New Delhi; As the world slows down amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the tribal population in the remotest parts of India are struggling to stall the pace of initiation of mining activities that threaten their existence and livelihoods. Prior to the easing of the lockdown restrictions, mining was listed as one of the essential activities and has continued unabated despite protests from the indigenous population.
In interior Odisha’s Khandualmali region, tribals are waging a struggle against the testing of soil for bauxite mining. Activists say bauxite mining has serious environmental consequences. It dries off water streams and leads to heavy pollution. Also, the presence of corporate firms is likely to adversely impact tribal lives and culture, they allege.
Khandualmali is located in the heart of the Karlapat forest, most of which is part of the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary, which is also home to a ‘sacred mountain’, which tribals consider the abode of Kondh Goddess, Khandual. It is also where the Khandual waterfall is located.
Recently, activists under the banner of Khandualmali Suraksha Samiti organised a padyatra (foot march) across 60 villages to register their protest, and alleged that they were “stopped and attacked” by the police were allowed to proceed only after stiff resistance from local women.
Speaking with NewsClick over the phone, Swati, an activist who participated in the padyatra, said: “During the lockdown, the efforts to test bauxite mining have intensified. We went across to over 60 villages, the region is rich in bauxite, but the biggest thing is that the districts have enormous green patches and rich forests. It is extremely rich in flora and fauna, the initiation of the mining process is a huge threat to our livelihood.”
Swati said: “During the lockdown there was not much awareness of the virus in this part as it is very remote and people are totally unaware of it. But what has affected the communities is the increased price of commodities. Even during pandemic, representatives of the mining company knocked at the doors of a committee member, British Kumar, who was previously arrested, harassed and tortured to initiate the process of soil testing, There is no consent of the Gram Sabha.”
Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) spokesperson, Prasanta Paikray, said: The area is in the opposite site of Lanjigarh, The forest is an important habitat for several endangered species, like tigers, leopards, elephants.”
He said padayatra by the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and Khandual Mali Suraksha Samiti in Khandual Mali is a key way of our protest where mining major Vedanta reportedly proposes to undertake bauxite mining. “We are not entirely sure which corporate firm will take over this land but we want to resist any move that leads to mining” he said, alleging that “in the past mining companies, such as BHP and L&T, have tried to grab the mountain for the bauxite. The government, too, tried to brutally repress the Khandual Mali movement by incarceration of activists.”
Newsclick called up Vedanta to find out if it proposed to mine bauxite in the area, but failed to elicit a response.
Odisha is one of the richest states in India when it comes to bauxite, of the 3,010 million tonne total bauxite reserves in the country, 60% is found in the state.’, leading the influx of mining corporates in the region.
Read More: ‘Tribals are Not Entertainment’: Community Protests against Tourism Project in Odisha’s Niyamgiri