ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Glimmer of Hope

A Glimmer of Hope

The environmental referendum in Niyamgiri should set an important precedent.

The final outcome of India’s first environmental referendum is not yet known but the very fact that it is taking place in the thickly forested and remote region of Niyamgiri in Odisha’s Kalahandi and Rayagada districts provides a small glimmer of hope. Despite logistical problems of reaching the 12 out of over 100 habitations in the area, gram sabhas or palli sabhas have been held. And the voters, the majority of them from the Gondhia Kondh and other tribes, are being asked to decide whether the bauxite mining project (BMP), a joint venture of the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) and Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of the multinational Vedanta Aluminium, should be allowed to do open cast bauxite mining in the forested land covering these hills. At the time of writing, in what will surely be seen as a precedent setting move, four out of these 12 villages conducted palli sabhas as required under the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA, and all four voted unanimously to reject the mining operations.

What if all the 12 villages do vote against the project? Will this mark the end of a decade-long struggle against the Vedanta Aluminium Refinery at Lanjigarh, which began functioning in 2007 despite strong local opposition, and the proposed mining operations in Niyamgiri? Given the story so far, it is unlikely that the Odisha state government, which has worked overtime to ensure that the multimillion dollar investment of the Vedanta corporation is not wasted, will throw up its hands and withdraw in the event of a rejection. In fact, the Odisha government’s decision to hold the palli sabhas in only 12 villages instead of the 100-odd habitations in Niyamgiri has already given rise to doubts about its sincerity in conducting the exercise.

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