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UPHOLD THE RIGHT TO DISSENT OF THE STRUGGLING PEOPLE OF NIYAMGIRI!!

BhubaneswarMarch 19, 2019: We the undersigned, with deep anger and profound sorrow, condemn the killing of the dalit activist Dani Batra at the gate of the Vedanta Alumina refinery plant at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district yesterday morning.  Sujit Kumar Minj of the OISF has also been killed. Over 50 people were badly injured in the brutal lathicharge by the Odisha Industrial Security Force (OISF) and admitted to the Lanjigarh hospital.

As per media reports, a heavy clash took place between contract employees of the refinery plant and the OISF personnel. The contract workers were demanding permanent jobs, education for their children and provision of jobs for more people. As villagers from Rengopali, Chatrapur and Bandhaguda too joined the protest, the OISF forces present took the law into their own hands.

We deplore the violent suppression on contract workers of the Lanjigarh plant and on people from surrounding villages. Their demands are an outcome of years of simmering discontent ever since the company had acquired their land by making false promises of employment, education, health care facilities among others. The Odisha state government too has failed completely in making the company fulfil its promises. Instead of listening to their just grievances on March 18, 2019, the company let loose a reign of terror at the hands of the OISF. The entire area is now under Section 144. .

The state government has asked for 150 companies of Central Armed Police Force from the Centre with the approach of the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. It is in this atmosphere of tension and intimidation that people are continuing to press for their just demands. It is deplorable that instead of the government implementing the 2013 Gram Sabha verdict of the people, the local administration has only increased the presence of CRPF and its surveillance. The entire of Niyamgiri has been subject to relentless state repression ever since the gram sabha verdict. It is evident from the more recent arrest of Lingaraj Azad who has been at the forefront of the struggle of the people against bauxite mining.

The largely dalit community living around the Lanjigarh plant at the foothills of the Niyamgiri mountain have been putting up with untold suffering. The pollution caused by effluents discharged into the Vamsadhara  river has caused both deaths and diseases among the people dependent on the river. The creation of ash ponds too has been the biggest environmental hazard to the Niyamgiri habitat with its rich diversity of flora and fauna. Indeed, the corporate greed for bauxite from the mountain is making the company flout all existing laws while the state government aids in providing security forces and crushing the voices of its citizens.

In recent months, the administration has undertaken a series of repressive measures curtailing people’s Right to Dissent. Dadi Kadraka and Jamu Gouda have been through intense interrogation.  Lada Sikaka was picked up by the Raygada police and physically roughed up and interrogated and their protest rally for October 23, 2018  was asked to be called off despite their having obtained police permission.  The demand of the rally was to withdraw the CRPF and stop the routine harassment of local people through daily surveillance and combing operations. A public hearing was held near Trilochanpur where people unanimously decried the setting up of yet another CRPF camp in the area.  Earlier, British Kumar, a dalit youth leader of the   Bhumi Adhikar Surakshya Samiti  and a member of the CPI (M) had been detained in the office of the SP of Kalahandi and severely beaten.  In recent years many random arrests of Dongria Kondhs have taken place such as Saiba Pusika, Dasuru Kadraka and Bako Jakasika. Allegations of having connections with Maoists had led to the detention of Kuni Sikaka and Drimbli Jakasika in May 2017. The intense mental torture has led to the suicide of Drika soon after emerging from prison life. There are many more such incidents.

The adivasis and dalits of Niyamgiri are paying a very heavy price living in the midst of combing operations and daily surveillance. Their struggle to save Niyamgiri by claiming the rights of the dalits and adivasis over the mountain, its forests and land continues. Niyamgiri is not only a source of life and livelihood but their identity and cultural heritage too. Very recently, thousands of adivasis and dalits, largely forest dwellers, had marched in protest demanding the scrapping of the Supreme Court order of February 13 that directed 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh forest dwellers whose claims to forest land had been rejected.  They were supported by many mass organizations and Ambekarite organizations.

We demand strict accountability from the government and all political leaders to ensure that lives, livelihoods and rights of all citizens of the Niyamgiri region be upheld. Their struggle is a struggle for justice; for the mountains, rivers, and streams; for a place on this planet that belongs to them.

We urge all democratic and progressive forces to protest against corporate violence against people!

We demand that the Odisha government:

  • Initiate cases against Vedanta on charges of criminal conspiracy and murder.
  • Institute an enquiry into the incidents of killings and lathicharge by SIT.
  • Announce compensation of Rs 1 croreto next of kin of victims.
  • Repeal of all cases pending against villagers for opposing Vedanta!
  • Independent probe into the alleged encounter death of Manda Kadraka and Bari Pidika.
  • Withdrawal of CRPF and other security forces from the area.
  • Thorough enquiry into the pollution and destruction caused by Vedanta and their violation of environmental laws.
  • Ensure a cleanup of the entire area that has been contaminated by toxic discharge and effluents from the Lanjigarh plant.
  • Implement the 2013 Gram Sabha verdict of the people of Niyamgiri!!

Signed:

Narendra Mohanty, Campaign against False and Fabricated Cases

Biswapriya Kanungo, Advocate and Activist

Pramodini Pradhan, PUCL

Ranjana Padhi, Activist and Writer

Surya Dash, Video Republic

Prashant Paikrai, PPSS

Rumita Kundu, Activist

Prafulla Samanatra, Lok Shakti Abhiyan

Sudhir Pattnaik, Journalist and Activist

Deba Mahapatra, Lohia Academy

Samir Sarkar, GASS

Debaranjan, GASS

Suresh Panigrahi,  CPM

Mahendra Parida, CPI (ML) Liberation

Srikanta Mohanty, CPI ML

Pramila Behera, CPI ML Red Star

Subal Charan Sahoo, TUCI

Rajendra Barik, TUCI

Ramachandra Sahoo, Basti Surakshya Manch

Sudarshan Pradhan, Samajwadi Party, Odisha

Srimanto Mahanto, Political Activist

Lenin Kumar, Poet and Activist

Chandranath Dani, Advocate, Human Rights Defenders Alert India (HRDA)

Swati Mishra, ISCUF

Sheikh Abdul Wali, Republican Party of India

D. Manjit PUDR, Delhi

Pratap Kumar Sahu, AORVA

Sailen Routray, PUCL

Satyajit Puhan, ANVESHA

Bichitra Kumar Patra, Odisha Nirman Shramik Union

Nihar Kanti Dash, GASS

Biranchi Bariha, Jamin Jungle Adhikar Sangathan, Bargarh district

Bhishma Panji, Jamin Jungle Adhikar Sangathan,

Rakesh, AIKKS

Banshidhar Parida, AICCTU

Sanjib Patry

Bijay Kumar Panda, Advocate

Deepak Kumar Panda, National Cancer Campaign

Nilamani Patel, Jamin Jungle Adhikar Sangathan, Sundergarh

Gupdhar Bisoi, Jamin Jungle Adhikar Sangathan, Bolangir

Sricharan Behera, CSD Odisha