: With the process having been initiated to allot Khandadhar iron ore reserve through the auction route, tribals residing in hilly terrains in Odisha’s Sundagarh district have announced that they will continue their resistance, which will be similar to their protest against the earlier proposal of handing over the reserve to South Korean steel behemoth, POSCO.

Tribals here on Sunday demanded that Khandadhar should be declared as national natural heritage. Both the Union and the State government should give up the idea of carry out mining in the area, they warned.

“We have been demanding a ban on mining in Khandadhar to save waterfalls and rich biodiversity as well as the habitat right of primitive tribal communities like Paudi Bhuyan under Forest Rights Acts 2006,” said Bilua Nayak, chieftain of Bhuyan community, addressing a press conference here on Sunday.

Mr. Nayak said Khandadhar being the abode of their presiding deity, Kanta Devi, is sacred for them, and the Khandadhar hill is dotted with places of worships.

More importantly, Khandadhar is a source of water for people in both Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts and it would be protected at any cost, he said.

Similarly, Jhara Nayak, President of Khandadhar Surakhya Sangram Samiti said, “We had earlier announced not to give an inch from Khandadhar to POSCO. Now if fresh attempts are being made to dig out iron ore by destroying the ecology of Khandadhar, we are ready for a long-drawn fight.”

Prafulla Samantra, prominent social activist and president of Lok Shakti Abhijan, said any mining in Khandadhar would jeopardise the livelihood of thousands of tribals in Sundargarh and Keonjhar district.

Khandadhar is estimated to have 200 million tonne of iron ore reserve.

The Odisha government had recommended mining lease in favour of POSCO, which proposed to set up a mega steel plant in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district. However, the Narendra Modi government, rejecting the State government’s appeal of allotment in favour of POSCO, asked Odisha to initiate the auction process.

The tribals had already met Jual Oram, Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, who was opposed to any kind of mining in Khandadhar, and sought his intervention.

‘Khandadhar is source of water for people in both Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts’