The Odisha Chapter of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD) which played a vital role in the struggle for the enactment of historic Forest Rights Act, blamed Jayanthi Natarajan, former Minister of State, MoEF for disrespecting Forest Rights Act, 2006 a constitutional provision. Countering her recent statement made in the media that “she rejected environmental clearance to Vendanta despite tremendous pressure from her colleagues in cabinet and huge criticism from industry………fortunately, my decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.” CSD alleged that by saying this she has not only disrespected FRA but also disrespected the Supreme Court of India. In her whole media statement and even in the long letter written to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, she has neither mentioned of the provisions under FRA, nor the decision of the Supreme Court of India, nor on the protest of Dongaria Kondh which finally led to the dismissal of mining in Niyamgiri Hills.
CSD has contended that the cancellation of stage-II forest clearance to Vedanta was due to the violation historic Forest Rights Act, 2006 enacted during UPA-I along with the historic struggle of the Dongaria Kondh to save Niyamgiri. “The Forest Rights Act is the law of the land. This is not about Rahul Gandhi or Jayanthi Natarajan. It is about people’s rights to their land and forests. This is what the Supreme Court had also held” CSD claims.
CSD also asserted that “even the MoEF’s refusal for Stage-II forest clearance to Vedanta on August 24, 2010 for diversion of 660 hectares of forest land for bauxite mining in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts was based on the Forest Advisory Committee’s (FAC) adverse views on violation of rights of the tribal groups and impact on the ecology and biodiversity of the area”.
CSD is also of the view that even the Supreme Court of India did not decide on the Vedanta case rather it left on the Gram Sabhas (the village council) to finally decide whether mining would be done in the Niyamgiri Hills or not and based on the Supreme Court’s direction referendum (process of direct democracy) was held in which 985 tribals from 12 villages (seven in Rayagada district–Serkapadi, Kesarpadi, Khambesi, Jarapa, Batudi, Lamba and Lakhpadar and five in Kalahandi – Tadijhola, Palberi, Phuldumer, Ijurupa and Kunakuda) took part and unanimously decided to reject the bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills.
Commenting on the statement recently made by Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister and Prakash Jawadekar, Minister Forest and Environment of Central Government to review all projects granted environment clearance or rejected by the UPA regime in wake of Natarajan’s allegations, CSD has cautioned the Central Govt. not to review the Vedanta case. CSD has made it clear that “the BJP and others who are trying to pander to the corporate lobby should remember that diversion of Niyamgiri would have been a crime under the law and all the officials concerned should have been jailed.” “The Central government needs to answer on whether it is respecting these laws or not. There needs to be an inquiry into all diversion to verify if it complied with the Forest Rights Act and to limit the inquiry of diversion only to Jayanthi Natarajan’s time shows that the current Central government is only interested in getting political mileage, while continuing to commit crimes.” CSD alleged.
“Countering the State Government’s claims of ownership rights over the mines and mineral deposits beneath the forest land, and the tribal could not raise any claim over them, nor did the gram sabha have any right to adjudicate such claims, the Supreme Court in its historic verdict had said that State held minerals only as a trustee for the people and the tribal have a vital role to play in the environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. The SC had further said that State has got a duty to recognise and duly support their identity, culture and interest so that they can effectively participate in achieving sustainable development,” CSD reiterated.
Criticizing the prevailing opportunistic party politics, CSD has sought for direct democracy in the villages duly established under FRA, 2006 and upheld by the Supreme Court of India on 18th April 2013 in the Vedanta case. “Janyanthi’s statement is dishonoring the authority of the Gram Sabha Sarkar, disrespecting rights, dignity and struggles of the Dongaria Kondh tribals who fought and won the battle in the Supreme Court of India.” CSD pointed out. CSD has also condemned the State Government for openly violating FRA in the process of diversion of forest land in the State.