Cong MP’s presence in Niyamgiri gram sabha criticised

Bhubaneswar: Presence of Congress MP Bhakta Charan Das on Thursday at a gram sabha held in Kalahandi district of Odisha over bauxite mining on Niyamgiri hills evoked strong protest from Lanjigarh Vikas Parishad which termed it as a bid to influence the tribals.

"The Kalahandi MP was not only present along with supporters in the gram sabha held at Palbari in Lanjigarh block but he was actually sitting on the dais," Lanjigarh Vikash Parishad President Shridhar Pesnia said in a statement.

"This is not only a blatant case of interference but also raises the basic question of the legal validity of the gram sabha which is becoming a farce," Pesnia said.

Strongly criticising the presence of Congress spokesman Das on the dais, he said the Supreme Court had directed all parties to refrain from actively campaigning in the area or influencing the dangaria kondhs.

While OMC and Vedanta have respected this and are conspicuous by their absence from the villages the NGOs and the Lok Sabha MP seem to care nothing about this, Pesnia said.

As Dangaria Kandh tribals of Palbari also rejected bauxite mining on Niyamgiri hills in line with four gram sabhas held earlier, the fate of the proposed Rs 5,000 crore mining project seemed uncertain. The tribals feared that mining operation would adversely affect their religious and cultural rights.

Today's gram sabha at Palbari was the fifth such proceedings and third in Kalahandi district. Two other gram sabhas have been held in adjoining Rayagada. Four gram sabhas earlier held at Kunakadu, Tadijhola in Kalahandi district Serkapadi and Kesarpadi villages in Rayagada district.

Pesnia claimed that in all the gram sabhas held so far every village witnessed more than 200 activists openly surrounding the sabha site. Out of the 15 members of the gram sabha at Palbari, 14 including 7 women participated in the proceedings and put forth their views.

Next two Gram Sabhas are scheduled to be held in Fuldumer and Ijurupa village on July 29 and 30 respectively.

Supreme Court in its April 18 order asked Odisha government and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to conduct Gram Sabhas to know the views of the villagers living in Niyamgiri Hills areas.