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Meet on Niyamgiri mining project: Tribals in the dark

July 18, 2013 16:41 IST

Meet on Niyamgiri mining project: Tribals in the dark

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Jayajit Dash in Serkapadi (Rayagada)

Even as this village on the slopes of the rugged Niyamgiris gets ready to host the maiden gram sabha on Thursday to decide the fate of a bauxite mining project on the hills, life for the local Dongaria Kondh tribals, who consider the hills sacred, continues as usual.

A group of Dongaria Kondh women trek up the hills to make their way to the village, in what is a routine walk of 30 km.

“Nobody in the government or even the sarpanch ever told us why this palli sabha would be held.

“We know it is happening on Thursday but for us, it is life as usual,” says a middle-aged tribal woman, refusing to divulge her name and reluctant to be photographed.

The women have to trudge 30 km every day to procure rice and to market their indigenous forest produce at Muniguda, the nearest town, some 15 km from Serkapadi in Rayagada.

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Image: The culture of one of India's most isolated tribes, the Dongria Kondh, is being threatened by Vedanta Resources. Inset: Ex Cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra.
Photographs: Courtesy, BankTrack

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Like her, other locals have the same pent-up grievances against government officials and come what may, they are not ready to give up their sacred hills for any mining activity.

“The Niyamgiris are sacred to every Dongaria Kondh.

“We have been opposing the project and would articulate the same view at the palli sabha meet.

“The government officials want to impose on us that our religious rights are confined to the village only.

“The officials are trying to manipulate our claims.

"This is not acceptable,” said Indra Sikaka, president of forest right committee of Serkapadi. Sikaka says no government official or the sarpanch visited the village to enlighten the people on their individual, community or religious rights.

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Photographs: Reuters

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“The district officials are just sending their agents to this village.

“Though the sarpanch visited in June, he never took the pain to explain the purpose of the palli sabha or educate the people on their rights.

“These officials are trying to hoodwink the innocent Kondhs since we are illiterate,” he said.

The collector of Rayagada, where the village is located, S B Padhee, denies this.

“The villagers have been adequately educated on their rights and the procedure to file claims.

“The district administration has made all sorts of arrangements to ensure an independent and peaceful palli sabha at Serkapadi. Full security would be deployed to ensure that there is no untoward incident.”

Activists of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, a committee to safeguard interests of the tribals has been camping at the village to spread awareness on the palli sabha among the villagers.


Image: Vedanta chairman Anil Agarwal.
Photographs: Rediff Archives

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