Bhubaneswar: Nearly two months after accepting former Congress leader Jayanthi Natrajan’s claims that he had instructed Natrajan to protect the environment and the tribals, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today said that he was approached by the dongria tribe in Niyamgiri to protect the hills.
Addressing a mega farmers’ rally in New Delhi, the Congress heir apparent said that during his visit to Niyamgiri in Kalahandi district, the tribals had requested him to save the hills from being mined.
“I had personally met some dongrias during my visit to Niyamgiri. They had requested me that Niyamgri hills should not be handed over to Vedanta for mining,” Gandhi said.
The Congress scion continued: “One of the dongrias had met me after the general elections and approached that they will adopt naxalism if Niyamgiri is taken away from them.”
In a November 2014 letter addressed to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Natrajan had slammed the party chief as well as Rahul Gandhi for stalling some mega mining projects in India including Niyamgiri in the State.
Natarajan, in her letter, said she had received specific requests [which she said were directives] from Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and she said she took care to honour those requests. Some of them listed were Vedanta, the Nirma cement project and tribal issues.
“Shri Rahul Gandhi went in person to Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, and publicly declared to the dongria kondh tribals that he would be their “sipahi” and would not allow their interests to suffer at the hands of mining giant Vedanta. His views in the matter were conveyed to me by his office, and I took great care to ensure that the interests of the tribals were protected and rejected environmental clearance to Vedanta despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as “stalling” a Rs. 30,000 crore investment from Vedanta,” the letter read.
In January Natrajan quit the party with a scathing indictment of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.
A week later, Rahul, in an election rally in New Delhi, accepting a part of Natrajan’s claims had said, “I told Jayanthi Natarajan to protect the environment and the tribals.”