Niyamgiri Shows the Way: Let Gram Sabhas Decide on Other Projects in Odisha

In a series of 12 historic Gramsabhas, the people of 12 villages falling under Rayagada and Kalahandi districts of Odisha gave a decisive mandate to kick out the alumina multinational Vedanta-Sterlite. Vedanta had plans to acquire land to mine bauxite and set up its refineries which would have caused the displacement of people belonging to the 12 villages and also grabbing of their land by Vedanta. The Gramsabhas were held under the direction of the Supreme Court which ordered the holding of Gramsabhas to ascertain whether the people of the area wanted Vedanta to start mining on their lands. The Odisha government on the other hand left no stone unturned to try and get the people to deliver a mandate in favor of Vedanta, but failed comprehensively to do so. In fact victory of the people of the Niyamgiri area forms an important chapter in the recent history of movements against corporate land grab and corporate takeover of natural resources.

Ever since Niyamgiri’s historic gram sabhas, the Congress has been trying to claim credit for defending adivasis’ interests. Rahul Gandhi, we are told by the Congress, has lived up to his promise of being a ‘soldier for Odisha’s adivasis’. The truth is that the UPA Government is doing absolutely nothing to ensure that villages beyond these 12, are able to exercise their legally mandated right to hold gram sabhas to decide the fate of proposed projects.

Sterlite is the Indian subsidiary of Vedanta, owned by the NRI corporate tycoon Anil Agarwal. The project planned to source bauxite through open cast mining from Niyamagiri hill (a protected forest) in Kalahandi district. The Niyamgiri hill contained an estimated 7.5 crore tonnes of bauxite reserves. According to Vedanta the bauxite reserves in Niyamgiri could be extracted for 23 years. In short, Vedanta had discovered for itself a virtual gold mine from where it could extract and export bauxite at throwaway prices.

For the purpose of mining land was to be acquired from the Niyamagiri protected forest of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts. From Lanjhigada and Batelima panchayats, land for setting up the refinery were planned to be acquired. A large part of the land to be acquired consisted of private holdings that the adivasis use for agriculture. The project would have displaced 60 families from two villages, and adversely affect another 302 families of 12 villages. Moreover, since Niyamagiri forms the lifeline in the region, more than 30,000 people in the area, who directly depend upon the Niyamagiri forests and for their livelihood, would be adversely affected. The mining of Niyamagiri hill would have polluted and rendered unusable the two major rivers of the region, Bansadhara and Nagabali rivers drying up. The human costs of the project were needlessly to say extremely huge. The project would not only have wreaked havoc with the lives of the people living there but also inflicted irreparable damage to this extremely ecologically rich zone.

CPI (ML) Interventions

CPI (ML) Liberation took an active part in mobilizing people in the Niyamgiri area and in the 12 villages where the Gramsabhas took place.The Gramsabhas took place in 7 villages in Rayagada district and in 5 villages in Kalahandi district. CPI (ML) Liberation activists and leaders like Comrade Nilajan Bhattacharya, Comrade Brundaban Bidika, Comrade Trinath Saina, State Committee member Comrade Tripati Gamango mobilised the people to give a resounding mandate against Vedanta in these Gramsabhas . The district and state administration tried their level best to coerce the villagers in giving a mandate in favor of Vedanta and also tried to prevent activists from campaigning in the villages against Vedanta.

Party activists are now gearing up to further the movement against illegal mining and displacement in the districts of Rayagada and Kalahandi.Party activists stopped the public hearing for land acquisition of RSB company at Seriguma GP of Rayagada district.

In Odisha the Naveen Patanik led BJD government is a darling of big corporate like POSCO, TATA and Vedanta. The Congress government which is presiding over a regime of corporate loot at the centre is trying to capitalize on the major advance made by the adivasis of Niyamgiri against the mining giant Vedanta.

The CPI(ML) Liberation is now campaigning that the Gramsabhas which were held in the Niyamgiri area are actually a legally binding precedent that must be followed for acquiring land for any corporate project. The ruling classes have to follow the ‘Niyamgiri Principle’ and take the consent of the people whose lands are going to be taken away before any corporate is allowed to take land.

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