New Delhi: Amidst resistance and protests by tribal groups in the Kodingamali region, public sector Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) has out off the public hearing to be conducted by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) for a proposed refinery at Kongsariguda. The hearing was scheduled to be held at Podapadi and Dharada villages in Rayagada on November 25 and Koraput on December 2.
Mining firms were hoping to obtain forest and environment clearance for the project which envisages extracting bauxite from OMC’s mines in the area. Local activists that Hindalco, the Aditya Birla group firm, had acquired approximately 3,000 acres in the region, but had not constructed the factory or started work on any industry, as promised.
The administration had promised jobs to land losers within five years of the plant establishment. However, the company has not yet started the project and erected a boundary wall on the land acquired for the purpose.
Barren land on the factory site
Sharanya, an activist based in the region said: “In 2006, the Aditya Birla group acquired 3,000 acres o, they constructed a boundary and paid a meagre compensation to the villagers, however, ever since they did not establish a factory as they took over Utkal Alumina, another plant in the Lanjigarh area. The distance between the two is not much and the group did not see a benefit in running the two plants at the same time, the group did not give back this 3000 acres, making it a nearly wasteland. The villagers are saying that the company took the land on the promise of jobs, and have not set up any factory yet.”
Tribal farmers face huge setback
Given the enormous corporate interest in the region, a generation of tribal community and its agricultural practices have faced a huge setback. Activists report that the area has been dug up in patches, eucalyptus is growing in the region, transforming the use of the land completely, making it unusable for the tribal community.
“The firm has also acquired the hill slope land where they were doing their mixed farming. The agri economy of the region has taken a huge backseat,” Sharanya said.
Speaking with NewsClick, Rajaraman Sunderesn, an activist and journalist who visited the area said: “There is a sense of confusion on the ground. Now that the adivasi land and their farming has taken a backseat, the villagers want employment in the region, educated youth do not have an avenue, they are strictly against mining activity in the region but want the factory to be set up.”
The mineral rich area has been witnessing resistance to mining for a long time now, however, tribals are now faced with multiple conflicts due to loss of agri patches and no opportunities for the youth.
Corporate interest and activity in the region has also been shown by the Vedanta group. OMC signed a memorandum of understanding with mining major Vedanta to supply 70% of the bauxite obtained from Kodingamali to Vedanta’s refinery situated about 150 km away at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district. Vedanta had earlier been importing bauxite from countries like Brazil and Guinea as well as neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to feed its 2 million tonnes per annum refinery.
In 2017, the Odisha Mining Corporation received forest clearance for developing a new bauxite mine in 435 hectares of forest land in the Kodingamali hill region. Villagers now allege that the mining project had been started against the wishes of the residents of the area and without the consent of the gram sabhas. Moreover, the project and the movement of the trucks is destroying the fields of the locals, with smaller river bodies being polluted from the waste generation of the plant, the local residents say.
With India’s new coal policy, the corporate firms have also secured key coal blocks in the region, which is likely to further intensify this conflict, say activists.
Also Read: Stop Vedanta: Anti-Bauxite Mining Protests in Kodingamali Set Example of Resistance to Corporates