The Supreme Court on Friday scrapped a petition filed by state owned mining company Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) to consider afresh the possibility of holding gram sabhas to decide bauxite mining on top of Niyamgiri hills.
A bench of the apex court headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, refused to entertain the petition. The court, instead, directed OMC to approach appropriate forums against the decision of the gram sabhas held in July-August 2013.
The state government through its PSU Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), had filed an interlocutory application in the apex court. After a failed bid to mine bauxite atop the Niyamgiri hills, OMC had sought re-convening of the gram sabhas to seek afresh the mandate of the affected Dongaria tribals.
Allowing mining atop the Niyamgiri range could have given Vedanta an easy access to bauxite to run its Lanjigarh alumina refinery. After the Niyamgiri mining fiasco, Vedanta was struggling to operate its refinery as importing bauxite from other states as well as abroad was weighing on its bottomline. Due to its dependence on externally sourced bauxite, Vedanta was bleeding losses and had idled one stream of the refinery.
OMC had moved the SC on February 25 this year. 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 forestlands if the government decides that the rights of the people have been settled.
Senior Supreme Court counsel C A Sundaram who had appeared before the apex court had 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.
Tribals, however, were still vehemently opposed to the renewed plan to mine bauxite atop the ecologically fragile 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.