BHAWANIPATNA: HUNDREDS of Dongria Kondhs of Kalahandi district and Jharanias of Rayagada district, who have been residing in the Niyamgiri hills since time immemorial, took out a massive rally at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district on Sunday to mark their victory against industries after the Supreme Court verdict in their favour.
The tribals took out the rally under the banner of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (NSS). The Samiti had launched a padayatra from Biswanathpur in Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district and Chantikana in neighbouring Rayagada district on May 29 over the issue. After traversing 54 villages, the padayatra culminated at Jagannathpur on Sunday which coincided with World Environment Day.
Addressing the gathering, social activist Medha Patkar and Supreme Court lawyer Sanjaya Parekh said the apex court verdict is a victory for primitive tribes.
Patkar said in the name of development, life of local people should not be destroyed and no one should face displacement for setting up industrial units. Development is a process which should ensure people’s rights over ‘jal, jamin and jungle’ (water, land and forest), she said. The verdict of the apex court is also the victory of Gram Sabha, she added.
Congress leader Bhakta Charan Das, Prafulla Samantra, Birmitrapur MLA and tribal leader George Tirkey, Lingraj Azad besides leaders of Samajbadi Jan Parishad attended.
Bhakta Das said, “We want development of Kalahandi but it should not be against the interest of tribals. Rahul Gandhi was first national leader who stood by the tribals to safeguard Niyamgiri.”
The rally, however, drew sharp reaction from locals who claimed that the activists chose the World Environment Day to reach Lanjigarh and use the occasion to garner support against the State Government and Vedanta on the agenda of development.
The local people also staged demonstration at some places and shouted slogans at Chatrapur village when Patkar’s vehicle passed by. No untoward incident was reported.
On the other hand, pro-Vedanta activists said they respect the verdict of the Supreme Court but the onus is now on the State Government to provide bauxite to Vedanta Limited. The company had launched several development activities and programme in the periphery of the plant, which has been affected, thus derailing development.
Lanjigarh Vikash Parishad president Sridhar Pesnia said there was a need to save people dependent on Vedanta for their livelihood. Their protection was of utmost importance and the State Government should provide an alternative to meet their raw-material needs, Pesnia added.