State-run mining company Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) is making a renewed attempt to mine bauxite on top of the Niyamgiri hill range, a proposal that was nixed by local tribals in 2013.
OMC is gearing up to file a fresh plea with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) after getting the go-ahead from the state government.
"We have allowed OMC to approach the NGT on Niyamgiri bauxite mining. But before approaching the tribunal, OMC has to seek approval from the sub-divisional committees in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts where the gram sabhas in 12 villages had voted against the mining plan”, said a senior government official.
While OMC had moved the Supreme Court in February this year to reconsider afresh the possibility of holding fresh gram sabhas to decide whether mining can be done atop Niyamgiri, the apex court had quashed the proposal. A bench of the apex court headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, in May 2016, refused to entertain the petition. The court, instead, directed OMC to approach appropriate forums against the decision of the gram sabhas held in July-August 2013.
In its interlocutory application, OMC claimed that the Forest Rights Act and its Rules do not require any consent from gram sabha (village councils) for use of forest lands if the government decides that the rights of the people have been settled.
Senior Supreme Court counsel C A Sundaram who had appeared before the apex court had contended that the palli sabhas have failed to take into account the Supreme Court’s directive to consider the cultural and religious rights of the tribals and forest-dwellers in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, but have gone beyond their mandate by deciding against mining in the hills.
The gram sabhas were held in 12 villages across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts in July-August 2013 as per an order of the Supreme Court. All 12 villages where Dongaria tribes are concentrated, had unanimously voted against the mining project, asserting religious and cultural rights over the Niyamgiri mountain. In its judgment in 2013, the apex court ordered that the 12 gram sabhas of the Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and other tribal communities would decide if they held any religious and other rights over the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha and if the mining of bauxite in the Lanjigarh mines below the peak of the hill would affect their religious rights.
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The outcome of the referendum was much awaited since it had repercussions on Vedanta's refinery at Lanjigarh, installed at the foothills of the ecologically fragile Niyamgiri range. Sourcing bauxite from Vedanta promised to enable Vedanta to be a globally competitive producer of alumina and aluminium. In the absence of local bauxite sources, Vedanta was forced to arrange bauxite from other states and also take to imports to feed its refinery.