3-judge SC bench to hear Odisha plea for mining in Niyamgiri

New Delhi: A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Friday recommended to the Chief Justice of the apex court formation of a three-judge bench to hear the petition filed by the Odisha government seeking review of the 2013 SC decision upholding the resolution passed by 12 gram sabhas not to allow mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.

The two-judge bench said the matter will be heard after the formation of the three-judge bench.

In its petition filed on March 1, the State government had contended that the Forest Rights Act and its rules do not require any consent from gram sabha (village councils) for use of forestlands if the government decides that the rights of the people have been settled.

It had also contended that gram sabha resolutions rejecting mining in the Lanjigarh bauxite mines cannot remain perpetually in force. The state government has claimed that with adults dying in the community and new ones growing up to have voting rights in the gram sabha decisions should be up for review.

The State government’s mining arm Odisha Mineral Corporation (OMC) had knocked the doors of the Supreme Court seeking a review of the 2013 decision based on the views of 12 the gram sabhas disallowing mining at Niyamgiri hills, which is linked to Vedanta’s Lanjigarh alumina refinery. Though the OMC has been leased with the Niyamgiri hills, the major beneficiary would be Vedanta under a joint venture agreement between the two.

In 2013, 12 gram sabhas in and around the hill range, which were conducted as per a directive from the Supreme Court, had voted against mining at Niyamgiri hills.

The apex court had ordered the State government to conduct the gram sabhas as the Niyam Raja shrine, located 10 km from Niyamgiri hills range, is worshipped by tribals especially Dongaria Kondhs, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG).

Before filing the interlocutory application in the apex court, the State government had written to the Union Environment and Forests Ministry seeking approval for fresh garm sabhas. But, the ministry asked for a fresh proposal for forest and environment clearances as it had earlier cancelled clearances of the mining project following the referendum of the gram sabhas.