Supreme Court foils Odisha government’s bid to takeover the sacred Niyamgiri Hils

The apex court asked the state government to file a fresh plea with all the stakeholders including the Dongria Kondhs on board
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court recently refused to admit the Odisha government’s plea for the reconvening of 12 gram sabhas, so as to take a relook into whether bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills was tantamount to an infringement of the religious, community and individual rights of local forest-dwellers.

A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the Odisha government to file a fresh plea by making all the stakeholders including the gram sabhas of Dongria Kondhs as parties. The Odisha government’s counsel, C S Sundaram argued that these gram sabhas, spread over Kalahandi and Rayagada district in Odisha, had gone beyond their mandate by deciding against mining in the hills.

However, senior counsel Kiran Suri, appearing for the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), and counsel Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the Dongria Kondh tribe, questioned the maintainability of the state government’s application.

Incidentally, it was the Odisha government that scrapped the mining project in 2014 after all 12 gram sabhas voted unanimously against the Niyamgiri bauxite mining in the state. In an earlier order, the Supreme Court banned mining in the Niyamgiri hills stating that only gram sabhas could decide if the mining could take place. The proposed Niyamgiri mines, spread over 600 hectares would have supplied the bauxite ores to Vedanta’s Rs 4,500 crore-alumina refinery in Lanjigarh. 

Earlier on March 4, 2016, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court had recommended the Chief Justice to constitute a three-judge bench to conduct hearing on the government-owned mining company, Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)’s interlocutory application seeking reconvening of gram sabhas for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills.

The state government, through the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation on February 25, 2016 had moved the apex court wanting reconvening of these 12 gram sabhas. As per the agreement signed between Vedanta and OMC, the government miner assured a supply of 150 million tonnes of bauxite to the Vedanta’s refinery.

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