First gram sabha nixes mining in Niyamgiri

In a setback to Anil Agarwal's Vedanta Aluminium (VAL), all 36 residents who participated in the first gram sabha meeting at Serkapadi village of Rayagada district on Thursday rejected a proposal to allow bauxite to be mined in the Niyamgiri hills.

The gram sabha was organised following a directive of Supreme Court and is the first of 12 such sabhas.

All the 36 villagers belong to the Dongaria Kondh tribe and expressed the view that mining bauxite in the Niyamgiri range across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts would hurt their religious rights and feelings as they consider Niyam Raja their presiding deity.

The sabha, overseen by Rayagada district judge Sarat Chandra Mishra, unanimously passed a resolution stating that the Niyamgiri range was sacred for the Dongaria Kondhs as they have been worshipping it for centuries. The proposed mining area, Niyama Danger, is 10 km from the peak that is considered the abode of Niyam Raja.

Gram sabha meetings are to be held at 11 more villages in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts. An April 18 order of the Supreme Court had directed the gram sabhas of the two districts to decide in three months issues relating to the mining project and to tribals residing in the area.

The next village council meeting will be held in the adjoining Kesarpadi village of Rayagada district on July 22 and the last meeting at Jarpa village, Kalahandi, on August 19. The reports of the 12 gram sabhas will be submitted to the Supreme Court by the collectors of the two districts by the end of August. The apex court had also directed the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to take action in two months after it receives a report from the gram sabhas.

Whether Vedanta will be allowed to mine bauxite at the site depends on the verdict of the local tribal residents.

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