Despite the intense police repression, the people of Kashipur have stood up against the Odisha Government coercively facilitating this project for Vedanta. We bring to you the developments of the last 24 hours from the night before the Public Hearing to the end of it. It was held today at Sunger High School premises in Kashipur Block of Rayagada district, Odisha.
Ø On the 15th night, armed police and paramilitary personnel began positioning themselves at the main roads leading to villages known to oppose the mining project. Roads were monitored by company-sponsored goons and a few local village youths. They seemed to have a list of names of media persons and political agents whom they should allow into the villages and used slang and rough language to intimidate and send back anyone outside the ‘list’. Even then, some youths seemingly with the company goons, helped activists and media persons enter the area.
Ø In the morning, women from Banteji village were beaten up by police on the way to the public hearing. They protested. Friends and supporters of the movement tweeted to the Chief Minister to stop the violence.
Ø People walked in with slogans, banners and placards. Strategically, they occupied the space in front of the podium and did not allow a single pro-company deposition to happen. More than 20 community members, including women, spoke loud and clear about their opposition to the proposed bauxite mining and cited reasons for this opposition.
Ø Addressing members of the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB), district administration, police administration and Vedanta officials, people raised their voices against the ongoing police repression and the criminal role played by company-sponsored goons and agents. They narrated incidents of abuse, beating, forced entry into their houses, theft of cash, and harassment of women and girls both in their houses and in public at the local markets. They asserted that the repression was being carried out by company-sponsored goons at the forefront with the tacit support of the local police and paramilitary personnel. Leaders and community members demanded answers from the government about this state-corporate-police nexus but those organising the public hearing had no answers!
Ø As ordered by the High Court, two activists – Dibakar Sahu and Jitender Majhi -were escorted by police from the Raygada jail. They deposed at the public hearing against the proposed project.
Ø About the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by Vedanta, the chief concern expressed was that the report has deliberately hidden several facts about the ecological diversity and ecosystem of Sijimali. Villagers pointed out that Vedanta’s report does not mention the sacred abode of the supreme deity of the Kandha and Damba communities, Tiji Raja, and the annual rituals and festivals the local people perform at Sijimali hilltop in December every year. They also pointed out that the report has no mention of the 200-odd perennial streams that emerge from Sijimali or the dense forests on the hilltop that have diverse tree species like sal, tamarind, piya sal, aamla, harida, bahada and that the collection of siali leaves and honey is the major source of local peoples’ NTFP income. They pointed out that there is no mention of several sacred caves on Sijimali which are worshipped as abodes of animals whom the local people worship and hold rituals inside the caves to invoke the animal spirits every year. Some of the most important caves are Parapar and Baghpar. All those who deposed clearly mentioned that the EIA report does not mention about the local peoples’ cultural heritage and generations-old relationship with nature and the traditional community forest governance principles that they all practice to conserve the forests, lands, and mountains in Sijimali. The statements were loud and clear about the unconditional ban on mining at Sijimali and that Vedanta should go back.
Ø Keeping in line with the proactive media misinformation that has been happening since early August, some local media TV channels and reporters began to spread misinformation about the procedures and testimonies at the public hearing. They reported that the public hearing was cancelled due to law-and-order problems. Many even tried to create a narrative that several villagers demanded that Vedanta must open a local refinery if it wants to start bauxite mining in Sijimali.
Ø The ADM, Rayagada and ASP, Rayagada addressed the media that the public hearing was completed peacefully and with discipline; the ADM added that the process was successfully carried out and the report on the proceedings of the public hearing will be submitted to OSPCB soon. This has become the modus operandi. Stating that it ended peacefully despite the vibrant protest is but a claim that their ritual is over.
Ø However, today’s protest seems to have already set the tone for the next hearing. The Sijimali Bauxite Mining Project spreads over both Thuamul Rampur block in Kalahandi District and Kashipur block in Rayagada District. The public hearing for Thuamul Rampur block is scheduled at Kerpai High School premises on October 18th
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