The Supreme Court has started anew the hearing of the case pertaining to mining over the ecologically fragile Niyamgiri hills, a project that was nixed by tribals in 2013 at the gram sabhas.
A two-member bench of the apex court today recommended the Chief Justice to constitute a three-member jury to hear the interlocutory application filed by state-run miner Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC). After a failed bid to mine bauxite atop the Niyamgiri hills, OMC has sought re-convening of the gram sabhas to seek afresh the mandate of the affected Dongaria tribals.
OMC had moved the SC on February 25. In its interlocutory application, OMC claimed that the Forest Rights Act and its Rules do not require any consent from gram sabha (village councils) for use of forest lands if the government decides that the rights of the people have been settled.
Odisha has also contended that gram sabha resolutions rejecting mining in the Lanjigarh bauxite mines cannot remain perpetually in force. The state government has claimed that with adults dying in the community and new ones growing up to have voting rights in the gram sabha decisions should be up for review.
Senior Supreme Court counsel C A Sundaram who appeared before the apex court contended that the palli sabhas have failed to take into account the Supreme Court’s directive to consider the cultural and religious rights of the tribals and forest-dwellers in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, but have gone beyond their mandate by deciding against mining in the hills.
The Supreme Court’s judgement of 2013 ordered that the 12 gram sabhas of the Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and other tribal communities would decide if they held any religious and other rights over the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha and if the mining of bauxite in the Lanjigarh mines below the peak of the hill would affect their religious rights.
OMC lost its mining bid comprehensively when 12 gram sabhas spread across Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, voted against the plan in July-August 2013.