Nitin Sethi, TNN | May 14, 2013
The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order the Odisha government to ensure the tribals can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.
Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – both experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.
Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order is underway in various wings of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing for an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.
Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled by higher echelons of power, or the state bureaucracy.
Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas, who would get to vote, is perceived as a major challenge in the backdrop of heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.
The unusual promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — that the environment ministry had used to step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to underscore its credentials.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored brownie points with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the norms that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government, which has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.
The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA — a pro-tribal promise by the UPA — that he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.
- Villagers’ bid to decide Vedanta project fate puts Niyamgiri hills on radar (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Tribal affairs ministry gets cracking on apex court’s order on Vedanta #goodnews (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Anti-Vedanta body to march near Niyamgiri (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Vedanta HQ in London mobbed by Protesters, as SC gives Gramsabha Powers to decide (kractivist.wordpress.com)