The Supreme Court has scrapped a petition filed, yet again by the Odisha Mining Corporation, challenging the resolutions of the Gram Sabhas of Niyamgiri Hills.
The state government run Corporation along with the London-based Vedanta Resources, has been attempting to occupy the adivasi’s land, which is rich in bauxite to set up a mining enterprise. The enterprise will be greatly beneficial to both the companies but will destroy the land and leave a population of nearly 8,000 adivasis of the Kondh community homeless.
This battle began in 2003 when a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources signed a MoU with the state Government to set up alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, Kalahandi.
For the past ten years, the Dongaria Kondhs have been looking beyond the education centres and health facilities being offered to them by Vedanta and continue their struggle to protect their land. In February 2013, the Supreme Court had directed the acquisition of the land for the bauxing mining site to the approval of the villagers.
The Odisha Government identified 12 out of 105 villages which would get directly impacted by the open-pit mining.
In the country’s first environmental referendum, all 12 villages unanimously disagreed to the project.
The decision was challenged by the Odisha Mining Corporation yet again on February 25, 2016 asking all gram sabhas to reconvene to discuss the bauxite mining site which has been turned down by the Supreme Court on May 6.
While this is great reason to celebrate, there is always the fear of the decision being challenged yet again or worse, history to be repeated in the villages.
The decade-long fight has taken a severe toll on the Dongaria Kondhs. On February 27, two days after filing the petition in the Supreme Court, a founder of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti(NSS), is reported to have claimed that the police had killed a 20-year-old boy in a fake encounter. Vedanta officials try to lure youth of the community by offering them money.
This is not a new practice, they claim. Earlier some members of the community were arrested without proper charges and harrassed to such extent in custody that they committed suicide after being released.
For the past 7 years, the region has been occupied by paramilitary forces which the government states are for maintaining the peace against Naxal forces. However, there is evidence to show that these forces have been used to curb the adivasis and torment them into agreeing to the plants.
The Dongaria Kondhs, on the other hand, live off the streams and plants of the Niyamgiri Hills and the bauxite plants will dry up the rivers and leave the land unusable for irrigation. They are fighting for their right to preserve their home and the Niyamgiri hills which they worship as their god.
The Supreme Court has maintained its stand on the issue by leaving the decision on the bauxite mine to the Gram Sabhas (Village Assemblies).
The Niyamgiri movement is not the only one of its kind in Odisha. There are also the Kashipur movement against Birlas and the Kalinganagar movement against Tatas that have seen years of barbaric suppression in the name of development. Both the latter companies have managed to keep a low profile of their efforts and continue to harass the adivasis to forfeit their lands.