“We are ready to die as we cannot think of life without Niyamraja”

Continuing the opposition to bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, the third palli (gram) sabha held here in Trilochanpur panchayat adopted a unanimous resolution on Tuesday not to allow digging of bauxite ore from their area.

Amid heavy bandobust, the gram sabha, home to 22 OBC families, repeated the sentiments expressed at two other gram sabhas held earlier at Serkapadi and Kesarpadi in the neighbouring Rayagada district. The gram sabhas are being held for the first time in the country on a directive by the Supreme Court to verify claims that mining in Niyamgiri — the seat of power of Niyamraja, the ‘ista debata’ (presiding deity) of the locals — would violate their religious and cultural rights.

This is the only village, located in an interior area, where Gowds have lived for several centuries. All other villages are home to Dongria Kondhs, a tribal group.

Kalahandi Vigilance Judge-cum-Additional District Judge Pramod Kumar Jena had to ride a bike and trek a difficult, slushy and steep hillock to reach the village about 75 km from Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi in Odisha. “It took me one hour to trek the distance. I have not seen such a remote village, where there is no school, hospital, power and other facilities,” he told The Hindu. He was accompanied by a medicine specialist from Government District Hospital, Bhawanipatna, Dr. Dinabandhu Sahu.

During the gram sabha, which lasted for three hours, Sugri Goud, an 87-year-old woman traditional healer, said “Niyamgiri provides them everything and they will not allow mining either by the government, Vedanta or any other company. We are ready to die as we cannot think of life without Niyamraja.” Of the 19 adults who attended, 10 were men and nine women. All the villagers later asked the judge to convey their feelings to the Supreme Court.

The chairman of Green Kalahandi (an advocacy group), Siddharth Nayak, said proposing mining in Niyamgiri for the one million tonne bauxite refinery of the Vedanta located at Lanjigarh near this area, would trigger an environmental disaster by drying up the hill streams and spoiling the rich ecosystem of the area.