Rayagada (Odisha), 18 Jul (PTI): The tribal residents at the first Gram Sabha in Odisha’s Rayagada district today opposed the bauxite mining at Niyamgiri Hills for Vedanta’s refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district.
“The villagers are opposed the bauxite mining at Niyamgiri Hills. They fear adverse impact of mining on their cultural and religious rights,” Rayagada District Judge Sarat Chandra Mishra, who has been named supervisor for a series of Gram Sabhas in the district, said after the Sabha at Serkapalli village.
Asked whether any of the 36 members present at the Sabha supported bauxite mining at the hills, the district judge said “All are opposed to mining as tribals worship the hill as their presiding deity.”
Of the 46 Gram Sabha members of Serkapalli village, 36 including 16 women attended it as per the April 18 direction of the Supreme Court.
The apex court had said that the tribals should decide whether bauxite mining should be allowed at Niyamgiri.
The proceedings were video recorded as per the guidelines framed by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
“Why should we allow bauxite mining on the chest of our God (Niyam Raja)?” asked a villager.
“We fear danger to natural springs due to the mining,” said Kumuti Majhi, convenor of the Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, a tribal body spearheading the campaign against mining in Niyamgiri.
The Serkapalli Gram Sabha was the first of the 12 to be held in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, official sources said.
The next Gram Sabha would be held at Kesarpadi on July 22.
The state government had earlier identified 12 hill villages where the Gram Sabhas would be held within three months of the Supreme Court order.
While five villages were located in Kalahandi district, another seven villages were in Rayagada district.
With Odisha government today holding the Gram Sabha in Niyamgiri Hills area, Union Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo said limiting the exercise (Gram Sabha) to 12 villages was not in accordance with Supreme Court’s judgement.
“Odisha government holding Gram Sabhas in only 12 hill slope villages of Niyamgiri is not in compliance to the Supreme Court judgement delivered on April 18. We may move the Apex Court over this issue,” Deo told a private television channel.
Stating that all the villages living in Niyamgiri Hills area should be given chance to give their opinion through Gram Sabha on the proposed mining, the Union Minister said, “Only 12 villages cannot take the decision.”
However, Odisha’s Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development Minister Lal Behari Himirika said: “We have selected 12 hill slope villages for holding Gram Sabha. And this is as per the Supreme Court’s judgement.”
Himirika claimed the state government has not violated the Apex Court’s order.
Earlier, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) secretary Vibha Puri Das in a letter to the Odisha Chief Secretary, had said that limiting the gram sabha proposal to only a dozen villages would not be in line with Supreme Court orders and the directions issued by the Ministry under Section 12 of Forest Rights Act (FRA).
In response to the MoTA secretary’s letter, Sarangi had said that the Centre was free to move the Supreme Court if it was unhappy over the Odisha government’s decision.
The Odisha AG has meanwhile observed in a report that holding gram sabhas in select Niyamgiri hills villages spread over Rayagada and Kalahandi districts would not be in contravention of the Supreme Court’s April 18.