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NIYAMGIRI TRIBALS

MOVEMENT
(AGAINST VEDANTAS BAUXITE MINING
PROJECT IN ODISHA)

A TERM PAPER IN FULFILMENT OF M.A. POLITICAL
SCIENCE, SECOND SEMESTER REQUIREMENTS OF THE
COURSE- RADICAL MOVEMENTS IN INDIA
Submitted to:- Dr. M.N. Thakur
By Amritpal Singh (62898)
Date:- 10/03/2014





Imagine that a multinational company arrives one day with your national or state governments approval
and seizes your lands, destroys your environment, local farms and the agricultural system, your religious
places, pollutes your river, creates hazardous waste dumps throughout your town, blocks your efforts to
seek justice through the courts, and threatens to get people and activists arrested for trying to resist this
destruction of your way of life. This is exactly what the Dongaria Kondha, a primitive tribe in the
Niyamgiri hills, Orissa experienced .
1

In October 2004, the Orissa government signed an agreement with Vedanta Alumina, a subsidiary of
Sterlite Industries (India) (SIIL) to mine bauxite deposit from the Niyamgiri hills jointly with the Orissa
Mining Corporation (OMC), ignoring environmental and human rights issues.
2
This led to a powerful
non-violent movement against this mining project.
The experience of the Dongaria Kondhas with the UK-based Vedanta company provides one of the best
examples of the fundamental linkages between the natural environment and basic human rights in the
context of the conflict between multinational corporations and communities across the country.
3

It is a classic story of the ways in which the tribal community and other local people have sought to
defend their lands, livelihoods, and cultures. Its a template which will be cited by other similar struggles
to stop the glaring exploitation of natural resources, human rights, biodiversity and especially tribal
rights.
The movement received overwhelming support from sections of the society and went on to thwart the
attempts of the Vedanta group--supported by the state governmentrestoring the imbalance that is
visible across the country. This movement also highlights the key importance and significance of the
FRA act and the legal place of the smallest units of governance- Gram Sabhas. This term paper will
look into different aspects of this movement.






1
Geetanjoy Sahu, Mining in the Niyamgiri Hills and the Tribal Rights , EPW- April 12, 2008
2
ibid
3
ibid
NIYAMGIRI HILLS AND THE TRIBALS
The Dongria Kondh tribals are the original indigenous landowners of the Niyamgiri hills which are
spread over the tribal-dominated districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in Odisha. With lands
spanning dense forest and river valleys, the Dongarias practise a subsistence economy based on
sustainable agriculture, forest products, fishing, and hunting their culture intimately entwined with the
surrounding landscape. The Dongarias believe that the hill country belongs to Niyam Raja Penu, a
male deity represented by a sword and worshipped during the festivals of Dussera and Jura parab. They
claim to be descendants of the Niyam raja. The Dongarias have derived their name from dongar
meaning agricultural land on hill slopes. If one claims to be a Dongaria Kondha, he/she must reside in
the Niyamgiri hills and possess land of his/her own, and pass it on to future generations. The Dongarias
have also a distinguished heritage, because of their dress style, mode of living, indigenous skills, cultural
pattern and social system interlinked with nature and forests. In this way, they enjoy a critical and
symbiotic relation with the Niyamgiri forests.

In addition to this, both culturally and ecologically, the Niyamgiri hills are extremely rich and
significant. They are the source of the Vansadhara river as well as a major tributary of the Nagavali
river. This region has some of the most pristine forests in Orissa, and is home to a number of vulnerable
wildlife species including the tiger, leopard, sloth bear, pangolin, palm civet, giant squirrel, mouse deer,
langur and sambhar. It is also on the path of the migration corridor of elephants, and comes within the
territory of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
All of this was under threat because of the proposed mining activities of the Mumbai-based Vedanta
Aluminium Ltd (VAL), a subsidiary of the British mining giant Vedanta Resources Plc,. VAL was
awaiting the second stage of clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for its
Niyamgiri project. It got the first-stage clearance from the MoEF in September 2004. The company had
already started operations at its refinery in Lanjigarh, a town downhill from the Niyamgiri forest. The
bauxite for the refinery is brought chiefly from Vedanta's mines at Bodai-Daldali in Chhattisgarh. The
refinery requires three million tonnes of bauxite a year. Naturally, Niyamgiri was extremely important
for Vedanta because getting the required amount of bauxite transported from outside would not be viable
for the company.
4



4
Mahim Pratap Singh, Battle For Survival, Frontline Magazine-
VAL AND THE STATE GOVERNMENTS STAND
According to information provided by VAL, the mines of Niyamgiri belong to the Orissa Mining
Corporation (OMC), with which the company has signed a memorandum of understanding for the
procurement of bauxite on a long-term basis 150 million tonnes from the Lanjigarh bauxite deposits
and other nearby mines of the OMC. An MoU was signed by the OMC and Sterlite Industries (India)
Ltd, also a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Plc., in 1997. However, in October 2004, the OMC signed
another MoU with VAL for mining bauxite in Lanjigarh and Karlapat. For this mining, the OMC entered
into a joint venture with VAL, in which it would hold 26 per cent equity and VAL the rest.
The state government welcomed the project like anything and also tried to go full force to create the
enabling conditions for its start. The stand of The Central government and The State government was at
variance. The proposed mining for bauxite by Vedanta Alumina Limited (VAL) at Niyamgiri hill VAL
had been scrapped by the Environment and Forests ministry of Central government and the State
government had approached the Supreme Court against this decision of Central government.
The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court following a complaint of
environmental violations against Vedanta, in its report submitted to the court in September 2005,
accused Vedanta of deliberate violations. The committee's member secretary, M.K. Jiwrajka, belonged to
the MoEF. The CEC observed that out of the requirement of 723.343 hectares for the alumina refinery
and 721.323 ha for the bauxite mining, 58.943 ha and 672.018 ha, respectively, are forest land and
since the project involved the use of the forest land for the alumina refinery itself, the environmental
clearance could have been granted by the MoEF only after the use of the forest land was permitted under
the F.C. [Forest Conservation] Act.
The CEC concluded that M/s Vedanta has deliberately and consciously concealed the involvement of
the forest land in the project so that environmental clearance is not kept pending for want of the F.C.
Act clearance. It further stated that in violation of the Act the project was split into alumina refinery and
bauxite mining although the latter is an integral part of the project and that although the MoEF was
fully aware that the use of the forest land for the mining at Niyamgiri hills is absolutely necessary if the
alumina refinery is to be established at Lanjigarh, the environmental clearance to the alumina refinery
has been accorded by the MoEF by overlooking these facts.
Around 8,000 Dongria Kondh Adivasis, who are a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) notified by the Union
government and who revere the Niyamgiri mountain as their king and god, fear displacement and total
disruption of their centuries-old culture once the company gets the clearance to mine the hills. However,
the company dismissed all such concerns.
The MoEF, in December last year, constituted a team comprising Usha Ramanathan, a law researcher
from the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; Vinod Rishi, former Additional
Director General of the Wildlife Institute of India; and J.K. Tewari, Chief Conservator of Forests
(Central), Bhubaneswar, in view of the allegations regarding the violation of the Forest (Conservation)
Act, 1980, and to address concerns regarding tribal rights and wildlife. The team submitted its report to
the Ministry on February 25, highlighting, among other things, the gross violations of the Forest
(Conservation) Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by the user agency, VAL. According to Usha
Ramanathan's observations in the report, which has the most scathing indictment of irregularities and
violations committed by the company, the Dongria Kondh people feel that although there is no
habitation in the mining area, over 200 villages on a hillside will get affected by the road, vehicles,
mining activities and the drying up of perennial streams and that the dongar (hill), which they worship as
their king and god, will be dug up and blasted.
Concerns were also expressed over the disregard for the forest rights of the Adivasis under the
Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
According to section 5(c) of the Act, it is to be ensured that the habitat of forest-dwelling Scheduled
Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting
their cultural and natural heritage.
Until these [forest rights] and allied rights are recognised, recorded and settled under the FRA, it would
be unconstitutional and in breach of the FRA to disturb their [the Dongria Kondh] habitat, Usha
Ramanathan noted in her report. The report also observes that disruption of the habitat and the way of
life of this PTG cannot be remediated nor compensated, and may lead to the destruction of the Dongria
Kondh.
The report also expressed concern over the receipt of material assistance and benefits by the district
administration from VAL. It says that two rooms have been added to the BDO office [Block
Development Office] in Vishwanathpur and furnished by VAL as a resting place for the Collector when
he travels on duty.
J.K. Tewari's observations point towards violations of the Forest (Conservation) Act by the company in
the construction of 47 pillars for its conveyor belt. Tewari has observed that the area calculated by the
State government (45.6 square metres) over which the pillars are constructed is faulty and that the actual
area of construction and operation would be much larger. He had also observed violations of MoEF
guidelines in the construction of an incomplete mine access road.
The CEC report to the Supreme Court in 2005 strongly recommended against allowing mining in the
Niyamgiri hills. It observed, among other things, that the rich biodiversity of Niyamgiri (which also
happens to be an elephant reserve) would be under serious threat from the company's mining activities.
According to the report, the forest contains sambar, leopard, tiger, barking deer, various species of birds
and other endangered species of wildlifeit has more than 300 species of plants and trees, including
about 50 species of medicinal plants.

STAND OF THE NIYAMGIRI TRIBALS
Niyamgiri means the mount of Niyam Raja, the law god of the Dongria Kondh, whom they also worship
as their king and ancestor. While the company maintains that there is no habitation on the mountain top,
which is the proposed mining area, the Kondh people believe it to be the abode of Niyam Raja. The
general mood of the Dongria Kondh community can be summed up in what elderly Sikaka Teladi of the
last gram sabha in Jarapa village told the presiding panel of district judge and panchayat office bearers in
the Kui dialect that few outsiders understand: Niyamgiri is ours; we wont leave the place at any cost.
We dont know how to work as a paid labour. If government forcefully displaces us, where then we will
go for the work? We wont like to be a bonded labour of any one, we would prefer to be shot dead but
we will not leave our Niyamgiri.
5

The struggle for them includes almost all the dimensions that we can see in many struggles across India
or the World. It has an economic dimension in the form of Land and livelihood issue, it has an element
of Pride and dignity in it, it has an important dimension of ecological importance in the form of
safeguarding the forests and its biodiversity, and it also has an element of religious and cultural rights,
the latter being the most important from legal position. The latter perhaps cannot be usurped to give way
for economic growth of other Indian masses.




5
Manipadma Jaina, Voices from Niyamgiri, EPW- Vol 18 No. 35, August 31, 2013
FRA AND SUPREME COURT VERDICT
There have been fundamental changes in the common law countries recognising occupancy rights and
entitlement rights of indigenous people, the legal regime in India governing natural resources grants
near-total control to the government under the eminent domain theory. A close look at the evolution of
environmental laws in US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reveals that the developments in India
are far behind the developments in these countries. For example, American Constitution law has
established that the native Red Indian tribes have full rights to common ancestral lands as well as
entitlements to the benefits arising from the resources and the public use of such lands. In Canada,
occupancy rights of the tribals over their common land has been established through various court judg-
ments. The constitutional rights of the natives have also been affirmed in the first Canadian Constitution
of 1981. The Australian Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, 1976 and Pitajantjatjara Land
Rights Act 1981 have also ensured tribals entitlements to their ancestral lands.
The enactment of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest
Rights) Act, 2006 in India for the first time recognises right to hold and live in the forest land under the
individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or
members of a forest dwelling scheduled tribe or other traditional forest dwellers.7 The act undoes what
colonial forest regime had done and provides for rights to conserve, protect and regenerate. It also
attempts to redistribute power between communities and bureaucracy, and seeks to create a new
democratic system of forest governance.
Till the FRA came into force, millions of Indias traditional forest dwellers were in the same spot that
they have been since colonial times: bereft of any rights on the forest land that they have lived off for
generations. This is the situation that the FRA attempts to change. For one, it allows claims to individual
family titles of land occupied or cultivated forestlands that are considered encroachments. For another,
the law allows access to, as well as the use and selling of, forest produce that has been traditionally
collected. This includes particular leaves that are used as leaf-plates, palm-tree juices, medicinal plants,
and fruits. The forest rights law also gives a community usually one village unit the right to
manage and protect forests it has customarily managed, even though these are government property.
The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict had set a three-month deadline for the State government to
conduct gram sabhas. The court wanted the gram sabhas to find out whether mining in Niyamgiri
considered the abode of their ista debta (presiding deity) Niyamraja for several centuries was an
infringement of the religious, cultural, individual and community rights of Dongria Kondhs and other
traditional forest-dwellers as per laws.
The Supreme Court directed the smallest units of local governance to use their powers and take a
decision on whether the Vedanta groups $1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Odishas Niyamgiri Hills
can go forward or not. Affirming the decision-making power of the village councils of Rayagada and
Kalahandi under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the court directed these gram sabhas to take a
decision...within three months on any claims of cultural, religious, community and individual rights that
the forest dwellers of the region may have.
6

Underscoring the legal imperative for the recent gram sabha referendums, the court cited the religious
freedom guaranteed to Scheduled Tribes and the Traditional Forest Dwellers under Articles 25 and 26 of
the Indian Constitution.
7

We are, therefore, of the view that the question whether STs [Scheduled Tribes] and other TFDs
[traditional forest dwellers], like Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others, have got any religious rights
i.e. rights of worship over the Niyamgiri hills, known as Nimagiri, near Hundaljali, which is the hill top
known as Niyam-Raja, have to be considered by the Gram Sabha, said a three-member Bench in its
order. Gram Sabha can also examine whether the proposed mining area Niyama Danger, 10 km away
from the peak, would in any way affect the abode of Niyam-Raja. Needless to say, if the BMP [bauxite
mining project], in any way, affects their religious rights...that right has to be preserved and protected.
We find that this aspect of the matter has not been placed before the Gram Sabha for their active
consideration.
8
The Bench had given its ruling on a petition which challenged the MoEFs 2010
decision to cancel the bauxite mining projects forest clearance on the grounds that environment and
forest laws had been violated, as well as the rights of primitive tribal groups such as the Dongria Kondh.

VICTORY FOR TRIBALS
Jubilant tribal activists treated the verdict not just as a victory for the Dongria Kondhs against Vedanta,
but as a validation of the gram sabhas powers under the FRA. The courts construction of the FRA
says that the gram sabha can decide on rights, that decision is final, and the gram sabha has the power to
decide on protecting forests and natural heritage, says Shankar Gopalakrishnan from the Campaign for
Survival and Dignity.
9
In particular, by sending the matter back to the gram sabha because a key matter

6
The Hindu, New Delhi, April 18, 2013
7
Manipadma Jaina, Voices from Niyamgiri, EPW- Vol 18 No. 35, August 31, 2013
8
ibid
9
Priscilla Debaraj, The Hindu, New Delhi, April 18, 2013
has not been placed before it for its active consideration the court is treating the gram sabha as a
statutory, legal authority at the same rank as, say, the forest advisory committee or MoEF.
10

The Bench also made it clear that the FRA protects a wide range of rights of forest dwellers and STs
including the customary rights to use forest land as a community forest resource and not restricted
merely to property rights or to areas of habitation.
11

As per the Odisha governments decision, Gram Sabhas were conducted in seven villages of Rayagada
district from July 18 to August 19 and five villages of Kalahandi from July 23 and July 30 (2013).
12

Subsequently, in gram sabha after gram sabha all the villagers, vociferously said the entire 240 sq km of
the Niyamgiri hill range is ours and denied they had ever made all the previous individual and
community claims under FRA that they had submitted to their respective district administrations just
weeks earlier. In the last gram sabha on August 19 at Jarapa village, Wanjelika Jambu, one of the 12
voters who participated spoke for all. He said, We dont need any land ownership deed from the
government, we need Niyamgiri only.
13

Not only was the government taken aback by this complete and unanimous about turn that occurred
within a six-week period, but it was also at a loss to explain it. However, subsequently the district
administration implied that the Dongria gram sabhas were misguided and voted no to development,
because of the tutoring by some non-governmental organisations and the presence of NRIs (non-
residential Indians) and foreigners at the gram sabhas. On 19 August, when all the 12 villages had said
no to the mining project, Kumuti Majhi, secretary of the Niyamgiri Suraksya Samiti simply said, The
heavy rain is washing down the hills, Niyamgiri has chased away Vedanta.
14

Therefore, this movement of local people fighting for their very basic rights chased away, if one were to
use Hobbes terminology- a leviathan- in the form of a giant steel company- Vedata by resorting to their
will power and laws enacted by the state.



10
ibid
11
ibid
12
ibid
13
Prafulla Das, The Hindu, July 18, 2013
14
ibid
SIGNIFICANCE
The Supreme Court has strongly endorsed the role of the gram sabhas as democratic decision-making
fora on issues of individual, community and cultural rights of tribals and traditional forest dwellers. Its
ruling in the Niyamgiri bauxite mining case has far-reaching impact because environmental laws such as
the Forest (Conservation) Act, the Forest Rights Act and the Environment (Protection) Act are given
scant respect by industrial project proponents looking for natural resources.
15

The Supreme Court order in the case, endorsing the rights of tribals under the Forest Rights Act and the
Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act to make fresh claims and designating the gram sabhas as
the competent fora to decide them, should end strong arm measures against defenceless communities.
The Supreme Court order is a good precedent for all projects that have environmental and social
consequences. Development is a natural aspiration, but it must be genuine and not result in the loss of
even the existing quality of life.
This development also brings to the fore, the importance of the little known and less practiced Human
Rights Impact Assessment under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
the protect, respect and remedy framework.
2
And it will remind future investors of the implications
of turning a blind eye to undertaking such an assessment and sharing it with the affected communities,
before putting a project on the ground.
This movement provides an example to other movements which are fighting for restoration of Human
Rights or for those like the Maoist or Naxalite movement which are waging a violent attack against
Indian State to resort to a more democratic means to claim their rights. Certainly there are mechanisms
that are available like FRA act, new Land Acquisition act, etc through which they can highlight their
issues and get them resolved. Ofcourse, that mode may take time but it is certainly more democratic,
sustainable and productive.





15
The Hindu, New Delhi, May 3, 2013

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. The Frontline
2. The Economic and Political Weekly
3. The Hindu
4. The Indian Express
5. The Internet

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