Nitin Sethi, TNN | Jun 4, 2013,
The move could snatch away the village council’s rights to be final arbiters of their traditional and religious rights over the contentious Niyamgiri hills, and leave it in the hands of the state government to take the final call.
The apex court had ordered that the village councils to decide if mining of bauxite would impact the cultural and religious rights, besides impinging on the tribals’ livelihood. It had ordered the Centre and the Odisha government to facilitate a free and fair decision by the affected village councils.
The tribal affairs ministry moved quickly to ask the state government to ensure all village councils get a chance to vote and decide on the matter. The state government whittled down the list of villages involved to only 12, including five and seven in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, respectively.
Now, the tribal affairs ministry itself has limited the village council’s powers by suggesting that they can only entertain claims from the locals and convey their views, which would then be decided upon by the sub-divisional and district level panels set up under the Forest Rights Act(FRA).
The sub-divisional committee in Odisha consists of sub-collector as chairman, sub-divisional forest officer, three members of panchayat samiti and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary. The district-level committee is headed by district magistrate with divisional forest officer, three zilla parishad members and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary.
The panels are meant to form the three layers that determine the livelihood and land rights of the tribals, but the recent SC order had stated that village councils would decide on their cultural and religious rights and take a call on whether the project would be an impediment towards their privileges.
The subtle alteration in the reading of the order through a ‘training module’, which the tribal affairs ministry has prepared especially for the tribals ahead of crucial village councils’ vote, has vested power in the hands of the Odisha government.
The apex court verdict had given another route for tribals to protect their lands after the Union government shied away from defending the existing norms that require a direct consent from village councils before forestlands can be used by industries. But the precedent-setting verdict of the court could stand substantially diluted in the test case itself.
- Odisha pays scant heed to tribal ministry’s directions on mining for Vedanta (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Odisha Govt tries every trick in the book with SC Niyamgiri verdict #mustshare (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Activist alleges Odisha govt trying to manipulate SC order on bauxite mining (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Anti-Vedanta campaign gathers steam (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Tribal affairs ministry gets cracking on apex court’s order on Vedanta #goodnews (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Odisha to seek six more weeks to conduct Niyamgiri Gram Sabhas (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Villagers’ bid to decide Vedanta project fate puts Niyamgiri hills on radar (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Recent Supreme Court order in Vedanta case holds hope for tribal community life (kractivist.wordpress.com)