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How Vedanta’s mine hope rests on 12 tribal villages #mustshare

By Faisal Mohammed AliBBC Hindi, Orissa

Dongria Kondh tribespeopleThe Dongria Kondh tribespeople say the Vedanta mining project will destroy their sacred hill and their source of livelihood

In a remote village in the eastern Indian state of Orissa tribespeople have gathered under hastily erected sheds to decide whether to allow mining group Vedanta to extract bauxite from the earth.

Vedanta, owned by Indian businessman Anil Agarwal, wants to extract bauxite from the 92 sq miles (240 sq km) Niyamgiri hill range which is revered by the Dongria Kondh tribe.

The Dongria Kondh say the mining project will destroy their sacred hill and their source of livelihood. Vedanta has said the project would bring jobs and development to one of India’s poorest districts.

In April, India’s Supreme Court maintained an ongoing ban on bauxite mining in the hill range and gave the local village councils in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts three months to decide whether they wanted mining in their area.

Dongria Kondh tribalThe tribespeople say they will not let anyone mine their earth

At the meeting in Baturi village, a judge and a couple of officials sit on plastic chairs under the shed. Then an official reads out the court order and asks the villagers to vote on the proposal – whether mining will infringe on the cultural and religious rights of the forest dwellers.

The village council members take to the microphone one by one and put forth their points of view in the local Kuvi language.

‘Our god’An interpreter translates each speech in the state’s official language Oriya and transcribes it on a piece of paper. The speakers are then asked to sign or put their thumb impressions on their statements.

“Niyamgiri is our God. Niyamgiri takes care of our needs. We grow mangoes, berries, black pepper, cinnamon and other things here. Medicinal herbs grow here. We have 13 special prayer days for Niyamgiri every year. We would not let Niyamgiri go,” Badaka Diko, 70, says.

She is not alone in her opposition to the controversial project: so far, 10 of the 12 villages selected for the “consultation process” have rejected Vedanta’s plans.

Vedanta chairman Anil Agrawal has said he will “only start work if we have complete permission of the court and the people” and his company has already invested in an alumina refinery plant, roads, a township, school and hospital in the area.

A tribal consultation on Vedanta projectSo far, 10 of the 12 villages selected for the “consultation process” have rejected Vedanta’s plans

A resettlement colony has also been built for those who got uprooted when the refinery project came up.

Lado Sikaka, a tribal leader, says that his land was “taken away by the company, the women in house were harassed, and the police beat me and my relatives accusing us of being Maoists”. Vedanta denies such allegations.

A federal committee has said the Orissa government did not consult the tribespeople while acquiring their land.

A senior member of a tribal village council, Prakash Karsika, says they have nothing against Vedanta.

Vedanta offices in MumbaiVedanta currently specialises in metals production

“It is not Vedanta we have a problem with, we would not allow anyone to dig up Niyamgiri,” he says.

The Geological Survey of India says the country has huge bauxite reserves and 74% of this is concentrated on the eastern coast.

Mr Karsika says if mining is allowed in the area, it will be an environmental disaster – the whole forest will get destroyed and there will be no rains.

The hill range is the source of dozens of streams and two perennial rivers – Bansdhar and Nagavali.

“The two rivers and other water sources from Niyamgri irrigate large tracts of farmlands. If they dry up, you will not even get drinking water in the area,” says M Venkat Rao, a farmer from the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, who has been living in the area for years now.

‘Undue haste’In its defence, Vedanta cites the report of an environment ministry panel which had recommended diversion of forestland for mining projects.

But the report was questioned by a panel set up by the Supreme Court which also criticised the environment ministry for the “undue haste” in granting clearances to Vedanta.

Later, another panel set up by the environment ministry said thatVedanta should not be given mining rights in Orissa.

The committee, which investigated alleged violations of environmental laws by the company in Kalahandi district, “said mining would deprive primitive tribal groups of their rights over the proposed mining site in order to benefit a private company”.

Dongria Kondh tribespeopleThe tribal people worship the Niyamgiri hills

The findings also accused the company of illegally occupying forest land with the alleged collusion of local officials. There were also accusations of human rights violations, including police brutality and use of threats and force by local authorities against the tribals.

Vedanta has consistently said it has complied with all rules and regulations but nevertheless it saw the cancellation in August 2010 of an earlier clearance given to the project by the environment ministry.

The BBC made several attempts to contact the company to get its reaction to the consultation process, but the company had no comment to make.

Media reports say that Vedanta has asked the state government for an alternative mining site.

The consultations ordered by the Supreme Court are due to end by 19 August after which the court will get a report and will take a decision.

The village council votes are likely to heavily influence the court order, although they will not be the sole consideration.

With only two of the village councils left to meet, the odds seem heavily stacked against Vedanta and its multi-billion-dollar project.

The project has also sharpened the debate over the investment climate in India, its drive for economic development versus the rights of the local people to continue with their traditional way of life.

  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #India – 11th Village rejects mining, Score Card- Niyamgiri – 11- Vedanta -0
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #India – First people’s court rejects Vedanta, tribals claim entire Niyamgiri hills #Goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Seven straight rejections – Vedanta not to return to Niyamgiri for Mining
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Let us pause and listen to the wisdom of the people of Niyamgiri #mustshare
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">WE WON! Niyamgiri is saved! Lets celebrate at the AGM in London #Vedanta


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#India – 11th Village rejects mining, Score Card- Niyamgiri – 11- Vedanta -0

Odisha: Eleventh Gram Sabha rejects Niyamgiri mining plan
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Odisha: Eleventh Gram Sabha rejects Niyamgiri mining plan
Report by Kishore Dash, Rayagada: Khambesi gram sabha in Rayagada district opposes mining in Niyamgiri. The eleventh Gram Sabha held at Khambesi village under Muniguda block in Rayagda today has unanimously rejected the proposed mining project  atop Niyamgiri hill held sacred by the local tribal people.
It was a painful journey for the officials to reach the Khambesi village, situated some 100 km from here. They had to walk on foot for hours together while passing through the hilly terrains beginning from Serkapadi village.
The entire sacred Niyamgiri hill is owned by Niyamraja (hill deity) who provides us the livelihood. “Our God lives in open space. You can’t keep it locked. We would continue to fight for Niyamgiri. The Dongria Kondh tribal’s worship Niyamraja as their protector and provider, their supreme deity and ancestral kin, who preside over Niyamgiri, the law of the land, said Lado Sikaka, a prominent anti-Vedanta activist.
Earlier 10 Gram Sabhas  held in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts had voted against the mining proposal reaffirming their religious, cultural and livelihood rights over the mineral-rich hills.
District judge Sarat Chandra Mishra supervised the proceedings as CRPF and state police forces including Special Operation Group (SOG) jawans kept watch on the proceedings from nearby hills. The 12th Gram Sabha, which is also the last in the series, will be held at Jarpa village in the district on August 19.
The Supreme Court, in its April 18 order, vested powers on the Gram Sabhas to take a call on the proposed mining of Vedanta Aluminum Ltd (VAL).
The SC was ruled if the BMP (bauxite mining plan) , in any way, affects their (Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others) religious rights, especially their right to worship their deity, known as Niyam Raja, in the hill top of the Niyamgiri range of hills, that right has to be preserved and protected.
In its April 18 order on the Niyamgiri bauxite mining project, the Supreme Court held that if the mining, in any way, affects the religious rights of ttribals, especially their right to worship their deity Niyam Raja atop the Niyamgiri hills, it has to be preserved.
Earlier, inhabitants of ten villages, five in Rayagada and five in Kalahandi, had rejected the proposal. The state government had selected 12 villages for holding gram sabhas, following the apex court directive. The remaining one gram sabha would be held at Karapar village in Rayagada district on August 19.

– See more at:

@CRPF opened fire near Lakhpadar village yesterday during a combing operation while Gram Sabha was underway at Khambesi #India, to be confirmed
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Indian villagers defeat British billionaire over plans to mine sacred mountain #Vedanta defeated !

An Indian tribe which worships its remote jungle mountain as a living god has inflicted a humiliating defeat on one of Britain’s wealthiest billionaires over his plans to open a vast aluminium ore mine on their land.

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By Dean Nelson, Lakhapadar, Orissa, The Telegraph

Anil Agarwal, who rose from humble beginnings as a scrap metal dealer in one of India’s poorest states to a life of luxury in London’s Mayfair, had planned to boost his fortune by mining and processing bauxite in Niyamgiri, Orissa, south East India.

He promised to bring new jobs, build schools and hospitals to bring the hill’s ‘backward’ Dongria Kondh tribesmen into the modern world.

Anil Agarwal, Chief Executive of Vedanta Resources. (JUSTIN SUTCLIFFE FOR THE TELEGRAPH)

His plan however, which was agreed with the Orissa state government as far back as 2005, infuriated the Dongria who saw the proposal as an attack not only on their way of life but also on ‘Niyamraja‘, the sacred hill they worshipped as their provider.

They launched a protest movement to save their verdant tropical forest paradise populated by tigers, leopards and elephants from Mr Agarwal’s plans to replace its mango and sal trees with mine shafts and busy roads.

And this week they clinched a decisive victory. Lakhapadar, the largest of twelve Dongria villages on Niyamgiri, rejected the mine plan unanimously in a vote described by an Indian minister as a historic moment in the country’s democracy – the first time the government had allowed its tribal people to decide their own future.

The Dongria speak Kui, a language few outsiders understand, and live in remote mud hut villages with little contact with the outside world. They live without electricity, have no access to television, and have survived without schools and hospitals. Few, if any, of them have ever been to the nearest town, Bhawanipatna, two hours away by car or watched a Bollywood film.

Their men, who keep sharp forest axes hooked over their shoulders and wear clips and combs in their centre-parted, pony-tailed hair, collect bananas, mangoes, oranges and medicinal plants from the forest and barter some of their bounty for salt, cloth and other items they cannot find. Dongria women have three nose rings and wear few clothes except for a backless sari cloth which loosely covers their breasts.

Dongria Kondha tribal villagers observe and listen to proceedings from inside the Gram Sabha meeting hall in Lakhapadar village. (Simon De Trey-White)

The conflict between their old world and the new one of Mr Agarwal first emerged after the tycoon’s Vedanta Resources began building a vast aluminium refinery at the foot of Niyamgiri to process the bauxite he was confident he would be allowed to mine below its higher slopes. Many Dongria were forced to leave their homes and their traditional subsistence living to make way for the construction.

Villagers listen to proceedings outsdie the Gram Sabha meeting hall. (Simon De Trey-White)

Their eviction led to a series of legal challenges to halt the mining plans which culminated with a Supreme Court order for the villagers themselves to decide on the £1 billion mine investment in a series of votes.

On Wednesday, several hundred Dongria gathered for the tenth and largest of 12 village council elections in what the government regarded as the decisive vote.

The Telegraph travelled with judge Sarat Chandra Mishra, appointed to record their decision, as he made his way under the thick forest canopy on the two hour steep hike to Lakhapadar. The judge was accompanied by several hundred heavily armed paramilitary police to protect him after the government alleged the area had become ‘infested’ by Maoist insurgents. The tribesmen say the claim is false and the government has used it to justify a campaign of intimidation against them.

Under a makeshift pagoda in Lakhapadar and amid driving monsoon rain, many villagers wielding their axes and squatting on their haunches were called out one by one by the judge to record their vote and make a speech. Their angry rejections were broadcast across the hills over a generator-powered public address system.

It quickly became clear no one was prepared to support the state government and Vedanta‘s vision of progress and many vowed to attack any officials or company staff who tried to exploit their hill with their weapons.

Sikaka Kunji, a 50 year old grandmother with nose-rings and a white backless sari, sent fellow villagers scurrying as she started swinging an axe in the air to express her anger. “I will sacrifice my life, I will use my axe and cut whoever comes for mining,” she said.

Sikaka Kunji (50) demonstrates with her axe how she would resist the Vedanta mining operation in her area. (Simon De Trey-White)

The state government, which supports the mining plan, had deployed armed police on the hill to intimidate her villagers, she claimed. “They are using the police force and disturbing us in our homes. We don’t want them and we are telling the government and the company we will cut them with our axes. Niyamraja is our god,” she added.

Accounts of intimidation of villagers appeared to be corroborated when the Telegraph’s reporter and photographer were detained by police intelligence officers and a local campaigner was summoned to the their headquarters in Bhawanipatna for questioning and denounced as a ‘foreign agent’ for assisting this paper.

A spokesperson for Vedanta meanwhile said it “categorically rejects and abhors all forms of violence, intimidation and coercion. We are very disappointed and surprised to hear these allegations.”

But other villagers confirmed that intimidation by police was now a way of life.

Sikuka Sani, a 36-year-old villager, told the Telegraph: “We’re getting beaten up and we’re living in terror. We’ve been unable to go to the nearby villages because the police goons follow us.”

Tribeswomen carry copper pots of water into the meeting hall. (Simon De Trey-White)

“We don’t want the refinery and this kind of [mining] development. For thousands of years we have been living here and for thousands of years our children will live here but these refineries will drain the mountains of water. As the refinery has come up, we’ve been facing more and more difficulties.”

Mr Sani said he rejected the advance of development and expressed the hope that his eight year old son Dili will never go to school, watch television or play computer games.

But he conceded that despite the famous victory of his small village over a mining giant, the march of development was probably unstoppable.

“Once he is educated, he will leave this mountain and learn this lifestyle. He will sell our land to the company. At these schools, they don’t teach how to live with nature, they teach how to live by exploitation,” he said.

Dongria Kondha tribal people leave Lakhapadar village after a unanimous ‘against’ vote in a Gram Sabha meeting. (Simon De Trey-White)


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Seven straight rejections – Vedanta not to return to Niyamgiri for Mining

Issue Date:

Seven straight rejections means a majority of the 12 villages have said ‘no’ to proposed bauxite mining

A Dongria Kondh tribal  
sitting outside the meeting venue reacts to the camera (photos: Sayanta  
Bera)A Dongria Kondh tribal sitting outside the meeting venue reacts to the camera (photos: Sayanta Bera)

Broken sewing machines could be seen strewn around as rains poured down over the tribal and dalit hamlet of Phuldumer on Monday and its palli sabha (village council) gave its verdict on mining proposed in the Niyamgiri hills. It was the seventh straight rejection for Vedanta Aluminium Limited, the London stock exchange-listed metals giant, which wants the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha for top quality bauxite. The sewing machines to stitch leaf plates were given to the forest village as part of Vedanta’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities through its Lanjigarh refinery located on the foothills of Niyamgiri hill range. Along with dismantled solar panels, the CSR goodies stood as a stark reminder of a failed attempt at breaching the feisty Dongria Kondh territory.

The palli sabha in Phuldumer in Kalahandi district saw the largest attendance so far—49 of the 65 listed voters were present to voice their opinion. Six village councils—Serkapadi, Kesarpadi, Tadijhola, Kunakadu, Palberi and Batudi—had unanimously rejected the mining proposal earlier this month, asserting that digging the hills will dry up perennial streams, destroy their forest-based livelihood and their supreme deity and ancestral kin, Niyamraja, the preserver and protector of the hill range.

Sewing machines from Vedanta Aluminium Limited in PhuldumerSewing machines from Vedanta Aluminium Limited in Phuldumer

Vedanta wants 660 ha of Niyamgiri hills to feed its Lanjigarh refinery criss-crossing Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Odisha. On April 18, the Supreme Court asked the forest dwellers from Niyamgiri ranges to take a final call [2]  if bauxite mining will infringe on their religious and cultural rights. Pursuant to the apex court order, Odisha government drew up a list of 12 “likely to be affected” villages to take a final call.

With Phuldumer’s decision, a majority of the 12 villages that are being officially consulted have rejected the mining proposal. As Vedanta Resources’ Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held on August 1 in London, “shareholders at the AGM should now ask serious questions as to why the company continued to pursue the project despite evidence of the harm it would cause to indigenous people,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan of Amnesty International who witnessed several of the village council meetings.

The mood at Phuldumer was set by Ratu Majhi who told the district judge and observer to the proceedings, “these hills are for us what Konark or Jagannath temple is to you. The mining site is the abode of our god. We cannot buy water and cannot let our streams dry up due to mining.”

Taking a dig at Vedanta’s CSR activities, an angry Mahadev Nayak said, “we will burn down anything we see from Vedanta here.” An elderly woman Sitari Majhi compared the state and Vedanta to a big tiger ready to pounce on them.

Midway through the meeting, some fifty odd Dongria Kondh tribals left the venue after hearing that security forces stopped a group from Khambesi (in Kurli panchayat, Rayagada district) from reaching the palli sabha venue. Tempers soared as angry tribals rushed to get the 27 odd visitors who paid Rs 3,000 and lugged themselves on a jeep to reach Phuldumer. “If you have your gun, I also have my tangiya (axe),” blurted a Dongria Kondh to an Indian Reserve Battalion recruit. Later the state police did a balancing act to get the visiting group to the venue. By the time they reached, the meeting was over.

‘Does each of you want to speak or shall we put everyone’s  
statement together?’ asked a panchayat official‘Does each of you want to speak or shall we put everyone’s statement together?’ asked a panchayat official

Gauging the mood, the panchayat officials and the judge asked villagers to agree to a unanimous resolution rather than each of the 49 speakers taking turns at the mike and have their views translated from Kui, the tribal dialect, to Odiya, to save time.

After the meeting, this correspondent met Mamata Majhi at her house on the edge of the hamlet. Mamata is three months pregnant and she is suffering from fever for over a week, her symptoms suggesting malaria that is commonplace in the Niyamgiris. The remote forest terrain and lack of roads means no medical access. Despite repeated requests Mamata refused to come with us to the nearest government facility at Lanjigarh. The mistrust of outsiders runs deep.

Mamata Majhi, three months pregnant, will not visit the nearest public  
health facility despite running a fever for eight daysMamata Majhi, three months pregnant, will not visit the nearest public health facility despite running a fever for eight days

I ask Lado Sikaka, the leader of the Dongria Kondh, why they don’t ask for medical facilities inside the forests. “We don’t want anything from a durniti sarkar (corrupt government) which wants to sell our forests for mining. We’ll see if another government comes but it has to first assure no one will touch our hills,” he said. Sikaka recovered from a bout of malaria a day before.

  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">WE WON! Niyamgiri is saved! Lets celebrate at the AGM in London #Vedanta
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Fourth Tribal Village, says no to mining by #Vedanta in Niyamgiri #Goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #India – First people’s court rejects Vedanta, tribals claim entire Niyamgiri hills #Goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Third Gram Sabha rejects Vedanta’s Niyamgiri Plans #Goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Dongaria and Kutia Kondh leaders seek Governor’s intervention
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #India – Odisha Govt manipulating records to help #Vedanta ? #Tribalrights #indigenous
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #India – Dongria say emphatic no to mining in first Palli Sabha #Vedanta
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Vedanta’s #CSR : Resettlement ‘prison’ and false arrests at Lanjigarh #WTFnews


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Fifth Village says NO to mining in Niyamgiri #Goodnews

Palberi adds another no to mining in Niyamgiri Author(s): Sayantan Bera [1] Issue Date: 2013-7-26


Attending Member of Parliament asks Odisha government to include 112 villages Lado Sikaka wants to know what the papers say of the village council meetings (Photos: Sayantan Bera)

The fifth palli sabha, taking a cue from previous ones, unanimously rejected proposed bauxite mining inside Niyamgiri hills. The village council meeting was held at Palberi village in Kalahandi district of Odisha. Fifteen of the 16 adult voters from the forest village were in attendance. All spoke against mining and asserted their religious and cultural rights over the entire Niyamgiris, spread across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts. “Niyamgiri was not given to us by Central or state government. It belongs to Niyamraja (hill deity). Does not matter who made your laws; the law of Niyamraja runs here,” said Jilu Majhi, a Kutia Kondh tribal from the village. The Dongria Kondh and the Kutia Kondh tribals worship Niyamraja as their protector and provider, their supreme deity and ancestral kin, who presides over Niyamgiris, the mountain of law. The village residents also rejected two community claims filed under the Forest Right Act and instead asserted their rights over the entire Niyamgiris. “We only buy salt and kerosone from outside. Everything else we need is here. My God is spread all over these hills.

No one messes with him,” said an angry Gata Majhi, a woman in her seventies, pointing fingers at the dais. Following up on the Supreme Court order of April 18 [2], the Odisha state government selected 12 villages—seven from Rayagada and five from Kalahandi district—to take a call on the proposed bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hill range and whether it will infringe on their religious and cultural rights. A joint venture of the Orissa Mining Corporation Limited (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries, the Indian arm of the London Stock Exchange-listed Vedanta, want to mine the hills for bauxite, to feed Vedanta’s alumina refinery on the foothills of Niyamgiri hills at Lanjigarh.

Despite objections from tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers of Niyamgiri hills and the Union ministry of Tribal Affairs, the state government of Odisha stuck to its list of 12 villages to hold palli sabha meetings between July 18 and August 19. “The Odisha government should hold palli sabha’s in all 112 villages spread across 240 sq km of Niyamgiri that is worshipped by the tribals,” contended Bhakta Charan Das, the local Member of Parliament from the Congress who attended the palli sabha meeting at Palberi. Bhakta Charan Das, the local MP from the area, speaks to journalists after the palli sabha Speaking to journalists later, Das asserted, “the state government has violated provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution by not taking the consent of all tribal villages on proposed mining. It has also tried to create a divide by proposing the hill top of Hundijali as the sole place of worship when the tribals worship the entire hill range.” During the palli sabha, district judge Pramod Kumar Jena, appointed observer by the Supreme Court, intently listened to the speakers, scribbling notes. Sulochana Gouda, the panchayat ward member sat on the extreme left, looking diminutive, though she was the one presiding over the meeting. “With a Member of Parliament attending, the four pillars of democracy has come to this remote village,” quipped a journalist.


Sulochana Gouda, panchayat ward member presiding over the meeting, sat on the extreme left. She protested proposed mining in Niyamgiri. Third from left is district judge Pramod Kumar Jena. To his right is MP Bhakta Charan Das. On the extreme left is a doctor from the district hospital in case of any health emergency

Next to the meeting venue, this correspondent spoke to the local block development officer (BDO), Prabir Nayak. “We have been trying to build roads for remote forest villages but the residents object. Getting contractors to execute project is also a challenge,” he said, in an obvious reference to the presence of Maoists in the area. Every palli sabha meeting in Niyamgiri is held under heavy security cordon of the Central paramilitary forces, state special operations group and the state police.

“We walk up the hills. We don’t have cars or bikes. What will we do with roads?” retorts Lado Sikaka, the feisty leader of Dongria Kondh tribals. Sikaka is not worried his name is chucked out from the voter list of Lakhpadar, the forest village he belongs to where the palli sabha will be held next month. “Doesn’t matter what their list says. I will speak. This place belongs to us.”

Visiting tribals left for their hamlets after the palli sabha ended

Source URL:

  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank"> #India – First people’s court rejects Vedanta, tribals claim entire Niyamgiri hills #Goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Third Gram Sabha rejects Vedanta’s Niyamgiri Plans #Goodnews
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Second gram sabha on Vedanta mining today
  • #999; padding: 2px; display: block; border-radius: 2px; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">Fourth Tribal Village, says no to mining by #Vedanta in Niyamgiri #Goodnews


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Odisha Govt tries every trick in the book with SC Niyamgiri verdict #mustshare

This is the latest information on the state’s manipulation of the Supreme Court’s verdict giving the decision on Vedanta‘s mine to the Dongria and Kutia Kond inhabitants of Niyamgiri.

After six weeks delay the process has finally been initiated by the Odisha state govt and we, and all the activists and supporters here are doing our best to keep ahead of their trickeries and document everything as it happens.

When the Supreme Court announced its verdict to hand the decision on Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine back to the Dongria Kond and other affected people via a complex process of legal claim filing, gram sabhas and a final MoEF nod, both Vedanta and their opposition celebrated. The court judges knew what they had done. Rather than giving a yes or no verdict they had taken the path of least resistance and delivered such a loosely worded judgement that it was wide open to interpretation and abuse – pitting the Odisha government and Vedanta, and the affected people and their supporters against each other once again.


Now, as the Odisha state finally launches the gram sabha (village council) process after six weeks of deliberation, the weak nature of the Supreme Court’s vaguely worded judgement has become even more evident. This article documents some of the ways in which the judgement, which has been hailed as a precedent bottom-up democratic process, is being manipulated in an attempt to prevent the strong anti-Vedanta opinion on Niyamgiri from being properly heard.



What part of the mountain is sacred?


Reflecting the drawn out Supreme Court hearings on Niyamgiri this year, the court’s final verdict has tactfully focused not on the enormous environmental impact of the proposed mine, nor the company’s despicable track record of illegalities, nor the rights of the Dongria to clean air, water and to collect forest produce, but only on one point: whether the proposed mine would violate the Dongria’s right to worship the God of their sacred mountain – Niyam Raja. The 2006 Forest Rights Act enshrines forest dwellers’ right to cultural and religious practices in law, but what does that mean in reality? The Niyamgiri case has become a test for the interpretation of this law, and the precedent set here will have an impact on industrial developments in tribal areas all over India. So much hangs in the balance. For this reason the Supreme Court hearings dedicated their focus to the question of where the God of Niyamgiri actually resides and whether this God would be affected by the proposed mining. Though it was suggested that it was largely on the peak of the range – Hundujali, 10km away from the proposed mega-mine, the court came to the conclusion that only the Dongria themselves could confirm this. The gram sabha process – initiated by notification to file claims on Saturday 1st June – is essentially to decide this one point. If the tribals agree that their God resides in a particular area, that spot can be preserved, or compensation given, while the mine can still go ahead.


At the 5000 strong Padayatra held by the Dongria and Kutia Kond from May 17th – 22nd Dongria leaders like Lodo Sikaka made their views on the Supreme Court’s discussions and final judgement known. Lodo stated:


They are saying they would mine 10km away from the peak. We will not allow mining even 100km away from it! For the forestland, for fruits, trees, air and water – for everything adivasis worship the soil. It is our given right.


They are saying adivasis have rights up to two feet down the soil, not up to 10 – 20 feet. Government is saying adivasis worship for the forest and not for the soil. What do we worship for? Forest or soil? We of course worship for the soil. Our gods and goddesses are everywhere: here, there, in the trees – everywhere!


Such statements have been made by the Dongria repeatedly over the years, but were never fully heard in the court-room, despite attempts to allow the Dongria to testify, and to hand over proof such as Mihir Jena et al’s book Dongaria Kondhs2. The court, sadly, was unable to differentiate between the modern concept of religion being practised in temples or directed at an idol, and the earth-based spirituality of indigenous cultures in which even a whole mountain or forest can be considered sacred.


The notification posted in Oriya newspapers on Saturday confuses this point even more. The notification issued for Kalahandi District reads:


Letter no 572/2013 of collectors office of Kalahandi.

Under the Supreme Court Judgement writ petition no 180, year 2011, date 18/04/2013; regarding the Palli Sabha – hereby inhabitant villagers of the following panchayats are being notified and invited that, as per the orders of the Supreme Court, tribals and other forest dwellers, regarding their new individuals rights, community rights and cultural and religious rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA) rulings 2006 – after getting this notice they should apply within 6 weeks, and within 3 months Palli Sabha will be called and legal rights of the villagers will be decided. If they have any other demands, they will also be discussed in Palli Sabhas and after justified discussions, observing Forest Rights Act 2006 and its associated rulings their rights will be decided.

Village names


















2 a) The Palli Sabha will decide about the rights of tribals and other traditional forests dwellers (TFD) like Dongria Kond, Kutia Kond’s religious rights such as the worshipping of Niyamgiri which is situated at Niyamgiri Hundijari and at the top of the mountain known as Niyam Raja.

b) The Palli Sabha will decide the Niyamgiri mining areas’ – Niyam Dongo which is situated at 10km away from the summit, and whether it would impact the Niyam Raja deity can also be investigated.

Signed: Collector Kalahandi.


Notification of Palli Sabhas in Kalahandi district

Firstly, it is important to note that the notification does not clearly state that this Palli Sabha (the Odia equivalent of Gram Sabha) and claim filing process will determine whether Vedanta are given permission to mine the mountain but only refers to ‘writ petition 180′ which very few adivasis will understand. Secondly, the whole text is incredibly confusing, and most importantly the last two paragraphs state outrightly that Niyam Raja resides only at Hundijali.


Adivasis won’t understand Oriya


Following public criticism of it’s past attempts to manipulate public hearing processes, the Odisha government is currently at pains to present itself as making the Palli Sabhas as inclusive as possible. Newspapers are stating how they are pasting notifications of the Palli Sabhas in the affected villages, as well as announcing them with a megaphone around the mountain, while filming it all themselves as evidence of their efforts. So far we know that ads have been placed in Lanjigarh and some of the easier to reach villages, whether they will reach the upper slopes we will see.


But there is one fatal flaw to their attempts at inclusivity; all the notifications and megaphone announcements are in Oriya, while Konds only speak Kui, their tribal language. Kui is only an oral language and cannot be written so how will the local government communicate the legal proceedings crucial to the Kond’s survival through posters and newspaper notifications? This is why the role of activists, who are communicating the proceedings to the mountain villages, is so important and must be permitted. Without them there would be no chance of democracy in this important case.



Odisha government delays til the monsoon


The Supreme Court’s judgement gave a strict (if rather ambitious) timescale for the gram sabha process and following MoEF decision to be taken. It states:


59. The Gram Sabha is also free to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims, over and above the claims which have already been received from Rayagada and Kalahandi Districts. Any such fresh claims be filed before the Gram Sabha within six weeks from the date of this Judgement. State Government as well as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, would assist the Gram Sabha for settling of individual as well as community claims.


60. We are, therefore, inclined to give a direction to the State of Orissa to place these issues before the Gram Sabha with notice to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, and the Gram Sabha would take a decision on them within three months and communicate the same to the MoEF, through the State Government. On the conclusion of the proceeding before the Gram Sabha determining the claims submitted before it, the MoEF shall take a final decision on the grant of Stage II clearance for the Bauxite Mining Project in the light of the decisions of the Gram Sabha within two months thereafter.


It is now six weeks since the judgement, and notification to file individual and community claims has only just been given. This six week delay is pivotal as it pushes the Palli Sabha hearings back into late July – the peak of the monsoon, when travelling to meetings becomes difficult and attendance is likely to be much lower. Local social activist Lingaraj Pradhan stated this fact in his speech at Muniguda on 22nd May.



Hundreds of villages excluded

Map of Niyamgiri showing villages all over the mountain (red dots)


The most glaring manipulation in the Odisha government’s interpretation of the judgement is its selection of just twelve villages in which to hold the Palli Sabhas. These are all on the lower slopes of the mountain, far from the alleged home of Niyam Raja, and the proposed mine, and hardest to reach for those living at the top of the mountain where the impact of the mine, and hence also the resistance, is strongest. There are, in fact, 79 Dongria and Kutia Kond villages within 10km of the mining area, and more than 100 adivasi villages directly affected by the mine – most of which were visited by the Padayatra several weeks ago.


Records show that there are actually only 186 voters registered in the twelve villages combined according to the old voter lists (five in Kalahandi district and seven in Rayagada), while more than 8000 Dongria Konds live on and worship the mountain, plus many more Kutia Konds living around Niyamgiri. Ijrupa – one of the villages listed, only has one voter according to the old voter lists which are likely to be used. Several of these villages are primarily occupied by Yadav immigrants and not the adivasis whom the judgement is aimed at. This is a blatant attempt to restrict participation in the Palli Sabha process, and make it easier to manipulate and manage by the Odisha State which has worked alongside Vedanta from the start.


Anticipating this skullduggery, the Minister of Tribal Affairs wrote to the Governor of Odisha, SC Jamir, on May 15th May stating categorically that the Gram Sabha should be open to all affected villages. He also stated that the MoU with Vedanta for Niyamgiri was ‘illegal’ and unconstitutional since they are a private company and cannot be trusted to safeguard the tribal’s welfare.


On 7th June a delegation of Dongria Kond men and women will meet with the Odisha Governor SC Jamir, demanding that all affected villages are consulted in the upcoming gram sabhas and ensuring that voter lists are up to date and all affected people wishing to attend will be allowed to enter.


It could also be argued that the Odisha State government should never have been trusted to facilitate another Gram Sabha since their 2009 Gram Sabha on whether Niyamgiri should be mined was exposed as a total sham by video evidence. At the meeting many locals were kept outside and not allowed in, and though almost all present voiced loud opposition to the mine in speeches, thumbprints taken as registration were used to claim that they had agreed to the project. (please see video in footnote)



MoEF are not the people

At the end of the long process of filing hundreds of community claims, and ensuring that fair Palli Sabhas are held, the final nod on the mine goes back once again to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. This fact alone makes the Supreme Court’s judgement far from the radical democratic precedent it has been hailed as, and gives more scope for Vedanta to influence the Ministry over the many coming months before the decision may be eventually given.

However, the MoEF should remember their clear statement in the 11th January Supreme Court hearing when asked by the bench “Are you completely opposed to mining or under certain conditions you will allow mining?” Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran – acting for the MoEF told the court: “We are completely against the mining operations.”


Confusion is in Vedanta’s interests

The confusion over the meaning of the Supreme Court’s verdict and the proceedings now taking place is evident in the vastly varying newspaper reports coming in daily. The Orissa Post for example stated on Saturday 1st June that:

The department had issued a direction to the District Collectors of Rayagada and Kalahandi to invite fresh claims within six weeks from the people of 12 villages where the Gram Sabhas would be held. After collecting the claims from the people, the Government will hold Palli Sabhas within three months and then it will hold Gram Sabhas in these villages. However, the date of holding Gram Sabhas is not yet decided.


Palli sabhas are in fact the same as gram sabhas, and these have to be held within three months from Saturday’s announcement. The weak and confusing wording of the verdict has already delayed the process by six weeks while the Odisha Government claimed it was clarifying it’s interpretation, and there is much potential for further delays as either side may file ‘contempt of court’ or other resolution which would send the issue back into the court room.

Meanwhile, with share prices already low, factories and mines shut at Lanjigarh, Tuticorin and Goa, and Niyamgiri looking less and less likely, Vedanta are following their usual method of high debt, high risk buyouts to keep the share prices afloat. They are currently pushing the Central Government to sell them the remaining shares in BALCO and Hindustan Zinc ltd, and delaying tactics on the Niyamgiri case will give them more time to potentially save their skin in case Niyamgiri doesn’t come through.

Dragging out the process is exhausting and resource draining for the Dongria and Kutia Konds and local activists and is often used as a tactic to wear down resistance until people eventually capitulate from sheer exhaustion. However, in Niyamgiri’s case this looks very unlikely. The high turnout and defiant energy of the recent Padayatra shows the great strength of Niyamgiri’s people, who have recently been supporting other movements such as the struggle against the Lower Suktel Dam. Lingaraj Azad’s speech at the Padayatra’s final rally in Muniguda also clearly stated that the fight goes beyond Niyamgiri and beyond Vedanta. They are aware that as long as there is bauxite in their mountain they will always have to remain vigilant and ready to respond to threats.



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The sacred mountain And why tribals are willing to die for it

Natives of Niyamgiri feel that the police is acting as an agent of the Vedanta group, playing dirty tricks to help the company go ahead with its plans to mine bauxite from the sacred hills

Bibhuti Pati
Lanjigarh (Odisha), Tehelka

Photo: Bibhuti Pati

ONE OF the world’s most controversial mines is back in the spotlight after hundreds protested against renewed efforts to mine Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills. Dongria Kondh and Niyamgiri supporters held their own ‘public hearing’ in Odisha state, where they restated their resolve not to allow mining on their sacred mountain.

A public hearing on Niyamgiri Hills was conducted by hundreds of Dongoria, Jharnia and Kutia tribes under the banner of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti with the active participation of Kalahandi and Rayagada tribes at Jagannathpur village of Lanjigarh block where the tribals did not include any government staff and company officials.

On 9 April, the tribes participated in a public hearing and said that they (tribes) have a birthright on the Hills and they won’t allow mining to their sacred mountain whatever the repercussion may be.

President of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, Loda Sikoka welcomed the tribes on the pandal (stage) and said that the Hills are neither the property of the Odisha government nor do they belong to the Central government. Loda said if mining was allowed in favour of Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL), they would be continuing the protests till their last breath. “We are fighting neither against the police nor VAL. We are fighting for our human rights,” he added.

Kalahandi Lok Sabha MP and founder of Green Kalahandi organisation Vakta Das says, “As a public-elected representative I have great regards for the apex court of India. I think I do not find any ground on which the apex court would give grant for the mining in Niyamgiri.”

Activist Prafulla Saantra from the National Alliance of People’s Movements said, “I hope the Supreme Court endorses the government’s ruling of not mining in Niyamgiri. This is in the interests of protecting natural resources and the tribal people.”

Dongria leader Dodhi Sikaka said, “Those who are fighting for their rights are beaten up and put behind bars in the name of stopping Naxals. Now, we Dongrias and Jharanias are together in resisting this. We are fighting for our own people, for our ancestral land, for our Niyamgiri.”

“It is better to die than to live in hell. Living with a demon is like living with death”
Niyamgiri Villager

London-based social organisation Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said, “On Sunday, 9 April, the Dongria held their own day of judgment — a public hearing — in which they vowed to protect their sacred mountain. In the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongrias’ decision is clear.”

Senior leader of the Dongria and Kutia tribes Kumuti Majhi said, “When the industry had not come here at Lanjigarh, we were leading a peaceful life, but after the establishment of the factory, many innocent tribes were sent to jail for their alleged involvement with Maoist groups. After the mining, all of us are going to face life-long troubles.”

“Do not kill our hills; we will never leave our maa maati (mother earth) for mutation! They are using the police to abuse. The police kidnapped Lodo and tortured him mentally and physically. They just come and beat us up, abuse our girls, take away our poultry and axes”Niyamgiri Villager

When contacted, Vivek Sinha, senior public relations officer, VAL, said he was busy with some prior commitments and would reply to queries later.

Senior advocate Abhaya Bhatta said, “It is difficult to get mining permission in Niyamgiri. Around 10 primitive tribal villages have the community rights to the Hills. Forest and environment experts, including the environment ministry, have already given reports and opinion on how mining will devastate these areas. So legally, it is difficult to get mining clearance in Niyamgiri.”

In this public hearing, hundreds of tribals joined together and heavily protested against the mining, vowing not to leave the mountain.

A Few Smiles Ruin Their Day

WE DREAMT that our village would develop, we would get gainful employment, our agricultural land would be full of crops, greenery would come to our village and all the villagers would lead happy lives. But our dreams were shattered. The greenery faded away from our villages. Our agricultural lands became barren. Our groundwater level touched rock-bottom. Our air got polluted and we experienced unprecedented acid rain in our villages. The biodiversity and atmosphere of the villages were destroyed. We have lost our means of livelihood!” These are the emotional reactions of the villagers at the Lanjigarh Road Panchayat, where multinational Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL)has been established.

“If it is a good company, the company has to leave and if the elected government is people’s government then they must work for us, not for the company”Niyamgiri Villager

“When Vedanta came to Lanjigarh, the government of Odisha, district administration and Vedanta officials assured the local inhabitants that poverty would be alleviated. Agricultural production would increase. Irrigation, drinking water, health and sanitation, education and communication facilities would develop. Youth would get employment. The poor innocent tribals believed them. But, in reality, after a few months, the villagers find that they have been taken for a ride,” said Pitabas Khiringa, a local youth.

The recent agitations in Kalahandi and Lanjigarh Road Panchayat reveal the pathetic scenario of Lanjigarh. An educated village girl, Manashree Kar said, “The Vedanta advertisement slogan is ‘A few smiles make our day’. But if somebody sees the reality of the Lanjigarh area, Vedanta’s advertisement slogan is only a contradiction in terms. It would be more appropriate to say ‘A few smiles ruin our day’. She added, “What Vedanta is doing and highlighting in the name of peripheral development of Lanjigarh is very little in comparison to what they have been destroying incessantly in the local area.”

The villagers say Vedanta is damaging the environment, to the detriment of all — which is quite apparent from the deplorable condition of local roads. “The less said about education and health, the better,” said a tribal. “Our traditional agriculture has come to a virtual standstill. On the contrary, Vedanta is propagating that the tribals are growing strawberries. This does not hold water at all, as the prevailing climate does not permit it.” They note that the company seems to be flush with funds, organising ‘beach festivals’, but is least concerned about promoting the traditional art, culture and folk dance of the Dongaria Kondhs.

“It’s so funny when these outsiders come and give us lessons on development and environment. If it is a good company, why they are using the police?”Niyamgiri Villager

The drinking water problem and the unhygienic condition of the Lanjigarh Road Panchayat stand as evidence to the miserable condition of the local areas. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s pompous declaration that with the establishment and entry of MNCs into Odisha would overnight bring positive change in the lifestyle of the locals is just a political gimmick — much to the chagrin and dismay of several local inhabitants of Lanjigarh Road Panchayat. Sunil Jain lost his mental balance after ‘guaranteed’ employment did not fructify. Sasmita, the widow of late Sesadev Mahaptra who died in a road accident by a Vedanta vehicle, is still awaiting a source of sustenance for her and her daughter. These are the few instances of Lanjigarh’s ‘prosperity’ vis-a-vis the tall claims of Vedanta and the Patnaik government.

Sarpanch Fakir Majhee and the then Sarpanch Nilamadhab Mahapatra of Lanjigarh recall that when Patnaik visited Kasipur, he had declared at a public meeting that after the establishment of VAL, the drinking water and unemployment problem would be solved and education facilities would improve. Nila and Fakir are now a much disillusioned duo. They say, “Apart from a few shabby water cisterns which are not as yet connected with pipes, we have nothing.”

“The Vedanta people said they would construct a huge water cistern in Maheswaripur village. This cistern would provide drinking water to all the villages and 16 people would get employment there. Thereafter, the Vedanta surreptitiously took water from our river and streams and diverted it to its own plant. After a great deal of chaos and confusion over employment, only five of the 16 villagers got jobs as daily wage labourers. This is a cruel joke.”

Question Mark Over Vedanta’s HonestyDUE TO construction of ‘red water pond’ by Vedanta Aluminium Ltd, water flow from Niyamgiri Hills is blocked. Consequently, not only are people deprived of drinking water but agricultural lands have become barren since 2006. The streams and springs are polluted. The normal life of 199 villagers is disrupted. Vedanta claims it has provided health facilities in the locality. If so, how could 16 persons died of cholera in the adjacent village?At the time of constructing the pond, Vedanta officials had committed to pay a sum of Rs 8,400 per annum per acre towards compensation. But now it has reneged from its commitment. In 2006, it paid Rs 8,400, in 2007 Rs 4,200 and in 2008 the amount came down to Rs 1,100. Villagers are not allowed by securitymen to enter into offices when they try to meet the concerned authority in this regard. After taking the land of many tribals and downtrodden like Bhika Majhi and Kango Majhi of Kendubarad village and Subas Durga of Gopinathpur village, Vedanta is not paying the price for it. Subash Durga, who is a constable, staged a sit-in on the road in protest, says Dukhu Ram.It is to be mentioned here that the then RDC, Sambalpur Madhusudan Padhi, inadvertently exposed the irregularities and forcible massive expansion by Vedanta in a seminar at Bhubaneswar that ‘due to the unethical work of Vedanta, it is difficult for the progress of other proposed projects in the state.’

Central government officers who had been to Niyamgiri have mentioned that if the mining continues in Niyamgiri, then the oldest tribal civilisation along with the jungle, environment, medicated plants, animals, birds, will vanish forever. Despite this, why the state government is in so much of a hurry to oblige Vedanta is a million-dollar question.

The Dongria, Jharania and other local Kondh people are resisting Vedanta operations and are determined to save Niyamgiri from becoming an industrial wasteland. Other Kondh groups are already suffering due to a bauxite refinery built and operated at the base of the Hills.

The Hills are home to the more than 8,000 Dongria Kondh, whose lifestyle and religion have helped nurture the area’s dense forests and unusually rich wildlife.

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