Rayagada- The Odisha government has escalated its crackdown on dissenting voices in Odisha over the last few months. The police have invoked the draconian UAPA against 9 people and filed FIRs against 200 people under the Arms Act. Out of these, 22 individuals from marginalized communities have been jailed in the past two months. Now, in an attempt to create an impression of consensus for the entire exercise, the government has scheduled a public hearing in the Sunger Gram Panchayat of the Rayagada district on October 16.
The government's move has already started receiving backlash from the villagers. People from 50 villages around the Sijimali hills have written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Odisha High Court, appealing to postpone the public hearing scheduled for October 16. They believe that the government will manipulate the public hearing in its favour. The letter reads, "We fear that, true to Vedanta company's old tactics, the public hearing scheduled on 16.10.2023 will be hijacked and dominated by paid goons of the Vedanta company, and the voice of opposition to these projects will be drowned out. Therefore, we pray that the public hearing be stayed until normalcy is restored, police repression and cordon in this region are withdrawn, and our villagers are released from illegal detention."
The letter also mentions that the project will affect 500 families and force 100 families to leave their villages, while Malipadar and Tijimali villages will be completely destroyed. Highlighting the impact on the water resources of the region, the letter says, "Each day, the company will need 725 kiloliters (KLD) of water. One kiloliter is 1000 liters, so 725,000 (7 lakhs 25 thousand liters) of water will be used per day. To collect this water, deep wells will be installed."
A copy of the letter has also been sent to The Chief Justice of India, the Hon'ble President of India, the Prime Minister, the Governor of the state, and the Chief Minister. The villagers have also attached signatures of 2,000 people opposing the move.
The Sijimali Suraksha Samiti is a people's movement organization formed by local Dalit, Adivasi, and affected villagers at the forefront of the protest against illegal mining, supported by the Mulniwasi Samajsewak Sangh.
Police Acting as Goons for Vedanta- The Mooknayak spoke to Madhusudan from the Mulniwasi Samajsewak Sangh, who said, "The government has ulterior motives, and the government should conduct the public hearing openly to ensure ample transparency. Secondly, the police are acting as goons for Vedanta, as they are entering the homes of our activists and intimidating them to withdraw the protest." He revealed that on the night of October 9, around 24 women from two villages in the Kashipur block of Rayagada district went shopping in a nearby area. Upon returning, they were stopped by some goons of Vedanta and the Odisha police, who misbehaved with the women in the group.
Speaking about another incident, Madhusudan said, "On the night of October 7, the police entered the house of Dipu Naik in Kashipur, threatening the family with more false cases if Dipu's brother and father did not surrender to Vedanta. The police also took Rs 50,000 in cash kept in the home, along with 40 grams of gold and 160 grams of silver, as stated in a police complaint filed by the organization with the victim at the Kashipur police station in the Rayagada district of Odisha."
Madhusudan also stated that the Mulniwasi Samaj Sewak Sangh will publish recent fact findings from the area and will not be deterred by the government's intimidatory tactics. They will continue to expose police oppression to benefit the Vedanta company.
The proposed bauxite mine is part of the Central-Eastern region of the Eastern Ghats, located between the Thuamula Rampur block of Kalahandi district and the Kashipur block of Rayagada district. People claim that at least 50 villages lying adjacent to Sijimali hills are affected by "illegal" mining in the area. The mining area covers 1549 hectares (around 3871 acres), with 127.9 hectares being private land, 1807 hectares being government land, and 699.7 hectares being forest land.
The e-auction of 311 million tonnes of bauxite stored at Sijmali took place on February 9, 2023, and Vedanta Company was declared the "preferred bidder." Odisha's government issued a letter of intent to Vedanta on March 1, 2023. A Rs 972 crore investment will be made in the project, and the project is expected to produce 9 million tonnes of bauxite per year.