Reported by Kailash Sahu
Lanjigarh, July 30:
Contrary to the claim made by the collector of Odisha’s Kalahandi district, the public hearing held here today for the proposed expansion of Vedanta’s (now rechristened Sesa Sterlite) refinery from 1 million ton per annum (MTPA) to 6 MTPA had to be abandoned midway when a large number of tribals barged into the meeting venue and protested the administration’s attempt to rush through the process and deny them a say at the hearing.
Pro-Vedanta participants, mainly consisting of local leaders and workers of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), fled the place when around 250 to 300 Jharania and Dongaria Kondh tribals stormed into the public hearing conducted by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) at the Lanjigarh Nodal UP School grounds here.
The tribals,led by Lingaraj Azad of the Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti (NSS), snatched away the microphones, raised slogans against Vedanta and questioned the purpose of holding such public hearing in the absence of locals and stage managed by the ruling BJD and company officials.
“When the locals who are going to be affected by the project are not being allowed to speak, what is the purpose of holding such public hearing?” asked one of the protestors. “We are not going to hand over Niyamgiri to the company under any circumstances,” he thundered.
Kalahandi Collector Bijay Ketan Upadhyay had claimed earlier in the day that ‘a majority’ of the local villagers gathered at the public hearing had supported the expansion plan. He had said the proceedings of the public hearing would be forwarded to the state government which, in turn, would send it to the Centre for final clearance.
The public hearing was, for all practical purposes, a BJD show with its local leaders, MLAs and workers from the entire Kalahandi district gathering at the Lanjigarh Nodal UP School ground, the venue of the public hearing. BJD workers initially prevented locals from participating in the hearing till Azad’s arrival.
The BJD workers, who were till then speaking in favour of allowing expansion of Vedanta’s alumina complex, ran helter-skelter as the locals led by Lingaraj Azad stormed the hearing raising anti-Vedanta slogans.
BJD MLAs from Lanjigarh Balabhadra Majhi and Dibya Shankar Mishra from Junagadh, along with zilla parishad chairperson Srimati Majhi, zilla parishad member Rajendra Singhdeo, Lanjigarh block chairperson Sasmita Majhi, BJD councilors from Bhawanipatna Municipality and hundreds of BJD supporters from Jayapatna, Thuamul Rampur and entire Kalahandi district dispersed from the venue on the arrival of 300 odd tribals.
Sources said the government machinery had not made any announcements through public address system in the areas to be affected by the proposed expansion neither were any notices pasted in the villages about the holding of public hearing.
The local ADM Sasadhar Nayak and one member of the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) were present at the hearing from the government side. Several Vedanta employees including company’s CEO K K Dave and Mining head Nobel Sharma were also present in the hearing.
ADM Nayak was not available for his comments at the time of filing of this report.