Niyamgiri mining: All eyes on second gram sabha

Bhubaneswar: The outcome of the Monday gram sabha scheduled to be held at Kesarpadi village in Rayagada district is being awaited with bated breath after majority of attendants of first palli sabha at Serkapadi village in the district on Thursday outrightly rejected bauxite mining at Niyamgiri hills giving a major setback to Anil Agarwal's Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL). 
 
The district administration, according to officials has completed all preparations to conduct the gram sabha in the village consisting 16 Dongria Kondh families. As many as 36 voters can attend the village level meeting to present their views on mining at Niyamgiri hills, they added.
 
The second palli sabha, from Vedanta’s point of view assumes significance after the first such meeting was against mining at the mineral-rich hills and that the company’s proposed bauxite mining project at the hills, spreading across 20 km in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, is completely dependent on the consent of the tribal residents through gram sabha, as per the apex court’s historic April 18 judgement. 
 
The apex court had said that the tribals should decide whether bauxite mining should be allowed at Niyamgiri hills which is a chain of 4,500-ft high mountains and inhabited by about 2,000 Dongria Kondhs.
 
Though VAL has recently resumed operations at its Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Kalahandi district after a gap of seven months, the company is pinning hopes on mining at the hills to keep the refinery alive which was shut in December last citing material crunch. 
 
The proposed mining in Niyamgiri hills is also crucial for the Vedanta Group, which has signed a MoU in 2004 with the Odisha government. The MoU includes supply of 78 million tonnes of bauxite to its Lanjigarh refinery by stated-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC).
 
According to officials, the reports of the 12 gram sabhas will be submitted to the Supreme Court by the collectors of the two districts by the end of August. The apex court had also directed the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to take action in two months after it receives a report from the gram sabhas.