Sijimali Bauxite Mining Project of Vedanta: Public Hearing Met With Resounding Opposition

Sijimali Bauxite Mining Project of Vedanta

The second Public Hearing, required to obtain the environmental clearance for the Sijimali Bauxite Mining Project of Vedanta, met with equal resounding opposition from local villagers. It was held on Oct 18 at Kerpai High School premises in Thuamul Rampur Block of Kalahandi district, Odisha. The battle between the two groups started early.

  • Company agents brought in their supporters from outside the region, before 3.30 AM. People reached there from all sides of the hills, and drove them away. Many chairs were found broken even before the public hearing began officially.
  • The public hearing started at 10 am and continued till 11.30 am. 12 to 13 women and men spoke from villages like Tadadei and Talangpadar from Kerpai Panchayat as well as Banteji and Kantamal from Sunger Panchayat. There were nearly 1500 people inside and outside the area around the podium and in the open ground. Many were not given a chance to speak.
  • There was heavy police and paramilitary presence everywhere; there were five check posts on the main road to the venue, and each post had about 20 police and paramilitary personnel. The venue had about 600-700 police and paramilitary personnel. Located on a hilltop, the venue and the passage to the venue were cordoned with barbed wire. The barbed wire fence went up to another hill and through the nearby forests.
  • The police at check posts were verifying peoples’ Aadhar cards and intimidating those who did not come with any identity cards, preventing them, and thus many more from reaching Kerpai.
  • Those who spoke and opposed the project by Vedanta pointed out the major gaps in the EIA report. They said the EIA report was written in a biased way to claim that the local ecology and environment would not be affected by the mining project.
  • Women asked the company and government how they were able to arrive at the conclusion that their farming and lands would not be affected by mining, especially the varied millet crops they grow on podu lands (on hill slopes).
  • Women testified that they have seen the plight of their relatives in villages in and around Utkal Alumina’s bauxite mines (at Baphlimali) and refinery plant (at Tikri).
  • A woman from Banteji spoke powerfully on how, when the company agents and officials came to her village to threaten and force them to support the mining project, they called them poor. She said, “so I ask the company, if we are poor then why are you coming to take the mountains from us? You all think Adivasi and Dalit people are fools and illiterate ! But from the time of our ancestors we have been living in these lands and mountains very well without any support from the government systems and the company doles. So we can do it even now for the next generations to come”.
  • Women questioned the officials present about how can this process be just. They expressed that they are crying from within, wondering why the government is coming to their villages bringing with it the company. They said they have trusted the government as their ‘keeper and guardian’ but now they are shocked to see the administration coming with such force and hatred to take away their lands and mountains.
  • An Adivasi person said, “the government must think and act like a human being. But this government has no affinity for humans, animals, trees, birds and all life form inhabiting this earth. This government does not think like we Adivasis do. The government needs to develop a humanity to be able to empathise with us Adivasis”.
  • Some critiqued the idea of development that was based on profiting and making money by digging up and destroying peoples’ lands and mountains, moreover, without the consent of Adivasis and Dalits. They appealed to the government to return whatever money it had taken from the company during the signing of the handover papers for Sijimali. Since people are completely opposed to this mining, what will the government do with the money it has taken from the company?
  • One strong shared opinion was that Sijimali, Kutrumali and Majhingmali, are like the souls of our peoples and the government is trying to destroy this soul. They asked, how does the government think people will be able to live, if their souls are killed by this mining proposal ? They said that there is no point in living, if this mining happens. They warned the government, that if it breaks their access to these mountains, then they would all die.
  • A young man from Banteji said that Karlapat wildlife sanctuary in Thuamul Rampur Block is very close to the mining lease area. For generations now, it has been the habitat of elephants, snakes, reptiles, numerous bird species and tigers. He said, “We, Adivasis and Dalits, have a very deep and sacred connect to these animals and they are all equally dependent on these forests of Karlapat like us. So, if you mine here, it will definitely affect Karlapat wildlife sanctuary and along with us, it will destroy these animals and their habitats too. So what is your plan for saving these animals ?
  • The mother of Umakant Naik, who is in Rayagada Sub-Jail, approached the podium with her infant grandchild in her arms, lamenting in song verses about how her son was arrested and how his infant child and wife are living in pain and distress. She was not allowed to speak and was escorted out from the venue.
  • The venue reverberated throughout with the slogans ‘Vedanta go back’, “No to mining in Sijimali’, ‘Mythri go back’. Towards the end, some pro-company villagers changed sides and joined the protests.
  • When the public hearing was officially concluded by the ADM of Kalahandi, without following the required procedure of summarizing all the views, the company staff and government officials were immediately escorted by police and paramilitary personnel into two Bolero vehicles parked close to the podium. The media did not get any scope to ask questions.
  • People showered the cars with water-filled bottles, which had been bought for the paramilitary personnel, while asking the company to go back and not be seen in Sijimali ever again.
  • The District Administration is yet to make any public statement about how the public hearing was conducted, or the issues raised by those present.


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