MAC: Mines and Communities

India's central government says Odisha's reading of Niyamgiri verdict incorrect

Published by MAC on 2013-07-02
Source: Economic Times (2013-07-24)

Centre says Odisha's reading of Niyamgiri verdict incorrect

By Urmi A Goswami

Economic Times

24 June 2013

NEW DELHI: The Centre has told the Odisha government that it cannot take short cuts on the Supreme Court's order to hold village meetings on Vedanta Aluminium's proposed bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills.

The state government had told the tribal affairs ministry it would hold gram sabha or village assembly meetings in 12 villages. But ministry secretary Vibha Puri Das has written to Odisha chief secretary BK Patnaik informing the state that limiting the meetings to 12 villages was not in keeping with the Supreme Court order of April 18.

The official said that it was clear that the Supreme Court has "not alluded to or limited the application of the Forest Rights Act in the project areas to any specific number of villages under any paragraph of the judgment. Therefore, any interpretation to the contrary would simply be an incorrect interpretation."

The Odisha government said it had arrived at 12 villages by reading the court's order, with its interim order of December 6. The state government had argued that at the time of filing of claims relating to the 12 villages which are on the slopes of the Niyamgiri hill and during subsequent deliberation, neither the environment ministry nor the ministry of tribal affairs had raised any issue before the apex court regarding coverage of villages over and above the 12 hill slope villages. The tribal affairs ministry has found this line of argument to be "incorrect".

Das wrote that the list of villages where rights of the forest dwellers are guaranteed under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) or where cultural and religious rights are likely to be affected cannot be arbitrarily decided by the state government. "It is to be decided by the people, i.e. palli sabha, where claims would be filed through a transparent manner so that no genuine gram sabha which has a legitimate claim is left out of the process," Das said.

The centre has stressed that the Supreme Court order gives gram sabhas the liberty to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims over and above the claims which have already been received from Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.

"You may like to ensure that the state government arrive at the exact number of villages in which gram sabhas are to be conducted through the process mentioned in the directions issued by this ministry and the judgment of the Supreme Court," Das said in her letter while stressing that the exercise needs to be conducted in keeping with the timeline of three months set by the apex court.

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