Villagers’ bid to decide Vedanta project fate puts Niyamgiri hills on radar


By Nitin Sethi, TNN | 10 May, 2013
NEW DELHI: The villages of DongriyaKondhtribals around Odisha‘sNiyamgiri hills are set to become a flash point again, with the Centre and the state government along with civil society groups planning to converge on the site of the proposed Vedanta bauxite mine. Emboldened by the Supreme Court order, the villagers are to decide the fate of the Vedanta project and take a call whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.

The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order Odisha to ensure the tribal group can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.

Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified and well policed zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.

Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order has started in earnest within various quarters of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.

Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled at a higher level, where the state bureaucracy wields power and influence.

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas that do get to vote is expected to be as critical as the freedom with which the village councils do get to meet finally amid heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.

The extra-ordinary promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — something the environment ministry had used to finally step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to prove its credentials.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored a point or two with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the rather innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the regulations that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government that has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.

The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA, a UPA pro-tribal promise he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.

 

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Maharashtra to re-examine claims rejected under forest rights Act | kracktivist
  2. Trackback: #India – Tribals set to decide Vedanta project’s fate | kracktivist
  3. Trackback: Recent Supreme Court order in Vedanta case holds hope for tribal community life | kracktivist
  4. Trackback: Odisha to seek six more weeks to conduct Niyamgiri Gram Sabhas | kracktivist
  5. Trackback: Odisha – Governor reviews Government Move on Niyamgiri verdict | kracktivist
  6. Trackback: #India – Tribal affairs ministry `turning tables’ on SC order on Niyamgiri mining rights #WTFnews | kracktivist
  7. Trackback: #India – Face to Face: Kishore Chandra Deo, Union Mininster for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj | kracktivist

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