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 displaced women and children imprisoned for a month by #Vedanta and police #Vaw #WTFnews


Badapada:

Badapada: the jailed women and children tell their story

19th June.  This report, directly from a Foil Vedanta team on the ground in Niyamgiri, tells a shocking story of the month long imprisonment of a group of Dalit women and children displaced by Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. The testimonies provide clear evidence of the collusion of Vedanta and police working as one, and show the callous nature of their outright disregard for human rights or basic morality. Foil Vedanta is now following this case up with local lawyers.

Please also see the video interview with Padma Tandi here.

On 10th June 2013, a team of three Foil Vedanta activists visited Badapada village in Lanjigarh. Badapada is a Dalit village, where the villagers had lost agricultural land to Vedanta when the company was establishing the Lanjigarh refinery. As a result of Vedanta not adhering to any of its resettlement promises, the villagers have registered an association called “Vedanta Land Loser’s Association”, to demand proper implementation of the rehabilitation processes and to seek accountability from Vedanta and the state for promises made to them before the refinery was set up on their land. Mr. Kumar, a retired school teacher, who is the President of the Vedanta Land Loser’s Association, told us,

 

Badapada women blockade the railway into Lanjigarh in May 2011

The agricultural lands of the Dalits in this village were taken away by Vedanta. We were promised Rs 3 lakh compensation, but the compensation provided to us has been a scam and very erratic, people have received varying amounts ranging from 25k to 1 lakh rupees. We have done so much Andolan. We have organised numerous demonstrations and rallies, we blocked the nearby railway line on one occasion. We have petitioned and submitted memorandums to everyone — the Chief Minister, the Governor, the Orissa Human Rights Commission, Jairam Ramesh, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Still there has been no solution. No-one is listening to the poor. Everyone one is the company’s ‘dalal’ (agent). We have had to face so much pain and hardship because of Vedanta, and we are constantly threatened and harassed. The company has completely destroyed our lives. Our villagers were promised jobs in the refinery, till date it has not given anyone in the village even a coolie’s job. This company is full of lies. We do not have our lands anymore, and we do not have any jobs. How are we supposed to survive? Who will listen to the poor? Everyone has been bought by the company”

 

An incident of blatant human and child rights violation emerged from the village, adding to a series of incidents so far. The villagers informed us that twelve women from the village had been arrested on false cases on 7th April 2013. They had been kept in jail for one month and three days. What was most shocking was that there were also two minor children, both of two years of age who had also been kept in custody with their mothers during this period of time. This is a very serious violation by the Odisha state police. We immediately had a impromptu meeting of the ten women who had been arrested. Initially, the women were scared to give any statements, given their harrowing experience in jail. However, on being persuaded by other villagers, they opened up and provided us with some very shocking testimonies.

 

I am a widow, whose hardships have increased many fold ever since the company came here. I was walking around the refinery area, when I slipped and fell down, and hurt myself. The other women ran towards me to make sure that I was ok. Suddenly, several policemen arrived and started beating me. They also dragged and pulled the other women” —- Padma Tandi

 

We had ran to see if Padma was ok. Once the police arrived, they started manhandling us. There were two women police, but they were just standing by. The male policeman started dragging and pushing us, and pulled our hair. All of us were forcibly put inside a Vedanta vehicle. That was the most atrocious thing. Why was the state police dragging us into a Vedanta vehicle? If they had to arrest us, they should taken us in a police van, not in a Vedanta gaari! We were taken straight to the Bhawanipatna court.” – Kanchono Suna

 

They took two children also into jail. My son, Bulbul Nihal, two yrs and Aditya Nihal, son of Saraswati Nayak, also two yrs – were in jail with us. What crimes have these little children, who have just learnt to speak, committed? The police and company have no right to keep kids in jail like this!” – Doini Nihal

 

“ We have no proper information about the court case that has been registered against us. We saw our lawyer being paid money in the police station. The police and lawyers have been bought by the company. There is no-one to listen to the cries of the poor. When the police had taken us in the Vedanta vehicle on 7th April, which was a Sunday, we were told that we would be released by the following Tuesday, the 9th. However, we stayed in jail for a whole month and three days. The police and company is trying to scare us, to intimidate us, so that they can break our will, our voice and our struggle.” – Jamuna Durga

 

Following are the names of the women and children arrested by the police, as recalled by the villagers:

  1. Suryamukhi Tandey
  2. Saraswati Nayak and 2 year old child, Aditya Nayak
  3. Jamuna Durga
  4. Kanchona Suna
  5. Savita Harijan
  6. Babuli Harijan
  7. Maya Suni
  8. Guloni Harijan
  9. Neela Batisona
  10. Gourimoni Tandi
  11. Doini Nihal, and 2year old child, Bulbul Nihal

 

The women were also not provided the free legal aid they are legally supposed to have access to as Dalits. They stressed how they do not have the financial resources to engage with the legal process, and hence it is used a pressure tactic by Vedanta to silence voices.

 

Foil Vedanta members are now trying to get access to court documents on this incident, and we will be updating very soon in this regard.

 

Posted:  June 19th, 2013

 

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’

 

Complaint to Odisha Human Rights Commission on CRPF atrocities in Niyamgiri


To, The Secretary,

Odisha Human Rights Commission,

Bhubaneshwar
Date: 11th June 2013
Sub: CRPF atrocities and human rights violations in villages of Niyamgiri mountains
On 3rd June 2013, at around 11am, the Central Reserve Police Force opened fired on a group of three Dongria Kond tribals (1 adult and 2 children) from the interior Batudi village of the Niyamgiri mountains who were bathing in the stream near Panimunda village. A group of adult men and children from Batudi village had gone to bathe to the nearby Panimuda village as the water streams around their village were still dry. Around 11 Dongrias (6 adults and 5 children) were bathing at a higher level of the stream, and one adult and two children were bathing at a lower level. Suddenly, the CRPF opene fired. The two children, Munna Jakesika (14years) and Ravi Jakesika (10years), and Pakru Jakesia (25 years) were present in the area where the CRPF open fired. Their photo is attached. Terrified, three of them started running uphill towards where the the other people were. Bullets flew through Munna, Ravi and Pakru’s sides and above their heads. The adults who were on a higher level of the stream, on hearing the bullet sounds rushed towards where the sound was coming from. They saw Munna, Ravi and Pakru frantically running uphill, as bullets missed them by inches. This open firing by the CRPF lasted for around 5 minutes.
This incident was reported by villagers of Batudi who witnessed the firing to a group of activists (Samarendra Das and Devangana Kalita) who visited the village on 7th June 2013. The names of the 11 people who saw the firing on Munna, Ravi and Pakru, and who reported the incident to us are as follows:
Duku Jakesika: 30yrs
Derku Sikaka: 20yrs
Janju Mandika: 22yrs
Bindu Jakesika: 32yrs
Momo Jakesika: 20yrs
Druku Jakesika: 21yrs
Babula Jakesika: 8yrs
Lanji Kuturuka: 6yrs
Swadevo Jakesika: 10yrs
Manni Kuturuka: 8yrs
Lassu Jakesika: 12yrs
We also spoke to the three people on whom the CRPF had fired. The two children, not surprisingly, were immensely shaken after the experience, and recounted how terrified and scared they felt as the bullets flew on their sides and above their heads. Duku Jakesika, in a powerful statement, said,
“This is an assault on our very lives. The CRPF has no right to shoot at us without any provocation. Villagers bathing in a stream are not Maoists. Little children are not Maoists. These are our mountains, our forests, our land. Because of the CRPF, today, we cannot roam around freely in our own area. We do not feel safe anymore, we have to live in fear and insecurity. Our lives do not matter to the state, they can kill us whenever or wherever.”
This incident in Batudi is indeed a gross violation of national and international human and children’s rights. It is however, one of many similar incidents of CRPF atrocities in the Niyamgiri mountains. CRPF’s ‘combing’ operations have been generating immense fear and insecurity amongst the Dongria Kond, and threatening people’s lives, livelihood and culture. On 5th June in Kesarpadi village, a meeting of Dongrias from various villages was held to discuss on the gram sabha process ordained by the Supreme Court. In the meeting, a Dongria woman, in an interview with Oriya journalist, Amitabh Patra, narrated the following experience of CRPF atrocities,
“Few days back we were gathering forest products near our village. At that time so many armed forces arrived and they pointed guns at us and surrounded us. They started asking “where is Lada (the tribal leader)? Where have you hidden the maoists ? Where have you hidden the weapons? Why are you opposing mining?” Some one from the behind yelled – ‘If you resist the mining you will be killed like dogs’…………….We do not want such development where our lives are threatened every moment by the armed forces! We kept some weapons to safeguard our selves and our crops from wild animals. We do not want to kill the animals, but to drive them away. Occasionally when these animals attack or come too close to us we get killed. They (CRPF) came and barged into our houses, took away our belongings, threw our stored food grains and cooked food, took away our worship weapons and the guns we kept for our protection from wild animals. We have been living and preserving the mountains and the soil and everything around us since centuries. You can see us living in harmony with nature. But since past ten years our peace and life has been disturbed by the company and police. Since the armed forces presence our freedom to move around in our mountains has been restricted. We are living in a state of fear”
The video of the women’s interview can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5D7FAUhNQg&feature=youtu.be . She did not want to reveal her name or village in fear of retribution by the armed forces. She felt without her name and village, it would be difficult for the CRPF to easily locate her, since she lived in the villages inside the forests.
Such atrocities and gross violations by the CRPF are threatening the existence, livelihood, mobility and freedom of the Dongria Kond. The Dongria Kond only live in the Niyamgiri mountains, and such immense repression by the CRPF and the atmosphere of fear and vulnerability generated by this are violations of international standards and protocols for protection of tribal groups.
We demand an immediate enquiry by the Orissa Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights into these violations by the CRPF in the Niyamgiri mountains. These inhuman atrocities need to be immediately stopped, especially in the context of the democratic process of conducting gram sabhas for determining Dongria’s religious, cultural and habitat rights that has been initiated by the Supreme Court judgement on the Niyamgiri mining case. No democratic process can be truly free and fair, in a context of such repression and violation of the Dongria’s basic human rights.
We look forward to hearing from you at the earliest and hope that immediate action will be taken on this matter.
Yours sincerely,
Samarendra Das, Activist, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and Foil Vedanta (London)
Devangana Kalita, Independent Researcher and Activist, New Delhi.
Amitabh Patra, Journalist and Activist, Orissa

 

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- Gram sabha ball set to roll for Vedanta bid to mine at Niyamgiri Hills


Kondh Lady

Gram sabha ball set to roll

Satyanarayan Pattnaik & Sandeep Mishra, TNN | Jun 1, 2013, 01.20 AM IST

BHUBANESWAR/ KORAPUT: Adhering to the Supreme Court‘s order to conduct gram sabhas to decide the fate of Vedanta bid to mine bauxite at Niyamgiri hills, the state government would on Saturday serve notices to hold such meetings in 12 villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, official sources said.The decision to issue notification seeking receipt of objections from tribals residing at the 12 villages followed the Orissa high court appointing the district judges of Rayagada and Kalahandi to act as observers to oversee proceedings of the gram sabhas in their respective villages, which are located on the Niyamgiri hill slope.

“The high court has communicated to us its decision to nominate the district judges of Rayagada and Kalahandi to oversee the proceedings in their respective districts,” secretary, ST and SC welfare, Sontosh Sarangi told TOI on Friday.

The Supreme Court, in its April 18 ruling, said a judicial officer of the rank of a district judge should serve as an observer during the gram sabhas. The apex court had directed that gram sabhas be held within three months to examine the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims of the Dongria Kondh.

The state government has selected five villages (Tadijhola, Palberi, Phuldumer, Ijurpa and Kunakado) in Kalahandi and seven villages (Jarapa, Khambesi, Kesarpadi, Batudi, Serakapadi, Lakhapadar and Lamba) in Rayagada to conduct palli sabhas. Rejecting certain activists’ allegations that the government chose the villages at random, a senior officer said these villages lie on the hill slope and the government had informed the SC about it on December 6, 2012, through an affidavit. “Nobody had raised any objection about them then and it was in the context of that affidavit that the final judgment came,” the officer said.

“This is the first phase of conducting palli sabha (gram sabha). On Saturday, notices in both Odia and Kui languages will be served to the tribals residing at the seven villages in our district. They will be given six weeks to submit their objections, if any, before the palli sabha is held,” said collector (Rayagada) Sashi Bhusan Padhi.

“The required forms to be distributed among tribals have been printed in Odia and Kui and the officers will read out the notice before each household. The officials will also use loud speakers to announce the purpose of the palli sabha at the respective villages. Hoardings of the notice will also be put on at the villages. The entire process will be video recorded. Besides, the notice will also be published in local dailies for wider publicity,” Padhi added.

Official sources said a similar process would be followed in Kalahandi. The tribals after filling up the forms will submit them at the respective forest right committee, which will be present at the palli sabha. After six weeks, starting June 1, in consultation with the concerned district judge, dates for the palli sabha will be announced, officials added.

Vedanta’s one MTPA alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi has been closed since December 5 following acute shortage of bauxite.

 

Activist alleges Odisha govt trying to manipulate SC order on bauxite mining


 

Hindustan Times  Bhubaneswar, May 29, 2013

 
First Published: 18:42 IST(29/5/2013) | Last Updated: 18:45 IST(29/5/2013)
 
 

Lok Shakti Abhiyan president Prafulla Samantara on Wednesday alleged the Odisha government was attempting to subvert the recent order of the Supreme Court relating to holding gram sabhas for a decision on proposed bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hill for Vedanta Group’s plant and sought Odisha governor SC Jamir’s intervention in the matter.

The social activist, an intervener in the Orisha Mining Corporation versus Union ministry of environment and forest case in the apex court, warned: “As the third party in the case we will be forced to move the Supreme Court for initiating contempt proceedings unless the state government stops manipulating and subverting the order of the court.”

On April 18, the Supreme Court in its order asked the state government for holding gram sabha saying that the decision of gram sabhas of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts was crucial on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in the Niyamgiri hill – home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribals, portrayed in western media as Na’vi from Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.

On Monday the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste department of Odisha government issued notice to the district collectors of Kalahandi and Rayagada to hold gram sabhas in 12 villages of both the districts and complete the process within three months as stipulated by the Supreme Court.   

Samantara however said the selection of just 12 villages was in contravention to the judgment of the Supreme Court, while there are more than 42 villages within 10 km range of the proposed bauxite mining project area. He said a letter from the Union ministry of environment and forest on May 2 clearly mentioned that the list of villages as prepared by the state government should be shared with the central ministry and made public through new advertisements for transparency so that corrections can be made in the list if any village was left out. 

“But the list prepared by the state government has not yet been made public and shared with all stake holders as required by the ministry’s direction,” Samantara said.

Odisha government’s MoU with Vedanta group in 2004 includes supply of 78 million tonnes of bauxite from Niyamgiri by the state owned OMC to Vedanta’s alumina refinery adjacent to the hill. OMC has not been able to mine the hill due to stiff protest from the tribals who revere 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.