BHAWANIPATNA: Despite Union tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo’s objections to holding of gram sabhas in 12 villages to decide mining at Niyamgiri, the state government has started finalizing the dates.

While Rayagada has decided to conduct gram sabhas in seven villages between July 18 and August 19, Kalahandi is expected to soon identify dates for five villages. “We will shortly notify the villagers about conduct of gram sabhas,” said nodal officer (Kalahandi) Ramesh Behera.

On April 18, the Supreme Court order asked the state government to hold gram sabhas to decide the fate of Vedanta’s plan to mine Niyamgiri.

Official sources said the process will begin at Serkapadi village under Siba Padar panchayat of Muniguda block on July 18, followed by Keskapadi (July 22), Batudi (July 27), Khambesi (August 13) and Karapar on August 19. In Kalyansinghpur block’s Lamba and Lakhpadar villages, gram sabhas will be conducted on August 1 and 8 respectively.

“We need at least 50% attendance to conduct a gram sabha. One-third of them should be women. If quorum is not achieved, the gram sabha will be cancelled and conducted later,” said collector (Rayagada) Sashi Bhusan Padhi.

Gram sabhas in five villages, Tadijhola, Palberi, Phuldumer, Ijurpa and Kunakado, of Kalahandi are also expected by August-end. Secretary, ST and SC development Santosh Sarangi said: “The orientation programme was held in the villages of Kalahandi and those have been photographed and videographed. We would go-ahead in conducting the gram sabhas,” he told TOI.

Official sources said the law department has backed the ST, SC development department’s decision, but considering the Centre’s criticism of the decision to limit gram sabhas to 12 villages the state government has referred the matter to the advocate general. “If the Centre is against our decision, why does it not move Supreme Court against it?” asked an officer.