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 – 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’

 

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.

 

#India – Tribal affairs ministry `turning tables’ on SC order on Niyamgiri mining rights #WTFnews


English: An ethnic Wife of Dhaneshwaran from t...

 

 

, TNN | Jun 4, 2013,

 

NEW DELHI: Despite the Supreme Court‘s order, the village councils, or gram sabhas of the Dongria Kondh tribals may not be able to decide upon their traditional and religious rights against the mining interests of Vedanta. A narrow interpretation of the SC order by the tribal affairs ministry promises to turn the district administration into the final decision-making body and the village councils of the tribals as only a claimant of their rights.

The move could snatch away the village council’s rights to be final arbiters of their traditional and religious rights over the contentious Niyamgiri hills, and leave it in the hands of the state government to take the final call.

The apex court had ordered that the village councils to decide if mining of bauxite would impact the cultural and religious rights, besides impinging on the tribals’ livelihood. It had ordered the Centre and the Odisha government to facilitate a free and fair decision by the affected village councils.

The tribal affairs ministry moved quickly to ask the state government to ensure all village councils get a chance to vote and decide on the matter. The state government whittled down the list of villages involved to only 12, including five and seven in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, respectively.

Now, the tribal affairs ministry itself has limited the village council’s powers by suggesting that they can only entertain claims from the locals and convey their views, which would then be decided upon by the sub-divisional and district level panels set up under the Forest Rights Act(FRA).

The sub-divisional committee in Odisha consists of sub-collector as chairman, sub-divisional forest officer, three members of panchayat samiti and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary. The district-level committee is headed by district magistrate with divisional forest officer, three zilla parishad members and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary.

The panels are meant to form the three layers that determine the livelihood and land rights of the tribals, but the recent SC order had stated that village councils would decide on their cultural and religious rights and take a call on whether the project would be an impediment towards their privileges.

The subtle alteration in the reading of the order through a ‘training module’, which the tribal affairs ministry has prepared especially for the tribals ahead of crucial village councils’ vote, has vested power in the hands of the Odisha government.

The apex court verdict had given another route for tribals to protect their lands after the Union government shied away from defending the existing norms that require a direct consent from village councils before forestlands can be used by industries. But the precedent-setting verdict of the court could stand substantially diluted in the test case itself.

 

 

 

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.

 

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


Author(s):
Kumar Sambhav S…
Anupam Chakravartty
Issue Date:
2013-6-15

Environment ministry recognises religious rights, pushes ecological concerns behind

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

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

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

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

Religious rights v ecological issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

amita
MoEF has deliberately entered into a minefield. It seems the ministry did not have any option but to become a part of the exclusive and communal politics
— AMITA BAVISKAR, FORMER MEMBER OF FOREST ADVISORY COMMITTEE

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

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

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

Everybody’s deity

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

RELIGION IN LAW BOOK

1949

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

1994

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

1996

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

2006

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

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

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

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

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/20130515_14(1).jpg” width=”457″ height=”284″ border=”0″ />A NASA image of Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals (source: NASA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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.