Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hill protest heat singes capital

The Telegraph, 8th May, 2008

Hundreds of tribals from Kalahandi today staged a demonstration near the secretariat and Assembly opposing bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills stating that it would spell disaster for the hill’s ecosystem and would destroy its religious sanctity.
Dressed in their traditional attire, members of Dangaria Kandha community marched shouting: “Niyamgiri amarata, naise kaar baparata (Niyamgiri is ours, it’s not just anybody’s property).
They also squatted on a daylong dharna along Mahatma Gandhi Marg (leading to the Assembly) protesting against the government lease.
“If the mining project is allowed, it will destroy the hill’s ecosystem and will dry up two major rivers and 36 perennial streams,” said Jitu Jakasika, a Dangaria Kandha youth.
“To add to that, it will destroy the livelihoods of 10,000 tribals and the religious sanctity of our beloved Niyamgiri,” he added.
Kumti Majhi, the president of Niyamgiri Suraksha Parishad, said the members of his community had been opposing the mining project since 2003 and would not stop till the state reconsiders its decision. “We will not allow bauxite mining there at any cost,” he stressed.
Majhi, a 60-year-old leader, said Dangaria Kandhas worship the Niyamgiri as their “lord” and would not tolerate any disrespect to him.
Vedanta Alumina has set up a 1MT alumina refinery at a cost of Rs 4,000 crore at Lanjigarh on the foothills of the Niyamgiri range. The group has also been allotted bauxite mines on the hills — a decision that had been opposed by environmentalists and tribals alike.
Bhakta Das, former MP of Kalahandi and the president of Green Kalahandi, the organisation that has been fighting against the Vedanta refinery and mining project, said they would not rest till the bauxite project was shelved.
“We have no objection if the Vedanta Group is allotted an alternative bauxite deposit such as the Sijumali and Kuturumali,” said Das.
“If Niyamgiri is allotted to any company ignoring tribal protests, it will lead to violent uprising similar to that in Kalinganagar or Nandigram,” warned the former MP.
Apart from the religious and environmental angle, families to be displaced and already displaced by the project have been crying over the socio-economic impact of the mines.
Surendra Nath Nag, who has lost his home, lamented that displaced families, including his own, have not been provided a job in the refinery.
The project has reportedly affected 1,340 families, while 103 have been fully displaced. Only 70 families have been provided a job, he added.

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