Tribals and villagers from across 24 villages in Odisha, who had been protesting against the Vedanta’s mining project in the Kodingamali hill, called off their agitation on Saturday, August 3. The villagers had been braving the rains for over nine days to demand a fresh hearing of the Gram Sabha over the mining project and had demanded the project to be completely discarded. On Saturday, in a big win for the protesters, the district administration reached out to the villagers giving them an assurance that fresh procedures will be followed for the project and meetings over the same will be conducted every two months.
The stir has been called off for now, however, tribals are stating that a bigger agitation against corporate giants will soon be started if their demands are not fulfilled. They are demanding the establishment of the Pali Sabhas which are a necessary pre-requisite for the clearances to be awarded to mining projects. They are also demanding job security and employment generation in the region if at all the project is to take shape.
On July 29, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had issued an order to the Chief Secretary of the state of Odisha stating the desire to investigate the matter. The notice had come in after the residents had filed a complaint stating that the mining activity adversely affected the lives of tribals living in over 100 villages spread across the area.
Also read: Stop Vedanta: Anti-Bauxite Mining Protests in Kodingamali Set Example of Resistance to Corporates
The protests have been ongoing from the July 26. In a bid to suppress the growing resurgence, the Odisha government had registered cases against 45 tribals and others on charges of disrupting law and order in the region.
The residents are also alleging a larger conspiracy to appease the corporates and to suppress any form of dissent by the villagers. Recently, IAS Poma Tudu was transferred from the region. She was the first woman tribal collector in the region, who was removed barely three weeks after her posting. A local activist on the condition of anonymity told NewsClick, “Many villagers are stating that she was brought in to negotiate and appease the locals and to pacify protestors. As soon as things looked better for the state, she was transferred. This is raising some serious doubts in the minds of the locals about the future course of action by the Vedanta group and the Odisha Mining Corporation.”
Previously, to pacify the villagers, the Sub Divisional police officers and Tehsildars had come to visit the protesters. However, they stated that they cannot do much, and also tried to convince the tribals to call off the protests. The tribal villagers are vehemently opposing all mining activities in the region alleging that the mines have ruined their lives, polluted their fields and rivers, and have failed to generate any employment. Issuing a demand charter, they stated that they require written assurances by the state and the district administration over the stopping of all mining activities. They are also seeking clarity over the periphery of mining activity. The protesting villagers braved heavy rains to state that they will not leave their fields and had become security guards on their own lands.
Previously, women resisting the administration and Panchayati Raj representatives, had clashed with a local BJD leader who was urging them to stall the protests. The Vedanta group is running the project on a lease given by the Odisha Mining Corporation to a private firm Mytri infra. The project had started in February 2018. Soon after obtaining clearances for the Kodingamali bauxite mine, the government of Odisha had introduced a new bauxite linkage policy. The Odisha Mining Corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Indian mining company 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.
Also read: Odisha Government Registers Cases Against Tribals for Resisting Vedanta in Kodingamali Hills