Rayagada— According to the FIR filed at the Kashipur Police station in the district, ", Pitabas Nayak and three of his associates, left for the Sijimali Hilltop Center on behalf of Mythri Infrastructure and Mining India, with the police protection they were provided. Upon reaching the site, they were surrounded by around 200 people armed with axes and swords. The FIR states that the mob intended to kill and overpowered the police staff to abduct the four people from Mythri Infrastructure and Mining India. However, the victims were later released. The FIR also claims that they could identify the agitators of this violent incident. The Mooknayak attempted to contact Suryaprakash Naik, the SI at the Kashipur Police Station for his version but was unable to obtain his statement.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, activist Madhusudan of Mulniwasi Samajsevak Sangh said, "The company officials Pitabas Nayak, Prusti Dhuria, Lalit Bramha, Sarat Gouda of Mythri Infrastructure and Mining India, which has been awarded the operation of the Sijimali Bauxite Mine by Vedanta Ltd, reached the hills at the Tijimali hills. The villagers inquired with the company representatives about their purpose and how they came to the hills without the villagers' permission. Unsatisfied with their answers, the villagers questioned them." He denied that there was any attack on any police officials or company representatives, and he claimed that they were not held as hostages. He questioned how asking people some questions could be compared to taking someone hostage, stating that he has video clips to prove them wrong.
He further stated that the police booked more than 150 people for this incident on the 12th of August and arrested 22 people from six different villages, including Niyamgiri. Ram Majhi, Phagnu Majhi, Baliram Goud, and Subash Majhi, all four from Serambai village, were picked up and later released on the 17th of August.
It is important to note that, apart from this incident, 9 people were previously booked under UAPA. Madhusudan mentioned that he had spoken to Upendra Bhoi over the phone, and Upendra conveyed to him that he had been beaten mercilessly, sustaining injuries to his limbs, and was being denied stationery to write a letter. Madhusudan said, "The arrests and the filing of false cases represent a gross violation of human rights and depict the suppression of the people in the name of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. We visited the activists from the 10th to the 13th of August and motivated them. Mulniwasi Samaj Sewak Sangh(MSS) want to warn the government that we won't let Vedanta loot the natural resources of the region. We have made four demands from the government:"
Compile a list of activists who were kidnapped/arrested and later released by the police. The investigation should be conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
The Odisha police should not act as the henchmen of the corporates and should provide security to the Adivasis and Dalits.
The UAPA and Arms Act falsely imposed on Niyamagiri and Kashipur movement protestors should be withdrawn, and they should be released unconditionally.
The Union government and the State government should halt the work of land acquisition until the activists are released.
Laxman Naik, a villager from Surugunja village, which falls under Kashipur Police station, said, "On the 11th of August, some work was being done by cutting the forests, and the next day, company personnel came to the hilltop. The villagers confronted them and asked if they had government permission, which they did not show." He stated that the company officials had given written assurance to the villagers that they would not come there, but on the same night, the police came and picked up three people, later arresting 22 individuals. He claimed that the police have no evidence against these people and they should be released immediately. He emphasized that work in the hills should only be done with the permission of the gram Sabha and the local villagers. Naik also denied the police's claim that the officials were kidnapped.
Rajan, an activist in Odisha, stated, "The unfair actions by the police reveal the suppression of the Brahmanwadi government. They aim to take land from Dalits and Adivasis and implement the Manuvadi system. This is evident from recent amendments made in the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which dilutes the decision-making powers of the Gram Sabha." He argued that this is being done to appease the corporates and send them a message that activists are being imprisoned, allowing the exploitation of the region's natural resources.
The Sijimali bauxite mine is located across Thuamul–Rampur tehsil of Kalahandi district and Kashipur tehsil of Rayagada district in southern Odisha. The Sijimali is a repository of approximately 311 million tonnes of mineable bauxite reserves. The total road distance from Sijimali hilltop to Rayagada is about 94 km, and the Sijimali plateau features generally undulating topography. The region has attracted a lot of corporates intending to exploit the resources of the region.