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Niyamgiri Triumph

A victory for the enforcement of the rights of adivasis, but does this really mark a new beginning?

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has taken a courageous decision to deny the Orissa Mining Corporation (a joint venture between the Government of Orissa and Vedanta Alumina) permission for mining bauxite in 660.75 ha of forest land in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Orissa. This is a reprieve for the primitive tribal groups (PTGS) of the Dongaria and Kutia Kondhs whose community rights to the forests on and around the Niyamgiri Hills now stand enforced. For once the government in New Delhi has stood up to rapacious corporate interests. But there will be nagging questions: Does this really mark the turning of the tide in favour of the interests of adivasis while taking decisions on mega projects in forest areas? Or is this a one-off decision, a cynical strategy of the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to cultivate a pro-adivasi image in opposition-ruled Orissa, alongside a drive for unknown reasons (intra-corporate rivalry?) to put down an ascending Vedanta?

Even as we applaud the decisions of the various bodies under the MOEF and of Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh to come down on the side of the Kondhs in their battle against Vedanta, it is instructive to list the failures over the past three years of every agency of the State that dealt with this project.

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