Niyamgiri: First of 12-village vote rejects Vedanta mining

FP

Vedanta Aluminium's controversial plan to mine the Niyamgiri hills for bauxite received a major jolt Thursday after local tribal people unanimously rejected the proposal, claiming religious and cultural rights over the entire hills after 200 minutes of high drama and suspense.

In the first of the 12 pallisabhas or village meetings held in Serkapadi on the hills of Rayagada district, 36 registered voters of the village present at the meeting voted against Vedanta's proposal to mine the Niyamgiri hilltop.

On April 18, the Supreme Court had ordered that the Union environment ministry would take a final decision on the grant of stage II clearance for the bauxite mining project within two months of the decisions of the pallisabhas.

Following the SC order, the Orissa government had notified that pallisabhas would be held in 12 villages in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts between July 18 and August 19.

"Niyamgiri is our God, our parent. It means everything to us. We have been worshiping it for years...our forefathers too. If we are thrown out from Niyamgiri, we would die like fish without water. Does the government want us to die like insects," asked an emotional Govind Sikaka of Serkapadi, in Kui and Oriya language, echoing the emotions of the Niyamgiri tribal people present at the meeting.

"We can give our head, our blood, but not Niyamgiri. It has given us everything, fruit, water, air," said Rupu Jakesika, a woman of Serkapadi, who signed two resolutions - one rejecting the proposal to mine Niyamgiri and the second staking a community rights claim over the Niyamgiri mountain.

Tempers soared when Dongaria Kondh tribal men and women insisted that an earlier resolution prepared by the state tribal affairs department restricting their community rights under the Forests Rights Act be scrapped. The earlier resolution on community rights limited the rights of Serkapadi to a few acres. When the tribals of the village refused to sign the resolution, Rayagada district judge Sarat Chandra Mishra, appointed an independent observer, threatened to end proceedings.

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