The deadline given by the Odisha government for compiling and verifying the forest rights claims of villagers on the Niyamgiri hills ended on Sunday. After the Supreme Court's April 18 order on forest clearance for Niyamgiri mining project, the state government had given six weeks' time for submission of forest, cultural and religious rights claims by the Dongria Kondhs tribe, which resides in the hilly terrain.
These claims will be placed before palli sabhas (village council meetings) for validation. Each of the village community meetings will be supervised by a district judge, who will ensure that the claims of the tribals have been recognised by the state government.
The palli sabhas, slated to be held in 12 villages in Kalahandi and Rayagad districts, will go on from July 18 to August 8. These sabhas will decide the fate of Vedanta's bauxite mining project, which is crucial for the company's Rs 40,000-crore investment in the state.
Meanwhile, officials of these two districts have received more than 40 individual claims and 79 community claims from the villages under their jurisdiction on properties such as land, mango orchards, temple area, and cattle grazing ground. After validation of the claims by the palli sabhas, the documents will be sent to the Supreme Court. On April 18, the Supreme Court had ordered that the Dongria and other tribes residing in the hills must be provided with basic rights mentioned in the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
It also said that the Palli Sabhas can consider whether the proposed mining site, which is 10 Km away from Hundaljali, the abode of Niyam Raja, can affect the locals' religious rights.
"Our departmental committee has completed inquiry of the claims made by the residents of Niyamgiri Hills. These claims, which have been sent to the forest rights committee of each village, will be discussed during Palli Sabha meetings," said Sashi Bhushan Padhi, collector of Rayagada, where Palli Sabhas will be held in seven Dongria Kondh villages.