The State Government has requested Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court to nominate a judicial officer of the rank of district judge as observer for the proposed gram sabhas to be conducted for deciding grant of mining lease to Vedanta Group for bauxite mining.
In an official communique to the Registrar General of the High Court, Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes Development Secretary Santosh Sarangi said the Supreme Court has directed that the proceedings of the grama sabha should be attended by a judicial officer of the rank of district judge who will sign the minutes of the proceedings.
In its April 18 judgment, the Supreme Court said grant of mining lease to Vedanta Group for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills will be subjected to clearance by gram sabhas on the cultural and religious claims of the tribes and forest-dwellers of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.
The apex court has directed the State Government to place issues concerning individual, community, cultural and religious claims of Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Traditional Forest Dwellers (TFDs) before the gram sabha which would decide the same in three months.
The court also directed that the proceedings of the gram sabha shall be attended as an observer by a judicial officer of the rank of the District Judge nominated by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Orissa.
“The judicial officer shall have to sign the minutes of the proceedings, certifying that the proceedings of the gram sabha took place independently and completely uninfluenced either by the project proponents or the Central Government or the State Government,” a three-member bench comprising Justices Aftab Alam, KS Radhakrishnan and Ranjan Gogoi said.
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) had recently asked the State Government to ensure that the entire proceedings are held in an independent manner, uninfluenced by any vested interests and without coercion.
Governor SC Jamir recently summoned three senior officers of the State Government to apprise him of the steps taken on the directive of the Supreme Court.
Principal Secretary, Steel and Mines Rajesh Verma, Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes Development Secretary Santosh Sarangi and Chairman and Managing Director of Odisha Mining Corporation Saswata Mishra reportedly told the Governor that instructions have been issued to district collectors of Kalahandi and Rayagada for conducting gram sabhas in 12 villages as per the apex court guidelines.