconian Policing

On 7th June 2013, a four member team visited the Vedanta re-settlement colony in Lanjigarh, known as Vedanta Nagar, to interview a few people people settled there. As soon as we entered the colony, Vedanta’s Public Relations Officer – Mr. Siddharth Behera, and the Associate officer in charge of the colony – Mr Srikant Bohidar appeared riding a motorcycle, and started questioning us about what we were doing there and who we were. One of our team was a journalist with a press card, when he showed this one of the officers looked particularly worried. He started calling up higher level officials.

 

While two of us talked to these purveyors of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, the other two rushed to the house of Tula Dei whom we knew from before. Tula Dei and her family, from Sindhabahili village, was among the people who had vehemently resisted Vedanta when the refinery was being built in Lanjigarh, for which twelve villages were cleared. She and her family had refused to vacate their house and did not succumb to the pressure and force tactics applied by Vedanta. When we met Tula Dei, she informed us that they had to ultimately vacate their house and accept Vedanta’s resettlement package, as the poisonous smoke and dust from the refinery were affecting her and her families’ health and made it impossible to live there any longer. She complained how she still had not received her ‘patta’ and land document papers from Vedanta, and they had been not given the promised settlement money. She also informed us that her husband had been arrested by the police in January 2013, and has been in jail since then. She had not been provided any details by the police regarding what charges her husband had been arrested on -

Tula Dei resisting eviction from her old house

I have no idea why they arrested my husband. The police and lawyers do not give us any details. False charges must have been framed against my husband. They are constantly trying to intimidate and harass us. Whenever we raise our voice in protest, they frame some charge and arrest a family member. Our family’s livelihood has been completely destroyed. Vedanta has ruined our lives ever since it came here. Fear and injustice is all we have known since then”

 

As we were taking this interview with our video camera, the Vedanta official who was questioning us earlier, arrived at Tula Dei’s house, along with another CSR official. When we asked them why Tula Dei had not received any land documents yet, one of them replied saying,

 

These people came on the third and last phase, so their documentation is delayed. It should arrive in a week’s time. Initially they had resisted the company, but later on because of dust and other problems, they decided to accept the company’s package”.

 

This official however, denied having mentioned ‘dust and other problems’ when we interrogated him just seconds later about villagers around the refinery and resettled villagers, having TB and other diseases, —- “they drink too much, it has nothing to do with the refinery or pollution”, he said. We then asked them if we could get some documents about the rehabilitation process, at which we were told that we need to go to the Lanjigarh office for that.

 

Vedanta Aluminium‘s Jharsuguda resettlement colony

At this point, two of us left while the other two continued to face questions from the two employees of Vedanta. Siddharth Behera – who had introduced himself as the Public Relations Officer (PRO) for Vedanta began asking questions about the press card, calling the TV station to check that he really was a journalist. When this was confirmed he suggested they came to the Vedanta Aluminium office to speak to another PR Officer – Mr Bhagwan Hota. Later on we discovered that Mr Siddarth was not a company spokesperson but a local agent.

 

The other two of us were escorted to the bus stop outside Vedanta Nagar. We were prevented from talking to or meeting any more people in the resettlement colony. At the Lanjigarh bus-stop, two more senior employees of Vedanta’s CSR division arrived, making the number of people who had so far questioned us to four. While we were speaking to them, one of the senior employees took our photographs. They wanted us to show them our identity proofs and bombarded us with all sorts of questions regarding the purpose of our visit. In the end, one of the senior officials said, “Write a positive report, ok?”.

 

Lanjigarh refinery

This incident is indeed outrageous. Four CSR officials had come to question us within less than half an hour of our presence in the rehabilitation colony. Vedanta’s CSR is the establishment of a heinous system of surveillance and intimidation. The resettlement colony is like a fortress, where any ‘outsider’ presence is strictly monitored. This shows how scared Vedanta is of stories of its human rights violations and dubious rehabilitation reaching out to the public. This incident clearly elucidates that CSR officials of Vedanta are the company’s puppets, whose ‘responsibility’ is to police people, to hide the truth and to monotonously narrate lies of “Mining happiness”, of success stories of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. The resettlement complex is indeed Vedanta’s ‘colony’, where it has shamelessly set up mechanisms of draconian policing —- a neo-colonial License Raj on people who lie in fear at the margins and in whose name we call for ‘development’.

Posted:  June 18th, 2013   

 

#India – The Niyamgiri warrior against Vedanta – Sanjay Parikh #mustread


Aparna Kalra  |  New Delhi  June 15, 2013  BS

Though his case files are stacked across four rooms, Sanjay Parikh, the lawyer who thrust a spoke into India-focused miner Vedanta Resources‘ plans, has ensured each is marked neatly.

“This is the Kalahandi case… this is Basmati rice,” he says, as he hops excitedly from one room to another. These are famous cases – one in which the court, petitioned by Parikh, tracked delivery systems for 10 years to prevent starvation deaths; another through which India gave the US a stinging defeat on patents.

The lawyer behind these cases, however, is known only in select human rights and legal circles. It took this reporter three weeks of calls, doorstepping, and a reference from another lawyer to get an interview with Parikh. “Talk about my cases, but why a profile?” he asks at the eventual interview.

‘A balance is required’
The latest case that put the spotlight on Parikh is that of the Niyamgiri forest, where Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Aluminum Ltd, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources, tried to mine bauxite for its shut aluminum plant.

On April 18, Parikh’s arguments in favour of the forest dwellers or tribals seemed to have borne fruit. The court said before allowing mining, a village body, or a Gram Sabha, representing these people, should take their opinion. “Many of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are totally unaware of their rights. They also experience a lot of difficulties in obtaining effective access to justice because of their distinct culture and limited contact with mainstream society,” ruled a three-judge Supreme Court bench, asking Vedanta to await a consensus among the forest dwellers.

Odisha, where the Niyamgiri hills are located, represents Vedanta’s supply chain. India has the world’s fifth largest bauxite reserves of 593 million tonnes, the majority of that in Odisha, according to a Reuters report.

The Niyamgiri debate typifies the puzzle India is faced with – how to mine minerals without hurting indigenous rights and harming to the environment. So sharp has been this debate that it has strengthened the armed Naxal movement.

Back in Parikh’s study, in a single row are stacked the files of cases that bring in money. These relate to rent disputes and yes, crime and murder cases. However, it is clear the lawyer’s heart lies elsewhere. “Somewhere, a balance is required,” says Parikh, 54, talking about the cases he is paid for, as well as his other work. “Those who are coming to you and can pay, you must ask them to pay.”

Among Parikh’s high-impact cases is one where he assisted noted lawyer Indira Jaising in arguments that led to the Supreme Court implementing a ban on use of ultrasound technology to determine the sex of foetuses. A chunk of his cases were those in which he represented environmental activists. “Sanjay has committed himself totally to defending the public interest. He represented the first case the research foundation (Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology) fought to stop Monsanto’s illegal field trials of GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” says Vandana Shiva, an activist who has campaigned against patenting of seeds.

Dharma
Parikh says he was influenced into working on cases voluntarily and without payments during his training as a law intern. Born into an ordinary railway employee’s family from Rajasthan, he graduated in law from Agra University, before being selected to intern with former Supreme Court judge S Rangarajan in 1982. During the period of Emergency, Rangarajan had overturned the arrest of journalist Kuldip Nayyar. Parikh says he learnt moral courage from his mentor.

“I was quite clear there had to be a purpose to life,” says Parikh. “There is in the profession what you call dharma … (by which) the profession is a way of life.”

Parikh, whose two sons are also lawyers, admits it is not easy to comprehend the impact of a law his argument helped draft, or follow-through on its implementation. However, sometimes, one can take the next step, such as action against online advertisements on sex determination by pre-natal clinics based abroad, but targeting Indian parents.

Senior advocate
K K Venugopal, who argued for Vedanta, says of Parikh: “He has been doing a lot of pro bono work. I know that I have been seeing him appear in a number of environment cases… He was not the main opposing counsel. He was one of the main ones. I was opposed by the Union of India, so the solicitor general was appearing… Prashant Bhushan was there. Parikh was there, and played a fairly significant part.”

Parikh’s argument was one of the countervailing arguments in the case – Vedanta and the state of Odisha argued in favour of the mining project. The Indian government, represented by the solicitor general, opposed the project, as did Parikh.


Significant cases
Mandatory declaration of assets and criminal record by a candidate filing nomination as Member of Parliament or Member of Legislative Assembly (In 2003, challenging Union of India)

Petition in 1995, challenging dumping of toxic waste, including ship-breaking activities. SC did not ban the entry of toxic ships into Indian waters, but said prior informed consent was necessary. It set the ball rolling for monitoring toxic waste, including that in Bhopal (challenging Union of India and Gujarat maritime board, a ship-breaking company)

Petition in 1998 challenging field trials of genetically modified Bt cotton. Field trials were stayed a few years, but India planted more than 10 million hectares of genetically modified cotton in 2011 (challenging Union of India and Mahyco, which had an association with Monsanto, the world’s largest seeds company)

 

Criticised, Odisha weighs expanding scope of locals in deciding Vedanta fate #goodnews


 BS Reporter  |  Bhubaneswar  June 14, 201

Faced with flak from the ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA) and activists from Niyamgiri for its decision to limit gram sabhas to just 12 villages,Odisha is mulling legal opinion over the possibility of expanding the scope of such meetings.

“We are exploring legal angles to suggestions by MoTA on expanding scope of gram sabhas. If required, views of the law department will be taken,” said Santosh Sarangi, secretary, SC&ST development.

Defending the state’s stand to conduct gram sabhas in 12 villages on Niyamgiri hill slopes, he said, “A close scrutiny of the Supreme Court order dated April 18 would suggest it was referring to the 12 hill slope villages where the meetings were held earlier for settlement of claims under the Forest Right Act (FRA). It would not be feasible to hold gram sabhas in all villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts. Besides, the process would also be very time-consuming.”

Earlier, the SC&ST department had consulted the law department to interpret the order on holding of gram sabhas, citing lack of clarity.

In line with the views filed by the law department, the state decided to hold gram sabhas to decide the fate of bauxite extraction from Niyamgiri hills in 12 villages. These included seven villages in Rayagada district and five in Kalahandi district.

In his letter to MoTA, Odisha Chief Secretary B K Patnaik said: “At the time of filing of claims, neither the ministry of environment and forests nor MoTA had raised an issue before the court regarding coverage of villages over and above the 12 hill slope villages.” He added a reading of the court’s observation would make clear the reference was to the 12 hill slope villages for which affidavit was filed by Odisha. However, refusing to agree to the state’s contention, MoTA held limiting gram sabha proceedings was not in line with the order and the directions by the ministry under section 12 of FRA.

“The list of villages where rights of forest dwellers are guaranteed under FRA or where cultural and religious rights are likely to be affected, cannot be arbitrarily decided by the state government. It is to be decided by the people (palli sabha) where claims would be filed through a transparent manner so that no genuine gram sabha that has a legitimate claim is left out of the process. This is in line with para 59 of the apex court judgement,” Vibha Puri Das, secretary, MoTA, wrote to Odisha chief secretary Patnaik recently.

 

Dongaria and Kutia Kondh leaders seek Governor’s intervention


BHUBANESWAR, June 13, 2013

Special Correspondent, The Hindu

A group of Dongaria and Kutia Kondh leaders from Niyamgiri area on Wednesday sought the intervention of Governor S.C. Jamir to save them from the ‘mischief’ that the ST and SC Department of the State was playing to help out Vedanta by diluting the apex court’s order.

Stating that they had been betrayed by the ST and SC Department, Kumuti Majhi and Lada Sikaka of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti urged the Governor that as the custodian of rights of all tribal communities in the State he should intervene and instruct the Naveen Patnaik government to quash the State ST and SC department’s order to conduct gram sabhas only in 12 villages.

The tribal leaders further requested the Governor to direct the State government to conduct gram sabhas in all the villages in Niyamgiri to ascertain claims and rights of their communities.

The government should be instructed to stop fear and intimidation tactics used by armed security forces in Niyamgiri hills to help Vedanta, which was unethical and undemocratic, they said. They further demanded that the State government should create a positive atmosphere so that their people will come out happily and participate in gram sabhas of all the villages and express free and frank views regarding their rights and claims.

The tribal leaders also urged the Governor to instruct the State government to stop all Vedanta activities in the area till the gram sabhas were conducted in a fair way in all the villages of Niyamgiri.

They told the Governor that the Niyamgiri mountain and hillocks close to their villages were sacred, as they were considered as the abode of their god, the Niyamraja. They were shocked when some people, without any knowledge, were talking to them about what constituted Niyamraja, they said. They said that the Niyamgiri mountain region and the hillocks were sacred and the centre of their identity and culture.

‘Instruct the government to quash the State ST and SC department’s order to conduct gram sabhas only in 12 villages’

 

Odisha Government diluting apex court order: petitioner #Niyamgiri #Vedanta


BHUBANESWAR, June 11, 2013

Staff Reporter, The Hindu

 St

ate government continues to face widespread criticism over selection 12 villages for conducting of gram sabhas that would decide fate of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hill.

Prafulla Samantra, an original petitioner of the case on which Supreme Court directed to hold gram sabhas for settlement rights under Forest Rights Act, on Monday wrote to Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik alleging dilution of Apex Court order.

“The Apex Court verdict has been clearly ignored by the ST and SC Department of the State government as there has been an arbitrary decision while selecting 12 villages for conducting Gram Sabhas for which no convincing reason has been mentioned,” Mr. Samantra said.

He also charged that the State was trying to spread reign of terror in Niyamgiri Hill range before conduct of gram sabhas.

“Since a fake combing operation is going on in the area by security forces with the help and support of Vedanta, an atmosphere of fear and intimidation is prevailing over there which may badly affect the conduct of Gram Sabhas.

A couple of days back security forces allegedly fired at a group of young tribal children who were playing in the hills and one was reportedly killed. If such a situation continues no Gram Sabhas could be conducted in a fair way,” Mr. Samantra further alleged.

He urged the Chief Secretary to take urgent steps so that Gram Sabhas would be conducted in all affected places, and just not the ones prescribed by the administration.

The petitioner also requested the government to involve him in all the processes leading to conduct of gram sabhas as per Apex Court order.

Recently, Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs had told the State government that selection of 12 villagers for conducting gram sabhas was not in accordance of Supreme Court order.

MoTA Secretary Vibha Puri Das in a letter said the ministry was in receipt of copies of several claims under Forest Rights Act for various rights including religious and cultural rights claimed over Niyamgiri forests and sacred areas from villages over and above the 12 villages selected by the State Government.

 

Bauxite mining: Tribal ministry objects to Odisha’s move against SC order


Priya Ranjan Sahu, Hindustan Times  Bhubaneswar, June 09, 2013

The Union ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA) has objected to the Odisha government’s decision to hold gram sabhas in only 12 villages of Niyamgiri hill slopes to decide the fate of bauxite mining for Vedanta Group’s alumina plant.

In a letter to Odisha chief secretary BK Patnaik on Friday, the union ministry secretary Vibha Puri Das has written that limiting gram sabha meetings is not in accordance with the Supreme Court order.

She has asked the state government to arrive at the exact number of villages where gram sabha was to be conducted as per the direction laid down by the union ministry.

 

Das said: “The list of villages where rights of the forest dwellers are guaranteed under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) or where cultural and religious rights are likely to be affected cannot be arbitrarily decided by the state government. It is to be decided by the people, i.e. palli sabha, where claims would be filed through a transparent manner so that no genuine gram sabha which have a legitimate claim is left out of the process.”

She said the Supreme Court judgment on April 18 was the only judgment that assumed finality and not subject to or to be read in reference to earlier orders, affidavits filed, argument or submission made. “The apex court has not alluded to or limited the application of FRA in the project areas to any specific number of villages under any paragraph of its order,” she said, adding that any interpretation of the order to the contrary would be incorrect.

On June 1, Patnaik had written to Das justifying the selection of the villages for gram sabha saying the Odisha government had filed an affidavit before the apex court in this regard. “At the time of filing of claims relating to 12 villages which are on the slopes of Niyamgiri hill and during subsequent deliberation, neither the Union ministry of environment and forest nor the ministry of tribal affairs had raised any issue before the apex court regarding coverage of villages over and above the 12 hill slope villages,” he had said.

The Supreme Court in its order had said the decision of gram sabhas of Kalahandi and Rayagada district was crucial on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in the hill – home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribals, portrayed in western media as Na’vi from Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.

On May 27, the Odisha government had issued notices to the collectors of the two districts to call gram sabha meetings in five villages of Kalahandi and seven villages of Rayagada and complete the process within three months as stipulated by the Supreme Court.

Social activist Prafulla Samantara, an intervener in the case, had opposed the state government’s move saying selection of just 12 out of more than 100 villages thereby keeping away a large number of Dongria, Kutia and Jharnia Kondh tribals was against the judgment of the apex court.

The proposed mining in Niyamgiri hill is vital for the Vedanta Group, which has signed an MoU with the Odisha government in 2004. The MoU includes supply of 78 million tonnes of bauxite by the state owned Odisha Mining Corporation to the alumina refinery from Niyamgiri hill to its alumina plant adjacent to it in Lanjigarh in Kalahandi, about 550 km southwest of Bhubaneswar.

But the OMC has not been able to mine the hill due to stiff protest from the tribals who revered the hill as their god ‘Niyamraja’ and problems in getting clearance from the Union ministry for environment and forest. Denied clearance by the ministry in 2011, the OMC had moved the Supreme Court, while Vedanta had shut down its refinery on December 6 last year due to lack of bauxite.

 

Odisha Govt tries every trick in the book with SC Niyamgiri verdict #mustshare


This is the latest information on the state’s manipulation of the Supreme Court’s verdict giving the decision on Vedanta‘s mine to the Dongria and Kutia Kond inhabitants of Niyamgiri.

After six weeks delay the process has finally been initiated by the Odisha state govt and we, and all the activists and supporters here are doing our best to keep ahead of their trickeries and document everything as it happens.

When the Supreme Court announced its verdict to hand the decision on Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine back to the Dongria Kond and other affected people via a complex process of legal claim filing, gram sabhas and a final MoEF nod, both Vedanta and their opposition celebrated. The court judges knew what they had done. Rather than giving a yes or no verdict they had taken the path of least resistance and delivered such a loosely worded judgement that it was wide open to interpretation and abuse – pitting the Odisha government and Vedanta, and the affected people and their supporters against each other once again.

 

Now, as the Odisha state finally launches the gram sabha (village council) process after six weeks of deliberation, the weak nature of the Supreme Court’s vaguely worded judgement has become even more evident. This article documents some of the ways in which the judgement, which has been hailed as a precedent bottom-up democratic process, is being manipulated in an attempt to prevent the strong anti-Vedanta opinion on Niyamgiri from being properly heard.

 

 

What part of the mountain is sacred?

 

Reflecting the drawn out Supreme Court hearings on Niyamgiri this year, the court’s final verdict has tactfully focused not on the enormous environmental impact of the proposed mine, nor the company’s despicable track record of illegalities, nor the rights of the Dongria to clean air, water and to collect forest produce, but only on one point: whether the proposed mine would violate the Dongria’s right to worship the God of their sacred mountain – Niyam Raja. The 2006 Forest Rights Act enshrines forest dwellers’ right to cultural and religious practices in law, but what does that mean in reality? The Niyamgiri case has become a test for the interpretation of this law, and the precedent set here will have an impact on industrial developments in tribal areas all over India. So much hangs in the balance. For this reason the Supreme Court hearings dedicated their focus to the question of where the God of Niyamgiri actually resides and whether this God would be affected by the proposed mining. Though it was suggested that it was largely on the peak of the range – Hundujali, 10km away from the proposed mega-mine, the court came to the conclusion that only the Dongria themselves could confirm this. The gram sabha process – initiated by notification to file claims on Saturday 1st June – is essentially to decide this one point. If the tribals agree that their God resides in a particular area, that spot can be preserved, or compensation given, while the mine can still go ahead.

 

At the 5000 strong Padayatra held by the Dongria and Kutia Kond from May 17th – 22nd Dongria leaders like Lodo Sikaka made their views on the Supreme Court’s discussions and final judgement known. Lodo stated:

 

They are saying they would mine 10km away from the peak. We will not allow mining even 100km away from it! For the forestland, for fruits, trees, air and water – for everything adivasis worship the soil. It is our given right.

 

They are saying adivasis have rights up to two feet down the soil, not up to 10 – 20 feet. Government is saying adivasis worship for the forest and not for the soil. What do we worship for? Forest or soil? We of course worship for the soil. Our gods and goddesses are everywhere: here, there, in the trees – everywhere!

 

Such statements have been made by the Dongria repeatedly over the years, but were never fully heard in the court-room, despite attempts to allow the Dongria to testify, and to hand over proof such as Mihir Jena et al’s book Dongaria Kondhs2. The court, sadly, was unable to differentiate between the modern concept of religion being practised in temples or directed at an idol, and the earth-based spirituality of indigenous cultures in which even a whole mountain or forest can be considered sacred.

 

The notification posted in Oriya newspapers on Saturday confuses this point even more. The notification issued for Kalahandi District reads:

 

Letter no 572/2013 of collectors office of Kalahandi.

Under the Supreme Court Judgement writ petition no 180, year 2011, date 18/04/2013; regarding the Palli Sabha – hereby inhabitant villagers of the following panchayats are being notified and invited that, as per the orders of the Supreme Court, tribals and other forest dwellers, regarding their new individuals rights, community rights and cultural and religious rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA) rulings 2006 – after getting this notice they should apply within 6 weeks, and within 3 months Palli Sabha will be called and legal rights of the villagers will be decided. If they have any other demands, they will also be discussed in Palli Sabhas and after justified discussions, observing Forest Rights Act 2006 and its associated rulings their rights will be decided.

Village names

Panchayat

District

Tadijhola

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Palberi

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Phuldemer

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Ijurupa

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

Kanakadu

Trilochanpur

Kalahandi

2 a) The Palli Sabha will decide about the rights of tribals and other traditional forests dwellers (TFD) like Dongria Kond, Kutia Kond’s religious rights such as the worshipping of Niyamgiri which is situated at Niyamgiri Hundijari and at the top of the mountain known as Niyam Raja.

b) The Palli Sabha will decide the Niyamgiri mining areas’ – Niyam Dongo which is situated at 10km away from the summit, and whether it would impact the Niyam Raja deity can also be investigated.

Signed: Collector Kalahandi.

 

Notification of Palli Sabhas in Kalahandi district

Firstly, it is important to note that the notification does not clearly state that this Palli Sabha (the Odia equivalent of Gram Sabha) and claim filing process will determine whether Vedanta are given permission to mine the mountain but only refers to ‘writ petition 180′ which very few adivasis will understand. Secondly, the whole text is incredibly confusing, and most importantly the last two paragraphs state outrightly that Niyam Raja resides only at Hundijali.

 

Adivasis won’t understand Oriya

 

Following public criticism of it’s past attempts to manipulate public hearing processes, the Odisha government is currently at pains to present itself as making the Palli Sabhas as inclusive as possible. Newspapers are stating how they are pasting notifications of the Palli Sabhas in the affected villages, as well as announcing them with a megaphone around the mountain, while filming it all themselves as evidence of their efforts. So far we know that ads have been placed in Lanjigarh and some of the easier to reach villages, whether they will reach the upper slopes we will see.

 

But there is one fatal flaw to their attempts at inclusivity; all the notifications and megaphone announcements are in Oriya, while Konds only speak Kui, their tribal language. Kui is only an oral language and cannot be written so how will the local government communicate the legal proceedings crucial to the Kond’s survival through posters and newspaper notifications? This is why the role of activists, who are communicating the proceedings to the mountain villages, is so important and must be permitted. Without them there would be no chance of democracy in this important case.

 

 

Odisha government delays til the monsoon

 

The Supreme Court’s judgement gave a strict (if rather ambitious) timescale for the gram sabha process and following MoEF decision to be taken. It states:

 

59. The Gram Sabha is also free to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims, over and above the claims which have already been received from Rayagada and Kalahandi Districts. Any such fresh claims be filed before the Gram Sabha within six weeks from the date of this Judgement. State Government as well as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, would assist the Gram Sabha for settling of individual as well as community claims.

 

60. We are, therefore, inclined to give a direction to the State of Orissa to place these issues before the Gram Sabha with notice to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, and the Gram Sabha would take a decision on them within three months and communicate the same to the MoEF, through the State Government. On the conclusion of the proceeding before the Gram Sabha determining the claims submitted before it, the MoEF shall take a final decision on the grant of Stage II clearance for the Bauxite Mining Project in the light of the decisions of the Gram Sabha within two months thereafter.

 

It is now six weeks since the judgement, and notification to file individual and community claims has only just been given. This six week delay is pivotal as it pushes the Palli Sabha hearings back into late July – the peak of the monsoon, when travelling to meetings becomes difficult and attendance is likely to be much lower. Local social activist Lingaraj Pradhan stated this fact in his speech at Muniguda on 22nd May.

 

 

Hundreds of villages excluded

Map of Niyamgiri showing villages all over the mountain (red dots)

 

The most glaring manipulation in the Odisha government’s interpretation of the judgement is its selection of just twelve villages in which to hold the Palli Sabhas. These are all on the lower slopes of the mountain, far from the alleged home of Niyam Raja, and the proposed mine, and hardest to reach for those living at the top of the mountain where the impact of the mine, and hence also the resistance, is strongest. There are, in fact, 79 Dongria and Kutia Kond villages within 10km of the mining area, and more than 100 adivasi villages directly affected by the mine – most of which were visited by the Padayatra several weeks ago.

 

Records show that there are actually only 186 voters registered in the twelve villages combined according to the old voter lists (five in Kalahandi district and seven in Rayagada), while more than 8000 Dongria Konds live on and worship the mountain, plus many more Kutia Konds living around Niyamgiri. Ijrupa – one of the villages listed, only has one voter according to the old voter lists which are likely to be used. Several of these villages are primarily occupied by Yadav immigrants and not the adivasis whom the judgement is aimed at. This is a blatant attempt to restrict participation in the Palli Sabha process, and make it easier to manipulate and manage by the Odisha State which has worked alongside Vedanta from the start.

 

Anticipating this skullduggery, the Minister of Tribal Affairs wrote to the Governor of Odisha, SC Jamir, on May 15th May stating categorically that the Gram Sabha should be open to all affected villages. He also stated that the MoU with Vedanta for Niyamgiri was ‘illegal’ and unconstitutional since they are a private company and cannot be trusted to safeguard the tribal’s welfare.

 

On 7th June a delegation of Dongria Kond men and women will meet with the Odisha Governor SC Jamir, demanding that all affected villages are consulted in the upcoming gram sabhas and ensuring that voter lists are up to date and all affected people wishing to attend will be allowed to enter.

 

It could also be argued that the Odisha State government should never have been trusted to facilitate another Gram Sabha since their 2009 Gram Sabha on whether Niyamgiri should be mined was exposed as a total sham by video evidence. At the meeting many locals were kept outside and not allowed in, and though almost all present voiced loud opposition to the mine in speeches, thumbprints taken as registration were used to claim that they had agreed to the project. (please see video in footnote)

 

 

MoEF are not the people

At the end of the long process of filing hundreds of community claims, and ensuring that fair Palli Sabhas are held, the final nod on the mine goes back once again to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. This fact alone makes the Supreme Court’s judgement far from the radical democratic precedent it has been hailed as, and gives more scope for Vedanta to influence the Ministry over the many coming months before the decision may be eventually given.

However, the MoEF should remember their clear statement in the 11th January Supreme Court hearing when asked by the bench “Are you completely opposed to mining or under certain conditions you will allow mining?” Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran – acting for the MoEF told the court: “We are completely against the mining operations.”

 

Confusion is in Vedanta’s interests

The confusion over the meaning of the Supreme Court’s verdict and the proceedings now taking place is evident in the vastly varying newspaper reports coming in daily. The Orissa Post for example stated on Saturday 1st June that:

The department had issued a direction to the District Collectors of Rayagada and Kalahandi to invite fresh claims within six weeks from the people of 12 villages where the Gram Sabhas would be held. After collecting the claims from the people, the Government will hold Palli Sabhas within three months and then it will hold Gram Sabhas in these villages. However, the date of holding Gram Sabhas is not yet decided.

 

Palli sabhas are in fact the same as gram sabhas, and these have to be held within three months from Saturday’s announcement. The weak and confusing wording of the verdict has already delayed the process by six weeks while the Odisha Government claimed it was clarifying it’s interpretation, and there is much potential for further delays as either side may file ‘contempt of court’ or other resolution which would send the issue back into the court room.

Meanwhile, with share prices already low, factories and mines shut at Lanjigarh, Tuticorin and Goa, and Niyamgiri looking less and less likely, Vedanta are following their usual method of high debt, high risk buyouts to keep the share prices afloat. They are currently pushing the Central Government to sell them the remaining shares in BALCO and Hindustan Zinc ltd, and delaying tactics on the Niyamgiri case will give them more time to potentially save their skin in case Niyamgiri doesn’t come through.

Dragging out the process is exhausting and resource draining for the Dongria and Kutia Konds and local activists and is often used as a tactic to wear down resistance until people eventually capitulate from sheer exhaustion. However, in Niyamgiri’s case this looks very unlikely. The high turnout and defiant energy of the recent Padayatra shows the great strength of Niyamgiri’s people, who have recently been supporting other movements such as the struggle against the Lower Suktel Dam. Lingaraj Azad’s speech at the Padayatra’s final rally in Muniguda also clearly stated that the fight goes beyond Niyamgiri and beyond Vedanta. They are aware that as long as there is bauxite in their mountain they will always have to remain vigilant and ready to respond to threats.

source- http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/odisha-government-tries-every-trick-in-the-book-with-supreme-court-niyamgiri-verdict/

 

India – Grain bank movement is saving farmers from starvation in Odisha


An Insurance Against Hunger

The grain bank movement is saving farmers from starvation and the cycle of debt and desperation
Baba Umar

BABA UMAR, Tehelka

May 31, 2013

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

NOT MANY summers ago, only tamarind seeds, wild berries and mango kernels stood between the tribals of Ranjagoda village and death by starvation. However, activist Achyut Das found that there were no starvation deaths in the neighbouring villages in ’s Rayagada district, which had set up . “The concept, though, had never reached Ranjagoda,” says Das.

Until recently, Ranjagoda’s tribals had to part with most of their produce to pay back moneylenders. “Debt bondage was the root cause of starvation,” says Das. “With interest rates as high as 200 percent, most villagers lost their mortgaged land and productive assets. Many were forced to work as bonded labour for the moneylender, sometimes over generations.”

To help the villagers break out of the cycle of debt and starvation, Das mobilised them to form self-help groups. A local grain bank was set up with all 50 families of Ranjagoda contributing 9 kg of ragi, the local staple.

“Unlike rice, ragi can be stored for almost three years,” says Das. “So the villagers, who couldn’t afford to buy food in the lean summer months, could now borrow, say, 5 kg of ragi from the grain bank, and put back 25 percent more within five months.” It has been a decade since the initiative took off, and today Ranjagoda is able to loan grain and seeds to other villages.

The grain bank experience has been a boon for India — a food-surplus nation that has, paradoxically, always performed poorly in terms of the  (GHI). It has been placed below Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal in 2012 by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

As a way to battle hunger, the Centre announced plans to set up grain banks for the first time in 1996. So far, 21,751 village grain banks have been sanctioned across 20 states. “These can be set up in drought-prone areas, deserts, tribal areas and inaccessible hilly areas that remain cut off because of natural calamities. Foodgrain will be loaned to BPL families at one quintal per family under the scheme,” said Union Food Minister KV Thomas in October 2012.

In some cases, like at Pyallayaram village in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district, the grain banks also offer seeds and chemical inputs like fertilisers and pesticides to impoverished farmers. “The grain bank has helped the villagers get rid of both moneylenders and seed-sharks,” says Girdhar Babu of Deccan Development Society, one of the NGOs behind the grain bank initiatives in the state.

Poverty and food insecurity caused by prolonged drought and loss of traditional varieties of seeds had broken the back of Pyallayaram’s local economy, forcing many villagers to migrate. Those who stayed back were utterly destitute and malnourished. “That was 20 years ago. Relying solely on government relief schemes had encouraged a culture of dependency,” says Babu. “That changed when 34 women of the village took things into their own hands and started growing their own food.”

Subsequently, the villagers established a grain bank for poor farmers to ensure a steady supply of quality seeds by preserving the traditional varieties and restoring cultivation on marginal lands. “We have repeated the same experiment with self-help groups in 85 other villages,” adds Babu.