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Orissa red flags Centre’s plan to give gram sabhas mineral rights

The department’s decision seems to be prompted by the state government’s Niyamgiri experience.

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Bhubaneswar |
March 2, 2015 3:07:58 am

The Orissa steel and mines department has said no to the Union Panchayatiraj Ministry’s proposal to give gram sabhas rights over major minerals. In 2013, the ministry had sent a draft Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas  Bill, 2013 to the states, seeking their views on it. The draft bill suggested that gram sabhas in scheduled areas be given rights on major minerals such as iron ore, manganese, bauxite and chromite.

Opposing section 4(k) of the proposed amendment bill which says recommendation of gram sabha should be a pre-requisite for grant of prospecting lease or mining lease for major minerals in scheduled areas, the steel and mines department has said major minerals occur under the the earth and thus are properties of the state government and not local bodies.

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“Besides, the regulation of major minerals is a subject matter of Union List. Major minerals are national resources. Provision for prior consent of gram sabha will create delays in prospecting and settlement of major mineral concessions which would affect the basic industrial development,” additional secretary of steel and mines department wrote in a letter recently, advocating that the existing provision for consulting gram sabha for minor minerals alone may be retained without change.

The department’s decision seems to be prompted by the state government’s Niyamgiri experience.

In 2013, Vedanta Alumina’s (Now renamed Sesa Sterlite) hopes of getting bauxite from Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi for its refinery in Lanjigarh went up in smokes after the the aboriginal Dongria Kandhs in 12 gram sabhas said an emphatic “no” to any mining in their place of worship.

The Supreme Court-ordered referendum, the first of its kind in the country, virtually left the company with no other viable source of bauxite to feed its one million tonne per annum (mtpa) capacity alumina refinery on the foothills of Niyamgiri.

Sources from the steel and mines department said if gram sabhas would become final arbiters in granting consent, the road to mining would not be smooth one.

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