Orissa High Court has nominated the district and sessions judges of Kalahandi and Rayagada to act as observers in the much-awaited Gram Sabha (village level meetings) to decide fate of the proposed bauxite mining for Vedanta atop Niyamgiri Hills.

“The High Court Registrar General has informed the state government about the decision to nominate the district judges of Kalahandi and Rayagada for the proposed Gram Sabhas,” Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development secretary Santosh Sarangi told reporters here.

Stating that the state government had earlier requested the High Court to nominate a district judge level judicial officer for the purpose of holding the gram sabha as per the Supreme Court order, Sarangi said the ST and SC department has already intimated the development to the district collectors of Kalahandi and Rayagada.

The Collectors of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts will intimate the schedule of Gram Sabha to their respective district judges in advance, Sarangi said.

According to the state government’s proposal, the gram sabhas would be conducted in 12 hill slope villages, Sarangi said adding while seven villages were located in Rayagada district, five are in Kalahandi. Niyamgiri Hills are spread over these two districts.

As per the Supreme Court’s April 18 judgement, minutes of the Gram Sabhas would be held under direct supervision of a judicial official equal to the rank of district judge to ensure that the process (Gram Sabhas) be held without the influence either of the Centre, State or Company authority.

The Apex Court, in its landmark judgement, gave power to the Gram Sabha to decide whether bauxite mining should be allowed in eco-fragile mountain. The Supreme Court delivered this order while deliberating upon a case of Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) vs Ministry of Environment and Forest.

The state owned OMC which planned to supply bauxite ore to Vedanta’s refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district was aggrieved after MoEF rejected environmental clearance to its Rs 5,000 crore mining project.

The local tribals, mainly vulnerable groups like Dangaria Kandha and Kutia Kandha, had been opposing bauxite mining atop Niyamgiri Hills claiming that their presiding deity Niyam Raja’s seat was atop the hills.

However, state government maintained that bauxite mining would not affect the ecology of the hills and that the venue of mining operation was about 10 kilometres from the seat of ‘Niyam Raja’.

Meanwhile, the state government has asked the district collectors of Rayagada and Kalahandi to invite fresh claims from the people of 12 villages within six weeks.

The Gram Sabhas would be held in five villages Jadijhola, Palbiri, Phuldumer, Ejurpa and Konakadu of Kalahandi district, and seven villages Jharpa, Khamberi, Kesharpadi, Batuli, Serkapadi, Lakhpadar and Lamba of Rayagada district.

Meanwhile, opposing the move to hold gram sabhas in 12 villages, green activist Prafulla Samantara demanded that the village level meetings be organised in all the tribal villages, numbering over 120, in Niyamgiri region.

Claiming that the government’s action amounted to contempt of court, he said he would draw the attention of the Supreme court to it.

However, chief secretary B K Patnaik said the state government’s decision to hold gram sabhas in the 12 identified villages in accordance with the order of the Supreme Court.

Courtesy: outlook india.com