Gram Sabha to decide bauxite mining in Niyamgiri within 3-months: SC

New Delhi: Pronouncing the much awaited verdict on mining in Niyamgiri Hills, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed that Gram Sabha consent be taken for bauxite mining by Vedanta in the mineral rich hills of Kalahandi district.

The Supreme Court in its judgement said, “…..the question whether STs (scheduled tribes) and other TFDs (traditional forest dwellers), like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others, have got any religious rights i.e. rights of worship over the Niyamgiri hills, known as Nimagiri, near Hundaljali, which is the hill top known as Niyam-Raja, have to be considered by the Gram Sabha. Gram Sabha can also examine whether the proposed mining area Niyama Danger, 10 km away from the peak, would in any way affect the abode of Niyam-Raja. Needless to say, if the BMP (bauxite mining plan), in any way, affects their religious rights, especially their right to worship their deity, known as Niyam Raja, in the hills top of the Niyamgiri range of hills, that right has to be preserved and protected. We find that this aspect of the matter has not been placed before the Gram Sabha for their active consideration, but only the individual claims and community claims received from Rayagada and Kalahandi Districts, most of which the Gram Sabha has dealt with and settled”.

The Supreme Court directed the State of Orissa to place the issues before the Gram Sabha with notice to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India and the Gram Sabha would take a decision on them within three months and communicate the Government. On the conclusion of the proceeding before the Gram Sabha determining the claims submitted before it, the MoEF shall take a final decision on the grant of Stage II clearance for the Bauxite Mining Project in the light of the decisions of the Gram Sabha within two months thereafter.

The SC in its 81-page judgement said, “The proceedings of the Gram Sabha shall be attended as an observer by a judicial officer of the rank of the District Judge, nominated by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Orissa who shall sign the minutes of the proceedings, certifying that the proceedings of the Gram Sabha took place independently and completely uninfluenced either by the Project proponents or the Central Government or the State Government.”
The Gram Sabha is also free to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims, over and above the claims which have already been received from Rayagada and Kalahandi Districts. Any such fresh claims be filed before the Gram Sabha within six weeks from the date of this Judgment. State Government as well as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, would assist the Gram Sabha for settling of individual as well as community claims.
Orissa Mining Corporation had approached the Supreme Court seeking a Writ of Certiorari to quash the order passed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) dated 24.8.2010 rejecting the Stage-II forest clearance for diversion of 660.749 hectares of forest land for mining of bauxite ore in Lanjigarh Bauxite Mines in Kalahandi and Rayagada Districts of Orissa and also for other consequential reliefs. OMC urged that the above order passed by the MOEF has the effect of neutralizing two orders of the Supreme Court.