Not a front for Maoists, says Niyamgiri samiti

Difficult situation:The Dongria Kondh tribals have been caught in the crossfire between security forces and Maoists in recent years.File Photo  

The Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS), the organisation that has been opposing bauxite mining in Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills since 2003, on Monday strongly denied that it was working as a front organisation for the Maoists.

“The samiti has been fighting to protect the interests of the tribal people living in Niyamgiri hills much before the Maoists started their activities in the region. We strongly condemn the Home Ministry’s report,” NSS adviser Lingaraj Azad said.

Mr. Azad, a prominent rights activist, was reacting to media about the Home Ministry’s annual report that said the NSS allegedly worked as a front organisation for the Maoists.

“The Home Ministry’s report is intentional and aimed at protecting the interests of the companies,” Mr Azad said.

‘Opposed to violence’

“We have always opposed violence – either State violence or Maoist violence. We will not bow down, but continue our struggle to protect Niyamgiri from being mined,” he added.

The Home Ministry report said the NSS actively campaigned against mining activity by the Odisha Mining Corporation atop the Niyamgiri hills, which would have given the Vedanta Group access to natural resources.

In 2013, as many as 12 gram sabhas of Dongria Kondh and Kutia Kondh tribals in Niyamgiri hills spread across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts had voted against any mining activity in the area.

Last year, the Supreme Court quashed a petition by the Odisha Mining Corporation to hold fresh gram sabha consultations to allow bauxite mining on Niyamgiri hills. The Dongria Kondh tribals have been caught in the crossfire between security forces and Maoists in recent years.

‘Motivated attempt’

“So far as the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti is concerned, the report of the Home Ministry is full of lies and a motivated attempt to crush the habitat right of Dongrias who, along with Jharania and Kutia tribals, have been resisting through democratic protests under NSS since 2003 when there was no presence of Maoists,” said Prafulla Samantara, the president of Lok Shakti Abhiyan, a mass organisation.

‘Innocents targeted’

“The government claimed their presence, but the NSS has nothing to do with it. The NSS is always democratic; it never resorted to violence. Rather, innocent tribals are being targeted by the police in the name of repression of Maoists,” he said.

“It is a fact that the Maoist organisation opposed to conducting gram sabhas after the historical judgment of the Supreme Court, but the NSS welcomed it and tribals conducted and participated fully. They could prove that the illiterate villagers are more democratic with their wisdom to protect the Niyamgiri which is very important ecological spot of Eastern Ghat,” Mr. Samantara said.

Environment prize

Mr. Samantara, who has been actively involved in the Niyamgiri movement and supporting NSS, has gone to London to receive a prestigious environment prize.

“We activists like me, Mr. Azad, Satya Mahar, Lingaraj of Gandhamardan movement and many others are associated with it actively, we believe in Gandhian way of Satyagraha. Yes we oppose mining of bauxite and alumina plant in Niyamgiri and corporate economic policy of the Centre and the State governments. Now the central government is making false report to crush any democratic dissent to facilitate the corporates like Vedanta who has given more funds to BJP in 2014 election,” added Mr. Samantara.