Reported by Chinamya Dehury / Edited by Sandeep Sahu
BHUBANESWAR, July 26
Cocking a snook at the Odisha government, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) has constituted a five-member committee to assess claims under Forest Rights Act as well as religious and cultural rights of tribals in villages beyond the 12 selected by the state government for conduct of Gram Sabha as per the April 18 order of the Supreme Court.
The five-member team, led by Gopal Sadhwani, deputy secretary in the MoTA, would visit Rayagada and Kalahandi districts from August 4 to 8 to assess the claims of tribals and submit a report to the ministry within five working days of its return, a letter written by Sadhwani to the Odisha chief secretary JK Mohapatra on July 24 said.
The other members of the team are MoTA consultant Sreetama Guptabhaya, legal expert Shomona Khanna and representatives of civil society organization Vasundhara Tushar Dash and Y Giri Rao.
Taking exception to the Odisha government’s decision to restrict the number of Gram Sabhas to 12, the letter said; “The Ministry of Law has opined that the scope of filing the claims is open for the entire districts of Rayagada and Kalahandi and there is nothing in the judgment of the Supreme Court to restrict the same to 12 villages.”
The letter requests the state government to provide all logistics and other support required by the team and also depute a representative to assist the Committee in its work.
“The Ministry of Tribal Affairs is of the view that there could be claims under FRA for various rights including religious and cultural rights over Niyamgiri forest and sacred areas over and above the 12 villages selected by the State government,” an order passed by the Ministry regarding the formation of the team said.
Meanwhile, all five Gram Sabhas held so far – two in Rayagada and three in Kalahandi – have unanimously rejected the move to mine Niyamgiri.