Odisha Sun Times Bureau
New Delhi/Bhubaneswar, May 6:
Odisha government’s move seeking reconvening of gram sabhas to take another look whether bauxite can be mined in the Niyamgiri hills received a big jolt as the Supreme Court today dismissed state government-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)’s petition in this regard.
A three-member division bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi today rejected the petition filed by OMC.
“In the last hearing the Supreme Court had told the OMC to make all affected parties respondents in the case. Accordingly, all the 12 gram sabhas, Dongria Kondhs, NGOs were made parties but today the apex court rejected the petition ruling that it cannot interfere in it and asked OMC to take alternative legal option if any,” said Sanjay Parekh, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court.
“The Odisha government should now protect Niyamgiri and the tribals dependent on it. It should protect their rights and give special attention to their development in the areas of education, health etc,” said Prafulla Samantra, social activist.
However, the state government remained evasive on the apex court’s order.
“I can only comment after going through the judgment copy. How can I tell you anything without going through it in detail?” asked Prafulla Mallik Minister Steel & Mines in his reactions on the apex court’s judgment when asked by reporters on the government’s next move.
Notably, the state government had moved the Supreme Court seeking review of the latter’s 2013 decision upholding the resolution passed by 12 gram sabhas not to allow mining of bauxite in the hills.
The state government through the OMC on February 25 had moved the apex court wanting reconvening of gram sabhas so as to take another look into whether bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills will be tantamount to an infringement of the religious, community and individual rights of local forest-dwellers.
Senior counsel C A Sundaram who had appeared for the state government had contended that the 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.
Sundaram in the interlocutory application had sought gram sabhas to take a fresh look into the issue on the ground that they had rejected the mining proposal of the joint venture project between OMC and Vedanta.
On March 4 this year, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court had recommended the Chief Justice to constitute a three-judge bench to conduct hearing on Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)’s interlocutory application seeking reconvening of gram sabhas for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills.
However, the Supreme Court of India on April 1 had directed the OMC to file a fresh petition making all the affected and interested sides as respondents in the application.
It may be recalled here that while the Supreme Court had ruled in April 2013 that the Vedanta Group’s bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills will have to get clearance from the gram sabhas, it had banned mining in Niyamgiri till local gram sabhas conducted a study and filed a report on whether it could be allowed to mine in the area.
The state government had then identified 12 villages from among more than 100 in the Niyamgiri hills to prepare the report.
Ministry of Environment and Forests had refused Stage II forest clearance in 2010 to Vedanta for diversion of 660 hectares of forest land for bauxite mining in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, based on the Forest Advisory Committee’s (FAC) adverse views on violation of rights of the tribal groups and impact on the ecology and biodiversity of the area.
The state government had scrapped the mining project in 2014 pouring cold water on Vedanta Group’s alumina refinery at Lanjigarh after all 12 gram sabhas had voted unanimously against mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.