Odisha govt receives tribals

Bhubaneswar: The State Government which recently had drawn flak from the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) for limiting the gram sabhas to 12 villages in the Niyamgiri hill slopes of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, on Sunday received claims of the locals to decide the fate of Vedanta’s proposed bauxite mining project in the region.
Abiding by the April 18 Supreme Court verdict, the Odisha Government had set July 14 as the last date for receiving claims of the locals regarding the project.
According to sources, officials have received as many as 40 individual and 89 collective claims from the people of seven villages of Rayagada district, which fall under the Niyamgiri hills. Similarly, claims have also been received by the Kalahandi district administration on the last date of claim submission.
“We have already informed the locals through posters and workshops about the forthcoming palli sabhas and hope that they will attend in large numbers to present their views,” Rayagada district collector Sashi Bhusan Padhi said.
The State Government has decided to hold gram sabhas in seven villages of Rayagada district from July 18 to August 19, while it will be conducted in five villages in Kalahandi district from July 23 to 30. 
Earlier, the MoTA, in a letter to the Odisha Chief Secretary, had said that limiting the gram sabha proposal to only a dozen villages would not be in line with Supreme Court orders and the directions issued by the Ministry under Section 12 of Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The list of villages where rights of forest dwellers are guaranteed under FRA or where cultural and religious rights are likely to be affected cannot be arbitrarily decided by the State Government, the letter had said.
“It is to be decided by the people (palli sabha) where claims would be filed in a transparent manner so that no gram sabha (with) a legitimate claim is left out of the process. This is in line with para 59 of the apex court judgement,” it stated.
Meanwhile justifying its decision, the State Government recently said that the Centre was free to approach the apex court over its decision to select only 12 villages to hold gram sabhas.
Sources said, the Odisha Government’s reply to the MoTA followed a consultation with the Law department in the matter.