The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) is concerned over the lackadaisical approach of the Odisha Government in implementing the order of the Supreme Court to conduct Gram Sabha in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts to get the mandate of the tribals on the Bauxite Mining Project (BMP) in Niyamgiri hills and settlement of religious and cultural rights of the indigenous population.
Union Secretary Vibha Puri, in a letter to Chief Sceretary BK Patnaik, said considerable time has elapsed since MoTA issued a letter on May 2 containing guidelines to comply with the SC order. However, the Ministry is yet to receive any reply from the State.
The State was to immediately issue an advertisement in all local newspapers that all STs and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) wishing to stake claim as per Forest Rights Act or cultural and religious rights over any part of 660.749 hectare forest land should submit their applications.
It was to prepare a list of villages and hamlets whose people have been traditionally grazing cattle, collecting minor forest produce, protecting forests, worshipping deities or otherwise using the forest land demanded by Odisha Mining Corporation for the project and make it public. The process of the identification of the Gram Sabhas concerned was to be completed within a period of 15-20 days.
“You will appreciate that the Supreme Court has directed that fresh claims be filed before the Gram Sabha within six weeks of the judgment and both Ministry as well as State Government are required to assist the Gram Sabha in settling individual as well as community claims. We need to work jointly and urgently in this crucial matter,” Puri’s letter stated.
The State’s attitude also drew flak from the activists who alleged that attempts are being made to subvert the order of the apex court in conducting Gram Sabhas. President of Lok Shakti Abhijan Prafulla Samantara said communications from the Centre have been downplayed by the State Government. “Only on Tuesday, the government unilaterally declared the number and names of villages where Gram Sabhas will take place which contradicts the letter and spirit of the apex court order,” he told mediapersons on Wednesday.
The Government had earlier submitted an affidavit before the apex court providing a list of 12 villages that are likely to be affected by the proposed mining and the same villages have been identified for holding Gram Sabhas though there are more than 42 villages within 10 km range of the proposed BMP area, he said.
He said he would approach the Supreme Court for contempt proceedings if the State does not stop manipulating its order to serve the interest of Vedanta Alumina Ltd.