The first Gram Sabha, following Supreme Court's April 18th judgement, is being organised today in Serakpadi village of Raygada district. Since, morning amidst heavy police and security forces, government officials, and villagers from nearby villages have been gathering in the village.
In the meeting, Dongria Konds asserted their claim to Niyam Raja, sacred mountain, and sent a loud message about the fact that the whole mountain is their God and they are opposed in any mining activity in the mountain range and nearby.
Earlier on Odisha government willfully misrepresented the Supreme Court and declared that they would hold the gram sabhas in only 12 villages. Records show that there are actually only 186 voters registered in the twelve villages combined according to the old voter lists (five in Kalahandi district and seven in Rayagada), while more than 8000 Dongria Konds live on and worship the mountain, plus many more Kutia Konds are living around Niyamgiri. Ijrupa in Kalahandi dist – one of the villages listed, only has one voter according to the old voter lists which are likely to be used. Several of these villages are primarily occupied by Yadav immigrants and not the adivasis whom the judgement is aimed at. This is in blatant violation of SC judgement restricting participation in the Palli Sabha process, and make it easier to manipulate and manage by the Odisha State which has worked alongside Vedanta from the start.
On June 12, a 18 member Dongria Kond delegation had submitted a memorandum to the Governor of Odisha, Shri S C Jamir, in this regard. Union Tribal Affairs Minister, Shri Kishore Chandra Deo has also very categorically said that the selection of just 12 villages violates the Supreme Court order. The Dongria Konds and other affected tribal groups have hence, decided to hold Palli Sabhas (Gram Sabha) in all villages to be affected by the proposed bauxite mining. “We have decided that all villages will call for Palli Sabha under the Orissa Gram Panchayat Act. The Palli Sabhas will receive individual and community claims to forest resources and will also decide whether mining will affect religious and cultural rights of Dongria Kondh and other tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers,” said Lingaraj Azad from Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS).
Prafulla Samantara, National Convener, National Alliance of People's Movements, and an intervener in the Supreme Court case, from Bhubaneshwar, condemened the move of the Odisha government and also decried the fact that CRPF has been harassing them and in an incident on June 3rd fired on Konds in order to scare them. CRPF is present in area for combing operations and have been spreading terror and threatening Dongrias to stop their resistance to the Vednata mining project.”
Devangana Kalita, of FOIL Vedanta, an international solidarity group, said, “we have registered complaints with the Odisha Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, but there has been no response yet. To highlight all these violations by the State government and Vedanta, simultaneous demonstrations in Niyamgiri, Bhuwaneshwar and Delhi on 31st July, a day before the Annual General-Body Meeting (AGM) of Vedanta in London, has been planned by different rights groups and people's movements.”
National Alliance of People's Movements reiterates its support to the struggle of the Dongria Kondhs and demands that Odisha government desist from intimidtaing and threatening people. Dongrias of Niyamgiri are determined to save their land, forest and water and with support of people's movements across the country will do so and not let any mining happen in Niyamgiri.