In Odisha’s Niyamgiri, the Dongria Kondh tribals have been fighting a long battle to stop mining by corporate giant Vedanta. Amid the protests—as many tribals are still fighting for their land claims—the district administration is reportedly attempting to pressurise the community into leaving their lands on the pretext of availing the benefits of Narendra Modi’s ambitious housing project—the Pradhanmantri Awaas Yojana.
Speaking to NewsClick, on the condition of anonymity, an activist from the Save Niyamgiri movement said, “There are a few villages which have brought this issue to the fore. Locals from about 10 villages have reported this announcement by the district administration; there are about 100 villages in the Niyamgiri district.”
The villages include Dhamanapanga, Denguni, Gorata, Monda, Trahili among others.
Many are viewing this move as an attempt to evict the community from their land to pave the way for the corporate giant Vedanta.
“Currently, the government is trying to disrupt life in the Niyamgiri hills and crack down on the momentum and the resistance against the corporate giant,” said the activist.
To avail prime minister’s Gramin Awaaas Yojana, the tribals will have to move out of their villages in Niyamgiri and settle in the plains. There is no legal basis for the administration to impose such conditions and therefore, this is being seen as a pressure tactic.
Dongria Kondh leaders of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) have also alleged that the police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) are specifically pressuring the Scheduled Caste youths and activists to turn informers. On the other hand, the government is trying to use the same people to convince the Dongria Kondh to support the construction of highways inside Niyamgiri. The activists claimed that “rumours are being spread constantly by Vedanta and the government that the road contractors use Dalit activists to bribe NSS leaders, creating further mistrust amongst the people”.
On October 17, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti held a meeting at Gorata village where Dongria Kondh leaders raised several demands such as checking the economic exploitation of Dongria Kondhs, immediate release of tribal activists Dodi Kadraka and Arjun Chandi immediate withdrawal of paramilitary from the region and the immediate closure of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. Over five activists from Odisha’s Lanjigarh in the Niyamgiri region are currently in the jail.
The leaders also demanded that highway construction happening all over Niyamgiri hills should be stopped immediately and only roads not wider than 5 feet should be allowed.
The attempt by the state government comes in the backdrop of increasing anxiety among the particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) Dongria Kondh, which has been trying to safeguard their most revered mountain god, Niyamraja.
In a bid to continue their resistance, the tribals have been struggling against the mining projects in the region by Vedanta. The firm established an aluminium refinery in 2006 in Lanjigarh, despite the non-consent of villagers in and around the area. The residents of the region have accused the firm of forcefully acquiring over 10 acres of village common land without the necessary clearances. According to their claim, not only did the companies reportedly ‘ignore community concerns’, but in connivance with the state and Union government, blatantly ‘breached’ state and national regulatory frameworks and overlooked adherence to international human rights standards displacing over a hundred families. The villagers were also promised job opportunities at the plant and free education for their children. However, the project in turn has now become a symbol of tribal resistance and brutal crackdown by the state.
Also read: Niyamgiri Anti-Mining Struggle: Brutal Repression by Odisha Govt Continues