Andhra mining agency told to ‘go back’ by Nimmalapadu tribals at public hearing

First hearing since 1997 Supreme Court judgment, Kept out of mining lease decisions at least five times despite legal win, say villagers

By Shagun
Published: Friday 21 April 2023
Despite winning the legal battle against the Aditya Birla group in 1997, the residents near the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border are still fighting the state over their calcite reserves. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

A public hearing on April 19, 2023 for granting mining licences in a Fifth Schedule village in Andhra Pradesh was met with slogans to “go back” by tribal community members. Nimmalapadu had won a legal battle in 1997 against the state government and a private company to save their village from mining and has staved off several attempts to violate the ruling since then. 

The Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC), a state body responsible for issuing mining licences, held a public hearing for undertaking cluster mining in a 24 hectare area in Nimmalapadu and two other Fifth Schedule villages.  

This public hearing was the first one in 31 years and came two months after APMDC prepared an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for obtaining environmental clearances. This is a fresh attempt by APMDC to grant mining licenses in the region, according to experts. 

Read more: Mali Hill bauxite mine: Villagers resist project as Odisha govt extends Hindalco’s mining lease

The 1997 judgement was popularly called the Samata judgement after the name of the non-profit that helped the people fight the case.
In the landmark ruling, the Supreme Court had declared that only people belonging to the Konda Dora tribe and their cooperatives could exploit minerals in Fifth Schedule areas and that private mining, even with government backing, is illegal.

APMDC stated orders by the National Green Tribunal issued in 2018 in its February 2023 EIA. Projects with individual or clusters area of mine leases from 5-25 ha attracts public hearing and necessitates obtaining environmental clearance from the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), it said.

The three villages — Nimmalapadu, Rallagaruvu and Karakavalasa — were at the forefront of the Samata judgement, which added that even if the state government decides to mine directly, it needs to keep the interest of the tribal people first. 

However, even after the ruling, there have been several attempts at mining by different private parties that were mostly benami or held by an owner through proxies, alleged residents. These parties mined the regions and then abandoned the mines, leaving the fertile land barren, they claimed. 

Read more: Shift to clean energy means race for minerals is accelerating

The residents alleged the APMDC issued licences five times since 1997 to cooperatives or individuals from the state belonging to the Konda Dora community who did not belong to these villages. The state agency found new ways to keep the people out of the process and no hearings were conducted for granting these licences. 

Talking about the hearing, Ravi Rebbapragada, Executive Director, Samata, said that ideally, any such proposal must be discussed with the communities of three villages and approved in the Gram Sabha before a public hearing. 

“They (APMDC) want to sanctify their past mistakes by this one public hearing, calling it a cluster mine approach. The hearing is unacceptable. APMDC should be held responsible for the mining pits left in the last 18 years before any public hearing is proposed,” he wrote in a petition to the Department of Industries under the Andhra Pradesh government. 

“The Honourable Supreme Court reiterated the Constitution’s Fifth Schedule that land and resources in these areas should belong to the Scheduled Tribes. The state government should be responsible for encouraging tribal people to come forward by providing the necessary support. APMDC has, instead, been usurping resources at the cost of tribal communities of these villages,” he said. 

The April 19 hearing was attended by community members, who raised slogans of “Go back APMDC”. 

Read more: Shift to clean energy means race for minerals is accelerating

“This was the first-ever hearing in three villages / mine sites. All the people have demanded that APMDC should go back after rehabilitation of the mine pits and overburden and their lease has to be cancelled. Mining should be through the local community or cooperative,” said Rebbapragada, who was also present during the events on April 19. 

The tribal community members do not have faith in APMDC and it has a bad reputation due to its track record of the last 18 years, Rebbapragada added. “I hope the government responds to our (community) proposal positively after 25 years of the Samata judgment,” he said. 

Even though the villages won the legal battle against the Aditya Birla Group in 1997, almost two and a half decades later, the residents near the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border are fighting the state over their calcite reserves.

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