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War cries from Khandadhar in Odisha as tribals vow to protect hill from Posco mining

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau

Sundargarh, June 7 :

On the occasion of World Environment Day on 5th June 2014, the local tribals of the Bonai Subdivision of the Sundargarh district in a unique celebration of the day have taken vow to protect the Khandardhar Hill from any destruction, a release from the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD ) said today.

Khandadhar meetingThe meeting was addressed by eminent anti-displacement leaders, rights actvists and political leaders cutting across political lines.

A protest rally followed by a protest public meeting was organized by the frontier organization Khandadhar Surakhya Sangram Samiti(KSSS) at village Budhabhin(Khandadhar).

It is to be noted that the Sarpanch of the Talbahali G.P had also served a notice from the G.P Headquarters for the public meeting. Hundreds of tribals and people from surrounding villages under Mahulpada G.P, Daleisara G.P, Phuljhar G.P, Haldikudar G.P Khutgaon G.P Kuliposhi G.P, Talbahali G.P, Sasyakala G.P and Bbhutuda G.P, who depend on Khandadhar hill and are likely to be affected by mining activity in the hill, joined the protest rally and meeting.

Local tribal leaders including Purna Chandra Nayak husband of Zilla Parishad Member Saraswati Nayak, Kalyan Munda the ex-Sarpanch Talbahali, Renu Dehuri, priest at the Khandadhar hill participated in the meeting. Besides, leaders of many struggle groups and anti-displacement groups i.e. Posco Pratirdh Sangram Samiti(PPSS), Adim Adivasi Hak Sangram Samiti(AAHSS), Sundargarh, Paschim Odisha Krushak Samanyoya Samiti,(POKSS),Lower Suktel Budi Achal Sangram Parishad (LSBASP), Gandhamardham Surakhya Samiti(GSS), Lok Adhikar Sangathan, Bargarh and Forest Rights Campaign,

Campign for Survival and Dignity(CSD), Odisha etc participated, the locals and extended their support to the Khandadhar struggle.

Before the public meeting at the market place of village Budhabhuin, the local people took oath at the foot hill of Khandadhar waterfall byholding water in their hands to protect the Khandadhar from any destruction till their last breath.Bilua Nayak, head of the Paudi Bhuinya Samaj administered the oath ceremony. Thereafter a long procession was started from foot hill of Khandadhar and marched up to the meeting place. In the procession, people participated with placard in their hands and shouting slogans i.e. “Maribu pachhe Khandadhar Chhadibu nahin” ( We would rather die than allow mining in Khandadhar)  “Khandadhar re Khani khanan kari debunahi” ( We will never allow mining in Khandadhar) and Khandadhar Surakhya Samiti Zindabad.

The public meeting was presided by the KSSS president, Jhara Naik. Suresh Munda. Secretary of KSSS welcomed all the members and supporters of Save Khandadhar struggle. Markash Munda, member of KSSS and Panchayat Samiti Member, Talbahali G.P readout the declaration of protest meeting on the occasion of the world Environment Day.

Prominent leaders express solidarity with KSSS

Joining in the protest rally and public protest meeting, Prafulla Samantra, president of Lokshakti Abhjan in his inaugural speech call upon all the local people to get united themselves to save Khandadhar from any destruction in the coming future.

Hailing Jual Oram for his victory in the recent general election and becoming the Union Tribal Affairs minister he said, “Jual oram and Laxman Munda (local MLA) have been a part of the Khandadhar struggle and are also the main anti-Pocso political leaders of the state, we have been inspired by their win and new assignments and very much hopeful that they will effectively deal with the issues both at the State and Central Government levels and continue their support to the struggle to save Khandadhar.”

Abhay Sahu, president of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti(PPSS), joined the public gathering and saluted the local tribals for their consistent struggle to stop POSCO from mining in the Khandadhar. He said “for the last eight years the PPSS has successfully restrained the POSCO Company from starting any work in the proposed site and now the protest of the local people of the Khandadhar area against mining would strengthen our struggle against POSCO.”

He promised to extend all support the ongoing movement of the tribals to save Khandadhar Hills.

Khandadhar Water fall ( pic-wikipedia)
Khandadhar Water fall ( pic-wikipedia)

Prafulla Majhi, the Talsara Congress MLA , who attended the protest rally and public meeting extended his support to the struggle of KSSS and promised to protest any attempt to start mining in the Khandadhar both inside  and outside  of the Odisha Assembly.

Lingaraj, leader of the Paschim Odisha Krushak Samanyoya Samiti joined protest meet and informed all members about the successful struggle of the local people of Bargargh and Bolangir districts to save Gandhamardhan Hills against the Balco company.

Addressing the gathering, representative of Odisha CPM, Banamali Dhupal spoke about the ill effects and consequences of mining on the lives and livelihood of the local people and promised to extend all support from his party to the ongoing struggle of KSSS to save Khandadhar.

Besides, many local tribal leaders of KSSS spoke on the occasion and raised fundamental issues of their lives and livelihood. They expressed their anger against the proposed iron ore mining at Khandadhar by Posco. They also flayed the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation(OMC) for destroying the forest and ecosystem by mining here and drawing water from Khandadhar. The  flow of water in Phuljhar Nullah was hit by OMC activities and had badly affected rinking water supply to the locals, they said.

Theyalso  accused the government of Odisha of openly violating pro-tribal constitutional provisions like PESA, 1996 and Forest Rights Act, 2006. They said “since Khandadhar is the habitat of the Paudi Bhuiya Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), both the State and Central government should follow the provision of FRA, 2006 and judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the historic Niyamgiri case in the case of Khandadhar hill also.

In its “Declaration” on the occasion, the NSSS has put demands before both the State and the Central govt not to allow mining operation within 25 km radius of the Khandadhar waterfall and to accord it the status of national natural heritage site, to implement Forest Rights Act, 2006 strictly including recognition of community forest rights, community rights over Community Forest Resources(CFR) and recognition of Habitat rights of the Paudi Bhuiyan PVTG.

It is to be noted that the Khandadhar water fall is not only an important tourist site in  Odisha but also the habitat of the Paudi Bhuiny tribes, recognized as Primitive Tribal group(PTG/PVTG) amongst the 13 PTGs in the state of Odisha. Besides, the area is inhabited by other tribal communities such as Munda/Mundari, Bhumija, Gond and OBCs such as Chasaa, etc.

Genesis of the anti-mining agitation 

The agitation owes its origin to a move by the govt. of Odisha to hadn over Khandadhar hill to POSCO , the South Korean steel giant for its Rs 52,000 crore steel project involving the largest ever FDI in India  in 2006 -2007.

In January, 2009 Government of Odisha had recommended Khandadhar for POSCO to the Central government which had returned back the recommendation the same year and directed it to conduct fresh hearing of 227 applications made for Khandadhar iron ore reserve.

Accordingly, the state government had again sent the recommendation to the Centre. Meanwhile, Geomin Minerals Company, one of the applicant for Khandadhar mines, filed a petition before the Odisha High Court on July 14, 2010. Geomin Minerals had contended before the High Court that it had applied for the prospective licence for Khandadhar iron ore mines much before posco. Later on more 16 other firms who had also applied for mining leases for Khandadhar also intervened.

Hearing the petition, the High Court on July 14 set aside the state government’s decision to allow Posco mining in the hills. Aggrieved with the High court judgment, the Odhisa Government moved the Supreme Court on October 29, 2010 on this issue. Govt. of Odisha contended that the High Court could not have quashed the state government’s grant of licence to Posco as it was under section 11 (5) of Mines And Minerals (Development And Regulation) Act, 1957.

Hearing the case in May last year 2013, the Supreme Court had set aside the Odisha High Court order. The apex court also asked the Centre to consider all the objections raised by various parties pertaining to the mega steel plant and take a decision.

Thereafter, very recently, with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik resuming office for the fourth consecutive term having overwhelming majority in the 2014 Odisha Assembly Election, the BJD Government is likely to push for mining in Khandadhar region. The 5th June Programme on the occasion of World Environment Day was to show the determination of the local people to save Khandadhar from mining.