The Dongaria Kondh tribal people of Niyamgiri on Thursday said an emphatic no to the proposed mining in the Niyamgiri hills which is spread over the tribal-dominated districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in Odisha.
Taking part in the first Gram Sabha that was held at Sherkapadi village in Sibapadar gram panchayat in Rayagada district during the day, as many as 36 out of the 38 adult residents of the village who attended the hearing vehemently opposed the proposed mining in the Niyamgiri hills.
The Gram Sabha was conducted by Ward Member Shriram Gardia in the presence of Panchayat Extension Officer Pradhani Sabar. District Judge of Rayagada Sarat Chandra Mishra was present as an observer in the meeting as per Supreme Court order.
The villagers, who rejected an inter-departmental inquiry report that detailed the land used by the residents of Sherkapadi, said that they worshipped the entire Niyamgiri hill range as ‘Niyamraja’.
The 20 men and 16 women of the village who took part in the Gram Sabha hearing and spoke in Kui and Odia language said the proposed mining will affect their religious rights as well as the rituals.
According to sources, two resolutions were passed in the Gram Sabha. While in one resolution the villagers completely opposed the proposed bauxite mining project, in the second resolution they claimed religious rights over the whole of Niyamgiri which has as many as 112 tribal villages.
The Gram Sabha was conducted amid tight security. The hearing that lasted for several hours passed off peacefully.
Meanwhile, Prafulla Samantara, national convener of National Alliance of People's Movements, congratulated the tribal people for their determination to protect Niyamgiri.
The Gram Sabha at Sherkapadi was the first in a series of Gram Sabhas to be conducted in 12 villages in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts as announced by Odisha government.
In its judgment passed on April 18, the Supreme Court had ordered that Gram Sabhas should take a final view on the proposed bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills to source bauxite for the existing alumina refinery of Vedanta Aluminium Limited at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district.
As per the Odisha government’s decision, Gram Sabhas will be conducted in seven villages of Rayagada district from July 18 to August 19 and five villages of Kalahandi from July 23 and July 30.
The Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, however, had opposed the Odisha government decision and demanded that Gram Sabhas be held in all the 112 villages of Niyamgiri instead of only in 12 villages chosen by the authorities.