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Armed cops, paramilitary sent to 'protect' top mining group, 'oppose' Odisha tribal rights

Counterview Desk 

The civil rights group, Forum Against Corporatization And Militarization (FACAM), New Delhi, insisting on the need to resist “intimidation and repression on the people of Mali Parbat opposing Hindalco mining”, has said that the hill, “rich with bauxite, sacred to local tribes in Koraput district of Odisha, is facing threat of destruction” from the mining giant Hindalco (Aditya Birla Group), which “is seeking to mine 268.1 hectares of land.”
In a “solidarity statement, it said, “The people are opposing the proposed mining for almost 2 decades and now are facing militarisation, intimidation and arrests.” Stating that matter is being fought in Court, apart from the “tooth to nail’ ground struggle”, it added, on January 5, 2023, the Odisha High Court ordered the district administration of Koraput to conduct a ‘free and fair Gram Sabha’ with participation of locals in the decision of land concerning the proposed mining as mandated under Panchayat Extension of Schedule Areas Act (PESA).”
“However”, it regretted, “the preparations to conduct a ‘free and fare Gram Sabha’ by the district administration meant hundreds of police and paramilitary, armed to the teeth, parading around the villages -- threatening and intimidating the villagers and slapping false cases on the leaders of Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti, a body that heads the anti mining movement.”

Text:

Mali Parbat, a hill rich with Bauxite, sacred to local tribes in Koraput District of Odisha, is facing threat of destruction as Mining Giant Hindalco (Aditya Birla Group) is seeking to mine 268.1 hectares of land. The people are opposing the proposed mining for almost 2 decades and therefore, facing brute militarisation, intimidation and arrests. The matter is also being fought in Court, apart from the ‘tooth to nail’ ground struggle. Recently, on 5th January, 2023, Odisha High Court ordered the district administration of Koraput to conduct a ‘free and fair Gram Sabha’ with participation of locals in the decision of Land concerning the proposed mining as mandated under Panchayat Extension of Schedule Areas Act. However, the preparations to conduct a ‘free and fare Gram Sabha’ by the District administration meant hundreds of Police and Paramilitary, armed to the teeth, parading around the villages- threatening and intimidating the villagers and slapping false cases on the leaders of Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti (a body that heads the anti mining movement). This was done before the holding of ‘free and fair Gram Sabha’ in order to intimidate the villagers to give-in to the corporate-state’s nexus behind Hindalco mining and gain their forced ‘free consent’ to loot and plunder of resources and destruction of environment. Currently, 28 activist and people of Mali Parbat Anti mining struggle are behind bars. Amid much militarisation and subsequent intimidation, the Gram Sabha was conducted on 7th Jan,2023, as directed by the Odisha High Court. Despite continuous threats, the majority of 72 out of 81 representatives of Mali Parbat region has opposed the mining, in the said meeting. The next hearing of the matter in Odisha High Court is on 15th Jan, 2023.
Environmental Clearance (EC) process for the purposes of mining in Mali Parbat, started in 2003, sparking the resistance movement that is continuing till date. In 2006 the environmental Clearance was given and Hindalco was granted mining lease in 2007. Due to people’s struggle, Hindalco could not carry out mining and the EC expired in 2011, however, Hindalco started mining illegally after the EC expired, with the collaboration of state and aid of the paramilitary forces being poured in large numbers. The mining stopped again, in 2014-15, due to surge in the people’s movement and the mining lease got expired in 2019. In 2021, the process to renew the lease of 268.1 hectare of land began, which saw two fake Gram Sabhas (village council meeting) being conducted, amid heavy deployment of police and paramilitary forces. Both the Gram Sabha meetings conducted in September and November of 2021, saw a deployment of around 4000 Police and Paramilitary personnel. The second Gram Sabha, conducted in November, 2021 saw strong opposition of the locals, as it was conducted only with 300 pro- Hindalco persons, debarring 1500 people from joining the gram sabha. Both Gram Sabhas were hailed by Koraput District administration as Highly successful. In the 3rd Gram Sabha conducted on 7th Jan, 2023, state government deployed 20 Battalions of Indian Reserve Battalions (IRB), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Border Security Force (BSF), despite clear direction of Odisha High Court to conduct free and fair Gram Sabha so that the locals can join it without fear and intimidation.
It is important to understand that this is the general modus operandi of the unholy State-Corporate alliance to intimidate and break the people’s movement against loot of resources by mining giants aided by imperial capital. Such is the case of Mining in Surjagarh Hills, Maharashtra, Rowghat mining and proposed mining in Amdai Ghati hills, Chhatisgarh, Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, among many more. These anti-mining movements are the biggest blockade to the imperialist extraction machinery and to break these very movements is the objective behind rampant militarization of these states by building paramilitary camps in the fancy military terminology of “forward operational bases” that are nothing but Carpet security for extraction machinery of big corporates, such is the experience of past and present anti mining movements. These Paramilitary Camps or “forward operational bases” are part of Operation Samadhan-Prahar, launched as an extension of Operation Green-Hunt, to supposedly defeat the Maoist movement. However, It is clear that these camps and rampant deployment of forces, in the name of fighting the ‘Maoists’, are acting as a tool to suppress anti mining movements like Mali Parbat movement against Hindalco mining.
Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization strongly condemns the intimidation tactics used by the state against people of Mali Parbat region, who are struggling against Hindalco’s predatory mining of Mali Parbat to save 36 natural water streams and hundreds of Hectares of land and forest, set to be devastated by the blasting and other processes to mine the bauxite. We also demand the following:
  • Stop slapping false cases on the people opposing the Hindalco mining of Mali Parbat.
  • Release all the arrested activists of Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti and people opposing the mining.
  • Withdraw the various Battalions of paramilitary forces from the region.
  • Respect the majority position of the locals in 7th Jan Gram Sabha and stop mining in the region.
  • Restore the autonomy of Gram Sabhas as mandated under Panchayat Extension of Schedule Areas Act.
  • Stop Operation Samadhan-Prahar.

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