‘Large tracts of the deposits are covered under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution'

Forum for Better Visakha convener E.A.S. Sarma has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forest to stop mining of laterite in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts.

In a letter to the Secretaries of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, the State Chief Secretary, and others, Mr. Sarma, a former Union Secretary, said Samata, an NGO, had already submitted a representation against laterite mining near Avelthi village in East Godavari.

Apex court order

In response to Samata's PIL, the Supreme Court had pronounced the landmark judgment on the presumptive rights of the tribal population to own land and carry out mining in the Agency area of Visakhapatnam district.

“The concerns raised by Samata are compelling and genuine and I fully endorse the same,” Mr. Sarma said, and pointed out there were laterite deposits in the hill ranges spanning the border of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts, covering Nathavaram mandal of Visakhapatnam and extending to Avelthi and other surrounding villages along the hill tops and slopes of Sankhavaram mandal of East Godavari.

Bauxite content

These deposits have a significant content of bauxite in them. A large portion of these laterite tracts are covered under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and, per se, prohibited for any mining by private companies and non-tribal people.

Even in the areas not covered by the Fifth Schedule, since this tract supports the livelihood of hundreds of tribal families, any franchise for mining there would disrupt their lives and therefore should not be allowed, he stated.

The tribal people affected in the instant case were Konda Reddis, a primitive tribal group, who were far too diffident to face the officials and articulate their concerns, he said.

As the “Agent” of these tribal groups under the Land Transfer Act, one would have expected the district Collector to stand by them and act as the custodian of their Constitutional rights. The Governor of the State and the President had explicit Constitutional obligation to protect the rights of these tribal groups, who lead marginal lives and critically depend on these lands for their livelihood, Mr. Sarma said.

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