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Vedanta plant: Jayanthi,Deo spar over rights of Niyamgiri tribals

Two Union ministers seem to have locked horns over the controversy surrounding Vedanta Aluminium’s plan.

Written by Ruhi Tewari | New Delhi |
August 19, 2013 2:53:44 am

Two Union ministers seem to have locked horns over the controversy surrounding Vedanta Aluminium’s plan to carry out bauxite mining in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills,insinuating that the other is not doing enough to protect the interest of tribals.

Minister for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan has written to Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo urging him to use his powers as minister to direct the state government to include all villages in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in Niyamgiri hills in the decision making process to ascertain if mining should be allowed in the region. Deo,however,has said he has done everything in his power to protect the tribal communities’ interests and it is in fact,the MoEF,which being party to the dispute,has the power to seek legal remedy.

In April this year,the SC had issued an order which gave villagers of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts the right to decide whether bauxite mining should be allowed in the hills. The state government had decided to conduct 12 such gram sabhas,of which 11 have already rejected the proposal to carry out mining.

In a letter to Deo dated July 19,a copy of which is with The Indian Express,Natarajan suggested while he invoked his powers (under the Forest Rig-hts Act) in the case of mining in his “own” state,he has not done so in Orissa’s case so far.

Claiming that it is “shocking and disturbing” that only 12 gram sabhas have been called to give their view when there are “100 villages and possibly 100 gram sabhas” in those districts,Natarajan urged Deo to use his power to direct the state government to call “all villages and gram sabhas” in these two districts. “This is a hideous travesty of the implementation of FRA and the hard won orders of the Supreme Court,” the letter stated.

“Allowing only 12 villages to decide would mean even 10 per cent of the local indigenous tribal people have not been consulted,thereby nullifying FRA,” Natarajan said,reminding Deo he had used similar powers in mining in Vishakapatnam in his “own” state.

Natarajan urged Deo to move the Supreme Court to seek more time,since the Tribal Affairs Ministry was appointed as the nodal agency for overseeing the pallisabha proceedings. She also claimed the Tribal Affairs ministry had been distributing “literature” that did not highlight the actual interpretation of the Supreme Court order and instead,gave an interpretation that will “not only be a negation of the provisions of FRA,but also be specifically violative of the judgment of the Supreme Court”.

However,Natarajan wrote another letter to Deo a day later on July 20,this time seeking to put the blame on the state government. Natarajan claimed while Deo had “apparently” written a letter to the Orissa state government using his powers under the FRA,it was being “blatantly ignored and not implemented”. According to Natarajan,the state government was acting in “brazen defiance” of law,Supreme Court and central government.

Deo wrote to Natarajan on August 2 clarifying he had taken all steps within his power to ensure tribals’ rights were not overlooked and the Supreme Court order was implemented. In a four-page letter,Deo said the “legal remedy for the stand taken by the state government will lie with the MoEF”,given it is “party to the dispute before the apex court”. The law ministry had also opined that it was the MoEF which could move the court. Urging Natarajan to put forth the “joint stand” of both ministries before the Supreme Court,Deo said state governments are routinely circumventing constitutional provisions in these areas and that he has been flagging this issue.

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