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Vedanta is out but corporate loot continues in Odisha: Local activists tell NAPM yatra

By Our Representative
Lok Shakti Abhiyan leader Prafulla Samantara, winner of the Goldman Environmental (also known as Green Nobel) Prize in 2017, has regretted that though Sundergarh in Odisha, like other forest areas, is a fifth schedule area, where Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) is applicable, but these laws are being “outrightly violated to facilitate corporate loot.”
Talking with activists of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), participating the nationwide Samvidhan Samman Yatra reached Odisha, Samantara said, “Even after complete rejection to Vedanta in Niyamgiri hills and other areas, the state government is hell bent to favour corporates and consistently trying to appropriate people’s voices.”
The yatra, which began at Dandi in Gujarat on October 2, will end in Delhi on December 10, International Human Rights Day.
Bhupendra Rawat of the Jan Sangharsh Vahini told yatra activists, “Odisha is one of the places abundant in terms of mineral resources and yet one of the most impoverished. We must question where the wealth is going? Adivasis are still deprived of it.”
Sipriori William Kiro of the Aadivasi Moolnivasi Adhikar Suraksha Samiti said, “Even after hundreds of memorandums, demonstrations and meetings with the district collector that no project must get approval without the consent of Gram Sabhas, things have not changed. We have even lodged FIR with criminal accusations against the district collector after legal provisions were violated to favour the projects.”
“There are 12,000 MW National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Reliance thermal power plants each in Sundergarh. There are plans to set up power plants of more than 70,000 MW capacity. The whole belt between Brahmani River and Mahanadi is rich in coal and then in iron ore in northern Odisha. The corporate and state nexus has eyes on all of this”, said Kalyan, a senior activist.
“The three already installed hydro power plants have become example of ecological destruction. They don’t have adequate water due to which only a fraction of power generation is possible, and the dam is also not able to irrigate lands as promised. When the reservoir doesn’t have water for irrigation, how are Jindal and Bhushan able to get uninterrupted water supply?”, he wondered.
“More than 26,000 acres of land have been acquired just for coal mining. There is a power plant with generation capacity of more than 8,000 MW in the area. People have been displaced because of the Hirakund dam. Pollution is becoming a major issue. Youth were promised employment, which is still a distant dream. Majority of the population is adivasi and is facing poverty, while the government is shamelessly claiming it to be one of the richest districts of Odisha”, Lingraj Behra, convener, Paschim Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanvya Samiti (POKSSS), said.
“The main issue is of sharing of water from the Hirakund dam in the region and demand of loan waiver”, he added.
At Balangir, yatra activists learned about struggle against Sahara India’s 1,320 MW Titalgarh thermal power plant since 2010, which is stayed as per Supreme Court directions. Lower Suktel Dam is another such issue where people are strongly against the land acquisition since 2000. Thirty villages are getting affected as a result of this project.
Here the Zindabad Sangathan has been struggling to get land entitlement for adivasis in Patnagarh and Titlagarh areas of Balangir district, the activists were told.
At Niyamgiri, Lado Sikaka, a leading activist and a resident, sharing the experiences from the struggle to save Niyamgiri from corporates, said, “If we protect our land, water, and forest, we protect our lives and families. Land, water, and forests are not merely a resource for us but our soul and we cannot let anybody else to take control of our lives.”
He added, “The entire struggle of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti has been peaceful but the government tried to label us as a violent struggle. We have fought from the village to the Supreme Court and asserted our rights through our Gram Sabhas.”
“We need to understand and declare the state violent, extremely violent. They don’t even know how to respect our culture and traditions. We are the ones, who have kept the forests alive, rivers alive, the environment breathable. But what we are receiving is the beatings in the jail, bribes to cheat our people and sell our lands to corporates”, Sikala said.
He added, “We have rejected all the corporates and fighting for our lives, our culture, our dignity. We appeal people of the country to expose the government and tell them to stop the violence meted out on the adivasis.”
Lingraj Azad, a key activist of the Niyamagiri Surakhya Samiti, and Samantara, talking with activists, said that the struggle of Dongaria Kondh adivasis has “made sure that Vedanta cannot mine our hills.” But they lamented, “They are still in Langigarh refinery, violating environmental norms. They are exploring bauxite mining in Koraput district. We need to stand united and throw them out from Odisha once and for all.”

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