Odisha sets dates for gram sabhas on Niyamgiri mining

Bhubaneswar: Even as the Union Tribal Affairs Minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo recently sought the intervention of Odisha Governor over the State’s decision to convene gram sabhas (village level meetings) in 12 villages of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts on Niyamgiri mining, the Odisha Government on Friday announced dates for the sabhas.

In Kalahandi district, the meetings will be conducted on July 23, 24, 25, 29 and 30 in five villages to decide whether Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) would be allowed to develop its proposed bauxite mining project at the mineral rich Niyamgiri Hills, ST/SC Development Minister Lal Bihari Himirika said.

Similarly, in between July 18 and August 19, these village level meetings will be convened in seven villages of Rayagada district.  

According to the minister, to comply with the apex court’s April 18 order which directed that gram sabha should take a final view on allowing mining of bauxite in Niyamgiri Hills, July 18, 22, 27 and August 13 and 19 have been set for villages meetings in Serkapadi, Kesharpani, Batudi, Khambeshi and Jarpa villages of Shivpadar panchayat, respectively.

Two sabhas in Lamba and Lakhpadar villages of Parsali panchayat under Kalyansinghpur block will be conducted on August 1 and 7 respectively, he added.

Ever since the State government announced to hold gram sabhas in 12 villages, Union Tribal Ministry appeared to be livid over selection of villages.

Deo, in a recent letter to Odihsa Governor SC Jamir requested him to exercise his power for conducting gram sabhas in all areas to be affected by mining.

“There is an urgent need for your intervention to safeguard the constitutional protection, guaranteed to the tribals and inhabitants of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts which are located in Schedule V Areas,” Deo had stated.

“It is also unfortunate that the directions of the Supreme Court are being treated with scant respect by the State Government of Odisha which intends to hold Gram Sabhas only in 12 villages. Dongria Kondhs have a spiritual emotional and sentimental bonding to Nyamgiri hills, which is a part of their cultural tradition and way of life,” he added.

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs criticising the Government had also stated that limiting gram sabha proceedings to only 12 villages was not in accordance with the SC order and the directions issued by the Ministry under Section 12 of Forest Rights Act (FRA).