MAC: Mines and Communities

India: will Nyamgiri mining now be allowed?

Published by MAC on 2016-03-05
Source: Rediff.com, New Indian Express, Business Standard (2016-03-05)

.. Vedanta wins country's first gold mine auction

For the tribal communities in Orissa - indeed all around India - the success in defeating UK uber-miner Vedanta's plan to strip the top of Nymagiri mountain was a triumph for democracy and indigenous peoples' right to veto unacceptable projects.

Now, the Orissa state government is seeking to over-turn the historic 2013 Supreme Court (SC) decision - on what many will find to be highly spurious grounds. Earlier this month, the SC appointed a three-judge panel to hear the Orissa government's case

The Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, representing local Dongria Khonds, is pledged to renew its battle against the mine.

Meanwhile, Vedanta has won an e-licence bid to open a gold mine in a densely forested part of the neighbouring state of Chhattisgah.

For previous articles on MAC: India: Indigenous Activist Loses His Battle With Vedanta And Commits Suicide
&
London Calling on Vedanta's Lanjigarh subterfuge

Mining at Niyamgiri hills: Battle takes new turn

Rediff.com

3 March 2016

"As of now there are no mining activities," Aditya Prasad Padhi, Odisha's chief secretary, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com, but adds cryptically, "who knows the future?" when asked about the current status of mining in and around the Niyamgiri Hills.

Tribal organisations and the Dongria Kondhs, who consider the Niyamgiri Hills sacred, have been locked in a battle since 2013 over the Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Resources' plans to mine bauxite from the ecologically fragile, but thickly forested hill.

In 2013, gram sabhas of 12 villages around the Niyamgiri Hills had unanimously rejected Vedanta's plan under the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas, PESA, Act of 1996.

"The same situation exists even today," Padhi, left, below, reiterated in Mumbai last fortnight.

When asked if he was hopeful about the Odisha government convincing the tribals to allow mining in the hills when he remarked 'who knows the future?' during a media encounter, Padhi told Rediff.com on the sidelines of an investors meeting, "It is for the people of the region to understand the benefits that it will bring."

The Odisha government, he added, was not in any talks with the tribal organisations leading the agitation against mining in the area.

Summarising efforts undertaken by his government to attract investments into Odisha that is rich in mineral and natural resources, Padhi said "the state government owns 10,000 acres of land for immediate use."

"The Odisha government owns one lakh (100,000) acres of land bank for investors," he added, "that is, more or less free of encroachments and other encumbrances."

Padhi, however, could not provide details about the geographic spread of these land banks or if they were proximate to ports.

--

On March 1, Nitin Sethi, reporting for Business Standard, wrote:

The Odisha government has challenged the landmark Vedanta bauxite mine judgment of the Supreme Court which upheld the statutory powers of the tribal village councils under the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Area) Act to decide if they wish mining to take place in their traditional forestlands or not.

Filing a new interlocutory application before the apex court, the Odisha government has claimed that the Forest Rights Act and its rules do not require any consent from gram sabhas (village councils) for use of forest lands if the government decides that the rights of the people have been settled.

If the application filed by the state against the Union government is accepted by the courts for hearing, it could also force the NDA government to take a public stand on the issue after having deliberated the dilution of tribal consent powers behind closed doors since 2014 when it came to power.

In its application, which Business Standard reviewed, Odisha has also contended that gram sabha resolutions rejecting mining in the Lanjigarh bauxite mines cannot remain perpetually in force. The state government has claimed that with adults dying in the community and new ones growing up to have voting rights in the gram sabha decisions should be up for review.

The state has additionally claimed in its application that there were technical errors in the way the gram sabhas were conducted and the resolutions passed to refuse mining in their traditional lands.

Making these and other pleas, the state has asked that the gram sabha decisions be set aside, the meeting of the councils be held afresh and the environment ministry’s order rejecting mining based on the tribals' decisions also be quashed.

The Supreme Court judgment of 2013 ordered that the 12 gram sabhas of the Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and other tribal communities would decide if they held any religious and other rights over the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha and if the mining of bauxite in the Lanjigarh mines below the peak of the hill would affect their religious rights.

The court held that if the rights were affected by the proposed mining then the clearances to mining rights stood to be cancelled.

Under supervision of the tribal affairs ministry and the local administration, in what turned out to be a rather high-profile event garnering domestic and international attention, 12 gram sabhas unanimously rejected the mining that the Odisha Mining Corporation was to do in a joint venture with Vedanta.

Consequently the environment ministry rejected the clearance to the project.

The marquee landmark reaffirmed the power of the tribal and other forestdwellers gram sabhas as statutory authorities under the Forest Rights Act.

The present NDA government has since 2014 attempted to also do away with the need for tribal consent, trying various formulations and interpretations to dilute or do away with it.

With meetings on the matter continuing at the highest level the tribal affairs ministry has repeatedly warned that doing away with powers of consent would be unconstitutional and illegal, requiring an amendment to the law through Parliament in light of the Supreme Court's Vedanta judgment.

Nearly three years after the court passed the order, the state government has come to court with the plea, which could do away entirely with the need for consent from tribals before using their traditional forestlands for industrial purposes.

In the petition, which is listed to be heard on Friday (March 4), the Odisha government contends that 'various general claims of worshipping all the hills in the Niyamgiri range, including NIyamgiri Dangar (the site of mines) were made and all the persons who attended were unanimous in their opposition to the Bauxite Mining Project.'

But the state government then notes, 'However, pertinently, not a single member of the Gram/pali Sabha explained how a claim could be made over an entire plateau situated far away from the abode of Niyam-Raja (the tribe's traditional god).'

It has also contended that the tribals did not follow several other technical requirements of the court order and 'overlooked the interplay between the declaration of law and determination of religious/sacred rights as permitted by the court and even beyond the provisions of the Forest Rights Act.'

Using these arguments, even as it claims the consent of tribals under the law is not required, Odisha has asked the Supreme Court to quash the decisions of the gram sabha and hold their meetings afresh.

On Friday the Supreme Court could decide whether to admit the application or not.


Withdraw Plea for Niyamgiri Mine Relook, Congress Tells Government

New Indian Express

5 March 2016

BHUBANESWAR - The Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) on Friday demanded immediate withdrawal of the interlocutory application filed by the State Government in Supreme Court seeking a direction to conduct gram sabhas again for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills.

Describing the State Government as anti-tribal, OPCC president Prasad Harichandan alleged that it is playing with religious sentiments of Dongoria Kondhs and other tribals who consider Niyamgiri hills as sacred. Criticising the move to placate Vedanta, Harichandan sought to know why the Government and the company are so insistent on exploiting the bauxite mines in Niyamgiri.

The State has a deposit of two million tonnes of bauxite and Vedanta can be given a mine anywhere else for its plant, he said.

Harichandan also criticised the Centre for trying to dilute the provisions of Forest Rights Act, 2006 basing on which the Supreme Court had directed gram sabha meetings to determine whether the local tribals want mining in Niyamgiri.

As per the Supreme Court directive, gram sabhas were held in 12 villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts in July and August, 2013 in presence of a district judge and senior officials.

Villagers opposed mining in Niyamgiri in all the 12 gram sabhas, Harichandan said and added that the State Government had to stop its attempts to allow bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills. The State Congress president said AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi had announced to protect the interests of the tribals during his visit to Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district on March 7, 2008.

But attempts have now started again to allow mining in Niyamgiri hills to benefit Vedanta, Harichandan said and announced that the Congress will soon launch an agitation against it.

Harichandan said the interlocutory application filed by the State Government in Supreme Court on February 11, 2016 has sought an appropriate direction setting aside the order of Ministry of Environment and Forests on January 1, 2014 by which the stage II clearance for diversion of 660.74 hectare of forest land for bauxite mining in Lanjigarh in favour of Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) was rejected.

The State Government has also sought the Supreme Court’s direction for fresh proceedings only for the purposes of determining whether bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills will affect the rights of tribals and which areas should be left out for religious worship.


Niyamgiri tribals to intensify protest

The Hindu

6 March 2016

Peeved over Naveen Patnaik Government’s fresh bid for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills to ensure raw material supply to Vedanta’s alumina refinery in Kalahandi district, the activists of Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti have decided to approach the Governor of Odisha to reiterate their opposition to mining in the hills which they consider sacred.

A delegation of the Dongaria Kondhs under the banner of the Surakshya Samiti will shortly meet Governor S.C. Jamir to apprise him of their protest. Subsequently, the agitated tribals will further intensify and strengthen their opposition to the proposal of mining in Niyamgiri.

A two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Friday observed that the plea of Odisha Mining Corporation seeking a direction for re-conduct of gram sabhas for mining in Niyamgiri be referred to a three-judge Bench of the court for consideration.

It may be recalled that on April 18, 2013, a two-member Bench of the apex court, while disposing of a petition by OMC, had concluded that it is the gram sabhas/village councils will take a final decision whether mining would affect their religious, cultural and other rights or not as per the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The gram sabhas were held in 12 villages in Niyamgiri region in 2013 as per the orders of the Supreme Court and all the gram sabhas had rejected the mining proposal.

“There was no need for the State government to approach the Supreme Court. They should have approached the gram sabhas which are supreme even in the view of the Supreme Court,” said Lingaraj Azad, advisor of the Surakshya Samiti on Saturday.

Mr. Azad said the delegation of tribals from the Niyamgiri hills spread over Kalahandi and Rayagada districts will also inform Mr. Jamir about the alleged police repression by way branding innocent tribal people as suspected Maoists and killing them down.

Monda Kadrika, a local youth, was killed in Kalyansinghpur police station area in Rayagada on February 27.

The police had claimed that Kadrika was killed during an exchange of fire between Maoists and security forces, while his family members and villagers said that the 20-year-old youth was falsely implicated as a Maoist.

The victim youth’s bother lodged a complaint with Kalyansinghpur police on Friday alleging that Kadrika was killed in a fake encounter.

The Odisha Human Rights Commission has also sought report after human rights activists approached it seeking a thorough enquiry into the incident.

Criticising the State government’s move on Friday, Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Prasad Harichandan had demanded that the government should withdraw its petition seeking orders for mining in Niyamgiri.


Vedanta wins country's first gold mine auction in Chhattisgarh

R Krishna Das

Business Standard

27 February 2016

Raipur - London-listed Vedanta Resources Inc bagged a gold mine in Chhattisgarh that was put up for auction by the state government.

The company quoted the highest price to get the Baghmara (Sonakhan) gold mine, which became country’s first mine carrying the yellow metal to be auctioned. The company would be granted the composite licence that includes both prospecting licence and cum-mining lease.

“Vedanta Resources Inc quoted the highest bid of 12.55% of the IBM price at Rs 74,712 per troy ounce (1 troy ounce = 31.10 gram) to win the gold mine,” Subodh Kumar Singh, secretary mines, told Business Standard. The auction would fetch Rs 80 crore to the state exchequer in addition to existing royalty, he added.

The Baghmara mine is spread across an area of 608 hectares in a densely forested pocket of the Balodabazar-Bhatapara district — about 130 km northeast of Raipur. Based on the exploration and available reports, the mine has an estimate reserve of 2,700 kg of gold metal. The bidding went on for nearly 13 hours Friday and concluded late in the night. Over 160 bids were submitted.

Singh said the attractive policies of the state government had resulted in large participation in the bid. The mine is the oldest explored gold deposit in Central India and has long been held as having a commercial potential, he said, adding that the development of the Baghmara gold mine will contribute towards India’s target to reduce gold import besides promoting gold, gems and jewelry business in the state.

Vedanta Resources, a global diversified metals and mining company, has added gold in its mineral portfolio by bagging the mine. The group produces oil, zinc, aluminium, copper, lead and silver. The company is also eyeing at the gold mines put for auction in the neighbouring Jharkhand state.

 

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