State seeks law department views on holding ‘gram sabhas’

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha government on Monday sought a clarification from the law department over the Ministry of Tribal Affair's (MOTA) guidelines on conducting 'gram sabhas' in Niyamgiri Hills as per directions of the Supreme Court.
 
The apex court in its mid-April judgement had directed the smallest units of local governance to use their powers and take a decision on whether the Vedanta group's $1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills can go forward or not.
 
"We have sought clarification from the law department. The Supreme Court's direction or the MOTA's guidelines did not make it clear whether to conduct gram sabhas in all the villages or only on the hill top villages," Odisha's Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development Minister Lal Bihari Himirika told reporters here.
 
Earlier, during the trial phase in the apex court, the state government had informed that about a dozen of villages existed on the hill top of Niyamgiri.
 
These pockets were spread over both Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, the state mentioned in its report to the SC.
 
Himirika pointed out that there were above 100 villages in Niyamgiri Hill area where 'Kutia Kandhas' and 'Dangaria Kandhas' tribes live since generations. "We are not sure whether to conduct gram sabha in about 100 villages," he said.
 
In order to clear the confusion, Himirika said that his department has sought clarification from the law department before initiating process for holding gram sabhas.
 
Chief Secretary B K Patnaik said the state government has already received an advisory from the MOTA as a follow up to the Supreme Court judgement. "We will soon take a decision taking views of both the Supreme Court and Union government," Patnaik said.
 
As a follow up action, the MOTA has asked the state ST and SC department to issue advertisements in local newspapers informing all tribals and traditional forest dwellers in Kalahandi and Raygada districts to file claims of religious and cultural rights, along with the individual and community rights under the Forest Right Act.
 
The ministry has also asked the state government to display the notification regarding holding of gram sabhas along with the details of the apex court order in all villages in the two districts irrespective of their proximity from the mining site.
 
This apart, the ministry said copies of notification on holding gram sabhas be sent to all the civil society and NGOs, active in these two districts.
 
The Union ministry also directed that the state government should conduct the voting at 'gram sabhas' in fair and transparent manner by recording the proceedings.