Team to assess claims in Niyamgiri area from Aug 4

Bhubaneswar: The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) has constituted a five-member team to assess, from August 4, claims of people beyond 12 villages selected by the Odisha government for ascertaining the fate of bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, official sources said on Friday.
 
"MoTA in compliance with the Supreme Court Judgement decided to constitute a team to assess evidence regarding claims in villages beyond 12 villages selected by the state in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts and submit a report," Gopal Sadwani, deputy secretary, FRA Division said in a letter to Odisha Chief Secretary J K Mohapatra.
 
The letter noted that the Supreme Court's April 18 directive ruled that MoTA would assist the Gram Sabhas for settling of individual and community claims.
 
It said that Union Law ministry had pointed out that the scope of filing the claims was open for entire Rayagada and Kalahandi districts and there was nothing in the apex court directive restricting it to 12 villages.
 
Justifying its demand of expanding Gram Sabhas beyond 12 villages, the letter said that the ministry in its letter on June 7 had informed the state government that it had received copies of several claims under the FRA for various rights including religious and cultural over Niyamgiri forest from villages beyond the 12 selected villages.
 
The team was scheduled to visit Rayagada and Kalahandi districts from August 4 to August 8, the letter said.
 
It said that the team members would submit their report to MoTA secretary within five working days of their return to New Delhi.
 
The team would take feedback from the other dependent villages on Niyamgiri, an official said.
 
The team comprised Sadwani, Shomona Khana (legal expert), Sreetama Guptabhaya (consultant, MoTA), Tushar Dash and Y Giri Rao, representatives of Vasundhara, an Odisha-based civil society organisation.
 
Earlier, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Orissa had requested the MoTA to rush a team to assess the situation in Niyamgiri hills.
 
Meanwhile, residents of the five of the 12 villages selected for holding Gram Saba, have rejected bauxite mining on the Niyamgiri hills.
 
They expressed fear that mining would affect their religious and cultural rights.