Bhubaneswar, Jan 11:
Dubbing the decision of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to reject the proposal for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills as ‘unfortunate’, Steel and Mines minister Rajanikanta Singh on Saturday said steps would be taken to provide an alternative source of bauxite for Vedanta’s refinery in Llanjigarh in Kalahandi district.
“It is unfortunate that the UPA government is doing politics at the cost of development. We condemn the Centre for rejecting the mining proposal at Niyamgri hills,” Singh told reporters here.
Alleging that the UPA government was against the development of poverty stricken Kalahandi district, the minister said the state government was taking steps to provide bauxite to Vedanta’s 1 MTPA refinery at Lanjigarh.
The minister said Vedanta could be given prospecting license on small deposits of bauxite in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts. He said that the company could also extract bauxite from laterite ore, which was available in the state.
“The Group of Ministers set by the state government has submitted its report on the supply of ore to local industries. Vedanta has made a presentation before the GOM,” Singh said. Kalahandi’s Congress MP Bhakta Charan Das, on the other hand, welcomed the Centre’s decision. “It is a victory for the Dangaria Kanda tribals, who made history by stopping mining at their place of worship,” Das said.
Meanwhile, anti-displacement activists hailed the central government’s decision. “We are happy that the central government honoured the Supreme Court decision and the verdict of the local people,” Prafulla Samantara, one of the petitioners against the Vedanta project, said. “Now, the government should order dismantling of the Vedanta plant in the area as the mining proposal has been rejected,” he said.
The central government rejected the mining plan based on the opinion of the people in 12 villages where Gram Sabhas were held in July/August last year,” a senior state official of the state mining department said.
“The state government has received a letter from the Inspector general of forests of the union ministry of forest and environments HC Chaudhary in this regard,” he said.
“I am directed to reiterate the decision of the central government to reject stage II approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 for diversion of 660.749 hectres of forest land in favour of Orissa Mining Corporation for mining of bauxite ore in Lanjigarh Bauxite reserve in Kalahandi and Rayagada district,” Chaudhary stated in the Jan 8 letter.
The Niyamgiri Hills in Rayagada district, about 600 km from Bhubaneswar, are home to more than 8,000 people of the Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship the mountain-top as the seat of their god. The bauxite under the hillslopes, which the Britain-listed, Anil Agarwal-owned firm Vedanta proposed to mine, is also good at holding water and feeding perennial streams, making the hills lush with vegetation.