19th June. This report, directly from a Foil Vedanta team on the ground in Niyamgiri, tells a shocking story of the month long imprisonment of a group of Dalit women and children displaced by Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. The testimonies provide clear evidence of the collusion of Vedanta and police working as one, and show the callous nature of their outright disregard for human rights or basic morality. Foil Vedanta is now following this case up with local lawyers.
On 10th June 2013, a team of three Foil Vedanta activists visited Badapada village in Lanjigarh. Badapada is a Dalit village, where the villagers had lost agricultural land to Vedanta when the company was establishing the Lanjigarh refinery. As a result of Vedanta not adhering to any of its resettlement promises, the villagers have registered an association called “Vedanta Land Loser’s Association”, to demand proper implementation of the rehabilitation processes and to seek accountability from Vedanta and the state for promises made to them before the refinery was set up on their land. Mr. Kumar, a retired school teacher, who is the President of the Vedanta Land Loser’s Association, told us,
18th June, 2013. This report comes direct from members of the Foil Vedanta team on the ground in Niyamgiri:
Vedanta Raj- Age of New License Raj and Draconian Policing
On 7th June 2013, a four member team visited the Vedanta re-settlement colony in Lanjigarh, known as Vedanta Nagar, to interview a few people people settled there. As soon as we entered the colony, Vedanta’s Public Relations Officer – Mr. Siddharth Behera, and the Associate officer in charge of the colony – Mr Srikant Bohidar appeared riding a motorcycle, and started questioning us about what we were doing there and who we were. One of our team was a journalist with a press card, when he showed this one of the officers looked particularly worried. He started calling up higher level officials.
On Wednesday a group of eighteen Dongria Kond from the threatened Niyamgiri mountain range in Odisha, India descended on Bhubaneswar to meet the Odisha Governor SC Jamir demanding that all affected villages are consulted on how their religious and cultural rights would be affected by Vedanta’s proposed mine. As a result the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development department of the Odisha State government now claims to be taking legal advice about whether it will have to increase the number of villages consulted, saying it believed the Supreme Court’s order only referred to twelve hillslope villages previously consulted.
Reports from the Niyamgiri hills have confirmed that CRPF special forces have been targeting villages who are opposing Vedanta’s proposed mine, threatening them not to do so, and destroying grain stores and items of worship in their homesteads. One incident involved unprovoked firing on a group of women and children bathing in a waterfall at Batudi village. A Dongria woman has been filmed reporting these abuses. Meanwhile in London, a group of UK members of parliament have expressed their concern over the Palli Sabha process, alerting UK authorities to monitor the behaviour of British mining company Vedanta Resources, who are attempting to mine the mountain with Odisha state support.
Interviews with Dongria Kond people taken yesterday evening confirm recent reports that Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been active in the Niyamgiri hills carrying out ‘combing operations’ and threatening villages. They have allegedly set up a base in a cotton market yard in Muniguda (a nearby town) and make frequent trips to the mountain, in particular to Jarpa, Khambeshi and Lacpadar villages(1). The reports, sent by local journalists, claim that CRPF forces have told the tribals not to oppose the mine, asked to see their leaders, spilled their food stores, and taken their traditional weapons and guns which are kept to protect them from elephants. Even NGOs and other service providers – who had gone to Niyamgiri to try to assist in the current gram sahba process which will decide the fate of the mountain vis a vis Vedanta’s proposed mine – are leaving the area afraid for their lives following the harassment, they state.
“Few days back we were gathering forest products near our village. At that time so many armed forces arrived and they pointed guns at us and surrounded us. They started asking “where is Lada (the tribal leader)? Where have you hidden the maoists ? Where have you hidden the weapons? Why are you opposing mining?” Some one from the behind yelled – ‘If you resist the mining you will be killed like dogs’.”
When the Supreme Court announced its verdict to hand the decision on Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine back to the Dongria Kond and other affected people via a complex process of legal claim filing, gram sabhas and a final MoEF nod, both Vedanta and their opposition celebrated. The court judges knew what they had done. Rather than giving a yes or no verdict they had taken the path of least resistance and delivered such a loosely worded judgement that it was wide open to interpretation and abuse – pitting the Odisha government and Vedanta, and the affected people and their supporters against each other once again.
Now, as the Odisha state finally launches the gram sabha (village council) process after six weeks of deliberation, the weak nature of the Supreme Court’s vaguely worded judgement has become even more evident. This article documents some of the ways in which the judgement, which has been hailed as a precedent bottom-up democratic process, is being manipulated in an attempt to prevent the strong anti-Vedanta opinion on Niyamgiri from being properly heard.