By Prafulla Samantara and Bhalachandra Sarangi*
There is disbelief over the recent developments pertaining to Vedanta’s Niyamgiri wild dreams. The People of Niyamgiri struggle are shocked and surprised to learn from newspaper reports that the Naveen Pattnaik government is shamelessly going ahead to do the most undemocratic and unethical act of subverting democracy and wisdom of judiciary in order to appease the Vedanta Company and also generate funds for the party for the elections.
It seems the state is planning to reconvene Gram Sabhas in Niyamgiri, more particularly in all the 12 villages which voted against the proposed mining in Niyamgiri in earlier convened Gram Sabhas, during July 18-August 19, 2013 as held under direction from Supreme Court of India and under judicial supervision. It may be recalled that all the 12 villages had said unanimously said “No to Mining”. It was expected from the government, which had encouraged the company involved in anti-people activities to hold them accountable for violations of established laws and acts of the land. That it will at least realize its mistakes and won’t allow any further damage or harm to the already deteriorating trust between the vulnerable Dongarias and the State.
The inhabitants of Niyamgiri had believed that recognition of their verdict in Gram Sabhas by the government at the centre has indeed ended the tragedy; and thus had started cooperating with a deceptive district administration to bring certain state run schemes to the area. Initially, it was difficult for them to believe the benevolence of the District Collector of Rayagada but they started cooperating in all so-called developmental work with the assumption that Company Raj is over and now administration will really look after their needs and necessities. But as of now, the real intention of the administration has been exposed after the newspapers revealed their evil design.
We must thank media for alerting public about this dangerous move which will definitely be challenged. The state had abandoned Niyamgiri and the Dongaraias for 67 years and remembered only for bauxite mining after arrival of Vedanta in 2002. The administration was particularly upset with Gram Sabha verdicts in 2013 and boycotted the hills for the last 2 years and recently started figuring again proactively in the area, which has surprised many. We did not object as we carry the burden imposed on us of being anti-development by the government and the champions of unethical industry”.
We would like to warn the state government and advice it not to resort to backdoor and corrupt anti-people practices. Naveen Pattnaik should remember that if he intends to payback anything to his election funder Vedanta, he dare not think of handing over Niyamgiri to the company. The state’s complicity in Vedanta’s criminal records has been abundantly proved in the past. The report submitted by the CEC of India’s Supreme Court on September 21, 2005, had clearly indicted the State’s role and its wrongdoings.
The CEC said, “The use of the forest land in an ecologically sensitive area like the Niyamgiri Hills should not be permitted… it is recommended that this Hon’ble Court may consider revoking the environmental clearance dated September 22, 2004 granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for setting up of the Alumina Refinery Plant by M/s Vedanta and directing them to stop further work on the project. This project may only be reconsidered after an alternative bauxite mine site is identified.”
The recent move to conduct the Gram Sabhas arbitrarily shows scant regard to democracy and judiciary by the State government. The CEC said, “The casual approach, the lackadaisical manner and the haste with which the entire issue of forests and environmental clearance for the alumina refinery project has been dealt with smacks of undue favour/leniency and does not inspire confidence with regard to the willingness and resolve of both the State Government and the MoEF to deal with such matters keeping in view the ultimate goal of national and public interest.”
It was the state which had moved to the Apex Court through its OMC for seeking relief for Vedanta and to get the judiciary’s node for mining Niyamgiri. The Apex Court while closing the matter in its verdict of April 18, 2013 had asked the Gram Sabhas in Niyamgiri to take a final decision as per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. The state government tried to manipulate the order by arbitrarily selecting 12 villages assuming that these villages will say ‘Yes’ to mining. They got a shock when things did not happen in their way. All the Gram Sabhas which took place between July 18 and August 19, 2013 amidst tight security and in the presence of district judges of Rayagda and Kalanhandi had said unanimously said ‘NO’ to mining.
They had also said in clear and logical terms the reasons of their opposition which any one could understand. The state government can’t pretend that it failed to read the Dongaria’s mind and wants to do a re-reading unless Naveen Pattnaik regime and its bureaucrats, who have been involved in anti-people activities in the state, have been particularly motivated to do so.
We would like to reaffirm our faith in judiciary, Indian laws, Acts and the constitution; and warn the state not to venture in to such unethical, unconstitutional and corrupt practices to appease a mere unethical company whose role and involvement in corrupt practices are being globally questioned, Zambia being the latest example. However, in collusion with the state government, the company was allowed to build its refinery and also allowed to expand its capacity from 1 million tonnes without any valid sanctions and clearances, shows a lot about the dirty deals between Vedanta and Odisha government. Now, it sounds ridiculous when the state is jumping forward to hand over Niyamgiri to Vedanta, citing closure of the refinery.
It is unfair of the government now to say that people are losing jobs and that’s why it is essential to hand over the bauxite source for the refinery and Niyamgiri hills. Rather government should penalize Vedanta for the violations and use the money for mitigating the environmental damage caused to the region. They said, it will never be allowed by the Dongarias and it will face massive resistance once again and will use all options available in front of them.
*With Lok Shakti Abhiyan, National Alliance of People’s Movements