Tribals to hold Gram Sabha in 100 villages around Niyamgiri

Bhubaneswar: Peeved over the Odisha government's decision of holding Gram Sabha in only 12 hill slope villages to decide fate of the proposed bauxite mining for Vedanta, Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti (NSS) today announced its plan to conduct similar exercises in 100 villages in and around the sacred hills.
 
The Supreme Court on its April 18 order had directed the state government and the Centre to take views of the local tribals on whether to allow bauxite mining atop Niyamgiri Hills by conducting Gram Sabhas in the area.
 
"As the state government refused to go beyond 12 hill slope villages for holding Gram Sabhas, the functionaries of five affected gram panchayats have united to conduct similar meetings in 100 additional villages," said Kumuti Majhi, the convenor of NSS, the apex body of local tribals opposed to bauxite mining atop Niyamgiri Hills.
 
Majhi along with other panchayat functionaries told a media conference here that they would complete gram sabhas in 100 other villages spread over Rayagada and Kalahandi districts by end of August. "We will send reports of 100 Gram Sabhas to SC and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs," he said.
 
Stating that they would also participate in the 12 gram sabhas to be conducted by the state between July 18 and August 30, NSS leaders said: "We are not opposed to Gram Sabhas in hill slope villages. But, we have been demanding similar exercise in other villages too so that people can air their views on the crucial issue involving their socio-cultural and religious rights." 
 
NSS said that they would also invite the Orissa High Court appointed district judges to act as observers of the proposed gram sabhas to be conducted in 100 villages.
 
Alleging that the state government was working as an "agent" of Vedanta company, Majhi claimed the government officials were terrorising tribals with help of local police and CRPF jawans.
 
"We have been asked to support bauxite mining atop Niyamgiri Hills," alleged Lado Sikkaka, a resident of Lakhapadar, one of the 12 villages in Kalahandi district where gram sabhas would be conducted soon.
 
Majhi also alleged that the government officials are forcing tribals to sign on blank papers before holding Gram Sabhas.
 
"The local people, particularly women are panicked over heavy deployment of CRPF jawans and police in Niyamgiri Hills area. Women fear to go to jungles due to the police presence," alleged Dinja Lakesika, the woman Sarpanch of Kurli Gram Panchayat.