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.
On Sunday the Minsister for Rural Development – Jairam Ramesh had also intervened in the ongoing gram sabha process, echoing the outcry at Niyamgiri that only twelve out of more than 100 affected villages had been chosen to be consulted on the mine by the Odisha State Government.
Dongria Kond leaders including village Sarpanch’s and ward members from a number of Niyamgiri villages met with the Odisha Governor SC Jamir. Local Kutia Kond activist Kumuti Majhi made this statement about their visit:
“We don’t believe that the Supreme Court has asked only twelve villages to be taken into consideration. There are over 200 villages that are dependent on the natural resources of this mountain range. We are going to meet the Governor in order to give our objection to this kind of state irregularity and injustice.”
Their visit added to intense pressure on the Governor (who is nominally responsible for overseeing the gram sabha process). The Minister of Tribal Affairs – Chandra Kishore Deo, and Minister of Rural Development – Jairam Ramesh among others, have demanded he take a strong stand on the Niyamgiri gram sabha process initiated by the Supreme Court’s judgement on Vedanta and Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)’s mine in April(1). Jairam Ramesh had earlier banned Vedanta from mining the mountain in August 2010, following the SC Saxena report. Despite being celebrated as a victory for people’s democracy, there has already been considerable controversy over the Odisha government’s interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling (see comprehensive analysis on Foil Vedanta website).
The Dongria delegation also spoke to the Governor and the press about severe harassment of villagers by CRPF forces in the mountain. On June 3rd CRPF forces opened fire on a group of women and children bathing in a waterfall at Batudi village on Niyamgiri. Bullets missed the children by only a few inches as they ran away into the forest. The firing continued for five minutes according to a report from activists who took statements from those present.