Hindustantimes, March 29, 2014
Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times Lanjigarh , March 29, 2014
In 2003, B Boral had shifted to this dusty village from Koraput, nearly 200 km away, to set up a shop. In front of his eyes, a "big factory" rose in the once-desolate landscape; Lanjigarh was on its way to development.
Today, Lanjigarh -- just over 400 km from capital Bhubaneswar – is still a small village but it is bustling with business.
"When I came here, this place was just a vacant land. Today, at least 50 shops are running because of the factory," Boral recalled.
Sushant Hial, an engineer from IIT, Kharagpur, not only got a job near his home in Chandanpur, walking distance from here, his family also opened the only hotel in Lanjigarh. All its employees are local youth.
Its business depends entirely on visitors to the Vedanta aluminum factory, now called Sesa Starlite Ltd.
On one hand, the factory has brought in mega investment in the infamously-backward Kalahandi district of Odisha, changing many lives around the establishment.
On the other, it saw Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi emerge as a champion of Dalit rights: Gandhi met a tribal delegation in Delhi, later the UPA government scrapped bauxite mining rights in Niyamgiri hills.
The Supreme Court had ordered a referendum in 12 villages and in August, 2013, all of them voted against any mining in the hills which is considered sacred by the Dongriya Kandh tribe. The Niyamgiri hills straddle both Kalahandi and Rayagada districts.
Gandhi had attended a tribal rally near the company site and famously announced, "I am your sipahi (soldier)".
With tribals forming 22.1% of the state's population (according to the 2001 census) the Congress is pitching the Lanjigarh movement and the forest rights Act—which gives empowerment and protection to tribals—to woo the large vote-bank for the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
Elections to the state's 21 Lok Sabha seats will be held in two phases on April 10 and 17.
"I talk about Lanjigarh as a perfect example of how the Congress protected tribal land," said Pradeep Majhi, a firebrand tribal MP of the Congress from neighbouring Nabarangpur.
In Balbhadrapur, Judhisthir Harijan (a college drop-out), Jaya (a business management), Birinchi (an electrical diploma holder) and Binod (BA pass) are among several youngsters who allege they have been ignored for jobs in the factory.
"We are Rahul's sipahis for the elections," said a beaming Kumuti Majhi, the president of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Parishad, adding that the mining ban has also protected their prime sources of water and environment.
Vedanta claims that out of the 2,644 direct employments in the factory, as on March 1, 268 are from Kalahandi alone.
Earlier, more than 10,000 people were involved in mining operations but all lost their jobs after the ban.
The company also runs a local hospital that provides free treatment to locals and provides mid-day meals to 18,000 students among its various social initiatives.
Those who suffered due to the ban are now looking at the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) as their potential new 'sipahi'.
Congress and its supporters' view
The Niyamgiri hills are sacred for Dongriya Kandh tribe
Mining will pollute water sources, damage environment
Many youth did not get job in factory despite qualification
Congress has "success" in Niyamgiri mining ban a key plank
Congress hopeful of turning the tide in other tribal areas due to Niyamgiri
Out of total 2,644 direct jobs, 1,268 to Kalahandi residents, 2115 jobs altogether to other from Odisha.
Mining created 10,000 jobs before ban
Schools, mobile medical unit, ambulance service help locals
Push to local economy
No justification for blanket ban in Niyamgiri
Factory's reduced capacity led cut in direct jobs