Lawyers Petition Odisha Governor to Halt Public Hearing for the Sijimali Bauxite Project


  • September 25, 2023
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25 September 2023

 

A public hearing has been announced for Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in South Odisha after intense repression of villagers and activists opposing the project for over one month. The Sijimali Bauxite Mining Project spreads over both Thuamal Rampur block in Kalahandi District and Kashipur block in Raygada District. It is shocking how the Odisha Govt is coercively facilitating this project without following due process of law. The Government brought out the Environment Impact Assessment Report of the project on 14th September 2023, after putting all the main activists in jail.  Both Niyamgiri and Maliparbat movements have also been targetted to make the ground clear for Vedanta. Of the 93 adivasis and dalits named along with 100 others in FIRs lodged by the police, 24 are in jail and others are hiding in the jungles since more than a month now. 

 

MORE THAN EIGHTY LAWYERS HAVE PETITIONED THE GOVERNOR OF ODISHA TO HALT THE PROPOSED PUBLIC HEARINGS FOR THE BAUXITE MINE BY VEDANTA AMIDST ONGOING ARRESTS AND RAIDS ON AFFECTED COMMUNITIES IN RAYAGADA DISTRICT.

 

 

More than 80 lawyers, including Advocates, legal academics and researchers, today wrote to the Governor of Odisha raising concerns about the alarming arrests and illegal detentions of about two dozen persons from Rayagada district in Odisha in anticipation of the upcoming public hearing for the Sijimali bauxite mine proposed by M/s Vedanta Ltd. The letter, endorsed by legal luminaries such as Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran, Gautam Bhatia, Prashant Bhushan, among others, calls for an immediate halt to the public hearings to clear 1549 hectares of forest lands lying in areas covered by the V Schedule of the Constitution for violating the right to free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities.

 

Instead of undertaking due consultations under the PESA and FRA, the letter points out, the state government has followed an approach of repression to secure clearances through coercive means. Since early August, the police and paramilitary forces have conducted midnight raids, illegal detentions and arrests against the people of Kashipur village. Nine leading activists of the Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, including Lada Sikaka, Drenju Sikaka, Lingaraj Azad and poet Lenin Kumar have also been made the subject of an FIR under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for unlawful and terrorist activities. Goldman Environmental Prize 2017 winner, Prafulla Samantara was abducted with his face covered and hands tied, and driven from Rayagada to his hometown in August 2023. In addition, several FIRs have been filed by both the police as well as an official of M/s Mythri Ltd., related to M/s Vedanta Ltd., cumulatively naming about a hundred persons, along with hundreds of other unnamed. As such, kin of those arrested are struggling to secure their bail, while also looming under the threat of further persecution under these open-ended FIRs.

 

With key leaders in prison or facing further persecution, the state government insists proceeding with the public hearings, without complying with the legal requirements under the V Schedule, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the EIA Notification 2006 on full-disclosure of information regarding the proposed project. Pertinently, the Letter of Intent for the project was approved only in March this year, and the clearance process is inexplicably proceeding at break-neck speed without due regard to the right of the affected communities to free, prior and informed consent. It bears noting that the bauxite mine is proposed over more than 1500 hectares of rainforests supporting large biodiversity, water bodies and local livelihoods, all of which stand to be affected in the absence of free, adequate and transparent environmental and social assessments.

 

The letter calls upon the Governor to release those imprisoned since August 2023 and withdraw all criminal proceedings, including those under the UAPA, to uphold their right to participate in consultations freely. The letter also calls upon the Governor to ensure that information about the proposed bauxite mine is duly made available in compliance with the law, and to further halt the public hearings until an atmosphere of free and open democratic participation can be ensured.

 

The copy of the petition to the Governor along with signatories is given below:

 

To

Shri Ganeshi Lal

The Hon’ble Governor

Raj Bhavan, Bhubaneshwar,

Odisha

Email: govodisha@nic.in

 

25 September 2023

 

Sub: Appeal to immediately withdraw the notification for the public hearing on 16.10.2023 for the proposed Sijimali Bauxite Mining Project in Rayagada and Kalahandi district, given the tense atmosphere of fear and persecution of local communities and organizations

 

Respected Hon’ble Governor Shri Ganeshi Lal ji

 

On 13 September 2023, the Odisha State Pollution Control Board notified the announcement of a Public Hearing on 16 October 2023 towards the approval of proposed bauxite mining in Kashipur tehsil, Rayagada district and Thuamal-Rampur tehsil, Kalahandi districts. This Sijimali Bauxite Project, proposed by M/s Vedanta Limited, extends over an area of 1549 hectares covering eighteen villages, within or in proximity to more than twenty reserve forests and nine water bodies. Both Rayagada and Kalahandi are V Schedule areas with a predominant Scheduled Tribe population, comprising Kondh adivasi, Parajas and Dom dalit communities with a small percentage from other castes and communities.

 

Pertinently, this Public Hearing has been notified following a month of intense repression and persecution of the people of Kashipur and other parts of Rayagada district. Starting from early August, when the police disrupted and declared as unlawful the peaceful assembly of more than a hundred persons to protest the entry of M/s Mythri Corporation for mining in their village, until today, people in Rayagada, particularly Kashipur tehsil, are living under an oppressive environment of fear, intimidation and terror. The active presence of police in the village is felt and arrests of persons are ongoing.

 

The decision of the Odisha government to proceed with the Public Hearings of the proposed bauxite mine in such a tense environment is not only illegal, but is a grave assault on the constitutional rights of the people to their customary homelands under the V Schedule, PESA and Forest Rights Act. Rayagada and Kalahandi district in Odisha are home to pristine dense rainforests with rich biodiversity, all of which stand to be destroyed by mining and extractive projects. On the ground, over the past two decades in Odisha alone, thousands of people have been evicted and displaced from their historic role of stewards of their land and waters. Some of the recent developments which have created the environment of fear and intimidation are:

 

Local leaders and several other persons illegally detained and arrested: Since the disruption of the 04 August 2023 protest in Kashipur, the police and paramilitary forces have conducted midnight raids in the villages. More than twenty persons were illegally detained and tortured. Most of them were later formally arrested under various provisions of the IPC, Arms Act and CLA. Most shocking among these FIRs are FIR Nos. 93, 96, 97 of 2023 at PS Kashipur which are duplicates of each other, have been filed successively on 08 August 2023, naming eleven persons and hundred other unnamed. Similarly, FIR No.101 dated 12 August 2023, filed by an official of M/s Mythri Ltd., names ninety four persons along with hundred others unnamed. Nine leading activists of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, including Lada Sikaka, Drenju Sikaka, Lingaraj Azad and poet Lenin Kumar have also been made the subject of an FIR under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for ulawful and terrorist activities. Goldman Environmental Prize 2017 winner, Prafulla Samantara was abducted with his face covered and hands tied, and driven from Rayagada to his hometown in August 2023. Presently, more than twenty persons have been arrested, and continue to be in prison, with their bail applications having been denied. Those who have not been arrested are struggling for the release of their kin. As per reports, there continues to be heavy police presence in the area, and open-ended FIRs bringing within their fold hundreds of named and unnamed others, has given rise to a grave environment of fear, persecution and terror.

 

The violation of V Schedule, PESA, FRA: The lands and forests over which the bauxite mine is proposed fall under the V Schedule, subject to the right to self-governance of adivasis over their traditional homelands. In the 1997 decision of Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court had prohibited the diversion of V Schedule lands in favour of non-adivasis, including public and private corporations. Again in 2013, the Supreme Court in Orissa Mining Corporation v. Ministry of Environment and Forests, had held that the gram sabhas under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA), which in the state of Odisha are the palli sabhas, have the ultimate right to make decisions pertaining to the protection and conservation of their community lands and forests. In this case, there have been no prior consultations with the affected gram sabhas who have a right to participate in all decisions affecting their customary forests and homelands. Pertinent to note that the 2013 Supreme Court decision was also related to bauxite mine proposed by M/s Vedanta Ltd. in the same districts, although covering different and smaller areas than the one proposed in the current Sijimali bauxite mine.

 

Lack of compliance with EIA-mandated Public Hearing process: Under the EIA Notification 2006 [Appendix IV], the full EIA report and not just the executive summary needs to be made publicly available, at public locations such as the urban local bodies/ panchayats/ public libraries etc. It should be in the language local to the affected communities, so that they might comment on it. The full EIA report also has to be uploaded electronically on the websites of the State Pollution Control Board, the District Collectors, the District Industries Office. The District Collectors have to request persons to write in their views and concerns so that all will be taken into consideration. This has not been done. It must be noted that the Letter of Intent for the proposed project was issued only in March 2023. The pace and manner in which the project clearances are proceeding creates the impression that the Public Hearings are being conducted as mere formality in the checklist of the clearance process, without upholding the spirit of participation and transparency.

 

To conduct hearings in such an atmosphere of fear and intimidation subverts the legal frameworks established for democratic participation. It is deeply concerning that the state government continues to adopt a strategy of coercion and repression, instead of protecting the right to free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities immediately before the notification of the Public Hearings, such that the process is rendered devoid of any meaning and substance.

 

Thus, as lawyers- Advocates, jurists and legal researchers- we call upon you to uphold the rule of law, and to defer the Public Hearings until the affected communities have a proper opportunity to participate freely, without intimidation, and with full information. We urge you to:

 

  • Immediately order the withdrawal of criminal proceedings against the people of Rayagada and Kalahandi since 04 August 2023, and the release from prison of all those who have been arrested or detained. Adequate compensation to be awarded to all those who have been illegally detained and tortured.
  • Immediately order the withdrawal of FIR No.87/2023 under UAPA filed against local leaders associated with the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti.
  • Defer the Public Hearings until proper consultations are undertaken with the affected palli sabhas under the FRA.
  • Immediately arrange for the release of all relevant information on the proposed project, including the full EIA report, to the public in local languages in all required sites.
  • Ensure that affected communities have sufficient time to properly inform themselves of the impact of the proposed project on their lives, livelihoods and biodiversity before any proposed public hearings.

Copy to:

 

  1. Shri Pradip Kumar Amat

Minister, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of Odisha

fesec.or@nic.in

 

  1. Shri Prafulla Kumar Mallik

Minister of Steel and Mines, Government of Odisha

itpmu@orissaminerals.gov.in

 

  1. Ms. Swadha Dev Singh

Collector and District Magistrate, Rayagada

dm-rayagada@nic.in

 

  1. Ms. P. Anvesha Reddy

Collector and District Magistrate, Kalahandi

dm-kalahandi@nic.in

 

  1. Odisha State Pollution Control Board

paribesh1@ospcboard.org

 

 

 

S. No. Name Designation City/ State
1 Madhulika Lawyer Bangalore
2 Biswapriya kanungo Advocate Bhubaneswar
3 MIHIR DESAI Senior Advocate Mumbai, maharashtra
4 Gayatri Singh Senior  Advocate, Bombay High Court Mumbai , Maharashtra
5 Prashant Bhushan Lawyer Delhi
6 Sudha Bharadwaj Lawyer Maharashtra/ Chhattisgarh
7 Bela Bhatia Dantewada, Chhattisgarh
8 Ritesh Dhar Dubey Lawyer Delhi
9 Adv Dr Shalu Nigam Lawyer and researcher Delhi NCR
10 Amlan M PhD researcher at University of Bristol
11 Mandakini Advocate Hyderabad
12 Sharanya Nayak Environment activist Odisha
13 Evanjelina Kullu Consultant Odisha
14 Pyoli Advocate New Delhi
15 V S Krishna Human Rights Forum Visakhapatnam
16 Clifton D’ Rozario Lawyer Bengaluru
17 AMARJEET KUMAR SINGH Advocate DELHI
18 Bela Bhatia Advocate Dantewada/Chhattisgarh
19 Ashwini Advocate
20 Manish Lawyer Bengaluru
21 Stella James Researcher
22 Rajaraman Journalist Odisha
23 Shalini Gera Advocate, High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh
24 Mini Mathew Lawyer Mumbai
25 Gautam Bhatia Lawyer New Delhi
26 Sara lawyer Ontario
27 Chandranath Dani Lawyer Bhubaneswar Odisha
28 Basawa Prasad Lawyer Bengaluru
29 Jayakumar Theertham Advocate Trivandrum/Kerala
30 Diana Tavares Social Worker Margao, Goa
31 Avani Chokshi AILAJ Bengaluru
32 David Rodrigues Teacher Goa
33 Shilpa Prasad Advocate Bangalore
34 Kalpana Kannabiran Distinguished Professor, CSD, New Delhi & Lawyer, HC id Telangana Secunderabad, Telangana
35 Hema Yuvaraj Designer Tamilnadu
36 Meera Sanghamitra Law Graduate, Researcher, Social Activist Telangana
37 Sushravya Advocate Bangalore,  karnataka
38 Muthukumaran Advocate Ariyalur. Tamilnadu
39 Susan Abraham Advocate Mumbai
40 Bijaya Advocate Kolkata, West Bengal
41 Archit Krishna Lawyer Delhi
42 Harsh Kinger Advocate Baroda
43 Ranjit Sur General Secretary West Bengal
44 Carina Lawyer Delhi
45 K. Sudha Human Rights Forum Visakhapatnam
46 Sahana Manjesh Advocate Mumbai, Maharashtra
47 Geetha D Advocate Chennai
48 Purbayan C Lawyer
49 Pavan Kumar Pinninti Law student
50 S. Jeevan Kumar Human Rights Activist Telangana
51 Maharukh Adenwalla Lawyer Mumbai
52  Bulbul Das Lawyer Delhi
53 Amita Joseph Advocate Delhi
54 Arunima Das Advocate Tamil Nadu
55 Biswaranjan Paramguru Advocates Odisha
56 Omanakuttan Advocate New Delhi
57 Anjana Prakash Sr Advocate New Delhi/Delhi
58 SUMITA HAZARIKA lawyer delhi
59 N Harinder Social activist
61 N.Sulochana Social activist Telangana
62 Shomona Khanna Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court Delhi
63 Shashank Singh Advocate New Delhi
64 Khalil ur Rehaman Student of Law at KSLU Karnataka
65 Jawali Law student Vizag
66 Suchitra Vijayan Author New York
67 Astha Saxena Doctoral fellow at NALSAR Bangalore
68 Sameer Kagad Lawyer Hubli/Karnataka
69 Animesh Rajoriya Advocate New Delhi
70 Zaman Ali Advocate Mumbai
71 Ria Yadav Advocate Delhi
72 Vishwas Tanwar Student Vadodara, Gujarat
73 Ramesh s. Gauns National Awardee Teacher Goa .India
74 Arpitha Kodiveri Assistant Professor of Political Science New York
75 Santosh Kumar Lawyer Hyderabad
76 Narendra Reddy Advocate Andhra pradesh
77 Turala Sivani Yadav Lawyer Andhra Pradesh
78 Solomon retired te.ache.r Chennai
79 Anan Associate Professor of Legal Practice, JGLS Sonipat
80 Kamya Vishwanath Lawyer
81 Manavi Atri Bengaluru
82 Pritha Lawyer Mumbai
83 Rakesh Shukla Advocate Delhi
84 Nayana Independent Karnataka
85 Radhika Assistant Professor (Law), NLSIU Bangalore
86 Disha Ravi Co-Founder Karnataka

 

 

 

 

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