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Niyamgiri is saved from Vedanta for now

Written By Gopal Krishna on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 5:26 AM

The 8th gram sabha organised at Ijrupa village in Kalahandi district on Tuesday rejected the proposal for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills.

The tribal residents of the village unanimously passed a resolution strongly opposing the proposed bauxite mining in Niyamgiri claiming that they worshipped the whole of it as their revered god Niyamraja.

The gram sabha, which was held in the presence of Additional District Judge Pramod Kumar Jena, passed off peacefully.

The people who took part in the gram sabha held in seven villages earlier had passed similar resolutions rejecting the proposal for mining in Niyamgiri. Gram sabhas were to be held in four more villages in Rayagada district.

Earlier, the seventh palli sabha - at Vedanta's CSR village, Phuldumer - too has cast its deciding majority vote against Vedanta's Niyamgiri mine. 

This victory also shows the amazing strength of Niyamgiri’s the people. Despite all Vedanta and the Odisha state government’s attempts to subvert the process: by threatening villagers with guns and violence, by selecting just twelve villages, by choosing corrupt judges – Niyamgiri villagers have united, across caste, class and district to defend the mountain that gives them life and livelihood.

There are over 300 villages who depend on and worship the Niyamgiri hill range. Today 240 km2 of mountain looks to have been saved, not to mention the hope and fighting strength that this victory will give to others fighting Vedanta, and similar industrial projects, elsewhere. We will be celebrating this amazing victory for people’s movements, people’s democracy and grassroots international solidarity at Vedanta’s AGM on Thursday. Kumuti Majhi, a Kond tribal and leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti said on Friday: ‘We thank the Judges who gave us a opportunity to voice our opinion. We are hoping that the rest of the villages will vote no.’

This is. of course, not the absolute end of the line. When the other five villages have held palli sabhas, the resolution agreed at Niyamgiri will go to the Tribal Affairs minister of Odisha, and then be passed to the Ministry of Environment and Forests who will give the ultimate nod. However, with such an unanimous verdict, and the national media of India following every move, the MoEF will have a very hard time opposing the people’s decision. 

31 out of 40 voters from the Dongria mountain village of Batudi in Rayagada district attended its palli sabha on Saturday 27th July. 31 out of 40 voters attended and once again unanimously voted against Vedanta’s mine. The village also rejected the state government’s ‘joint verification report’ which alloted tiny amounts of land to settle claims filed by the community and individuals. Dasru Jakesika, secretary of the village forest rights committee, said: “We were cheated. They got our signatures by fooling us. We don’t agree to 5, 10 or 20 acres. The whole of Niyamgiri belongs to us,”

Another Dongria resident Dukhi Jakesika said:“Our Niyam Raja is situated at “Niyam Dangor” where Vedanta proposed Mining lease area and planning to extract bauxite. All the employee of Odisha Government are cheater for us. In future we can’t believe to them.. they could have done joint verification properly… we saw they gave very scanty place to our Niyam Raja, streams, tiger habitat and beer habitat. Tiger and Beer can stay at one place their catchment area is like over the Niyam Giri range .Our Niyam Raja is in all the hills… .But we are surprised to see that , how they mapped. So all the officials are working for Vedanta not for us. We worship the entire hills top as Niyam Raja in Niyam Giri. Not only we collects fruits, Medicinal plants, tuber, green leaves but also all the communities collects the same things over the hill tops.”    (Source: Sushanta Kumar Dalai) Disari Sikoka echoed: “Vedanta Company, Govt., Police, Goons are are asking us to leave Niyamgiri. With the money power they all act like their agent and show us Gun. We won’t leave Niyamgiri.”

But the most telling and nerve wracking of the palli sabha’s was Phuldumer, Vedanta’s darling village where it has focused many of its Corporate Social Responsibility programmes, bragged about in its annual reports and large public billboards. This was the seventh village to vote, critically determining whether a majority of votes and villages out of the twelve total would stick to the unanimous NO verdict and so win the fight and save the mountain.

49 voters from 22 families attended the Phuldumer meeting and once again unanimously voted no. The papers quoted Chanchala Harijan. She had earlier been a Naib Sarpanch of the village and is quoted in Vedanta’s CSR reports (see pic) as saying that no state welfare had ever been provided to the village before Vedanta came along and helped them. She has now changed her tune dramatically and spoke at the palli sabha saying poigniantly:
“We will die but won’t give up Niyamgiri. Can the Government create a mountain like this?”
Another voter Rama Majhi said: “We can’t live in the cities without Niyamgiri. We have to save Niyamgiri.”

Source: Compilation from list serves 
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