State wants 6 more weeks to conduct Gram Sabha at Niyamgiri
Bhubaneswar: As part of the process to hold Gram Sabhas (village meetings) at 12 hill slope villages of Niyamgiri Hills, the Odisha government on Thursday said it would move the Supreme Court seeking an additional six weeks to wrap up the process.
"The law department has suggested the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste development department to urge the apex court to allow six more weeks to complete the process of Gram Sabha," Law Minister Maheswar Mohanty told reporters after reviewing the situation in wake of the Supreme Court's April 18 judgement.
The minister said the state government required more time to analyse the Supreme Court's judgement which called for maintaining the community, individual, cultural and religious rights of the local inhabitants.
Though there are over 100 villages of Dangaria and Kutia Kandhas in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, the state government has taken a decision to hold gram sabha in 12 villages located in the hill slope.
These 12 villages had been selected as they were likely to be affected due to the proposed bauxite mining in the hill top, the minister said.
The apex court in a landmark judgement on April 18 directed the Odisha government to hold gram sabha within three months. The apex court for the first time gave the authority to the gram sabha to take a decision whether to allow bauxite mining at the ecologically fragile Niyamgiri Hills.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MOTA) has suggested the state government to take steps and conduct gram sabhas in compliance with the Supreme Court order.
MOTA in a letter to the state ST & SC development department asked to issue advertisements in local newspapers informing all tribals and traditional forest dwellers in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts to file claims of religious and cultural rights, along with the individual and community rights under the Forest Right Act (FRA).
The ministry had also asked the state to ensure that transparency is maintained during the public hearing at Gram Sabhas. "They told us to keep audio and video recording of the Gram Sabhas," an official at the ST and SC development department said.
The proposed bauxite mining at Niyamgiri is significant as it would feed raw material to Vedanta's 1mtpa alumina refinery at Lanjigarh. The company's refinery was closed since December last year due to scarcity of bauxite.
The Supreme Court had earlier observed Vedanta will be allowed to mine in the Niyamgiri Hills only if the Gram Sabha allows, leaving any final decision about the project to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in consultation with the Gram Sabha.