Stage II clearance for the Bauxite Mining Project – Apex Court’s landmark Judgment on Mining in Niyamagiri Hills
The Apex Court vide its landmark judgement dated 18th April 2013 in the matter Orissa Mining Corporation vs. Ministry of Environment & Forest & Others, while validating the powers of the Gram Sabha under the Forest Rights Act, passed directions to serve as way out to settle the claims of locals vis-à-vis proposed mining operation in the region requiring the Gram Sabha to take a decision within three months and communicating the same to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). Furtherance to this the MoEF shall take a final decision on the grant of Stage II clearance for the Bauxite Mining Project in the light of the decisions of the Gram Sabha within two months thereafter.
A Writ Petition was filed to challenge the MoEF’s order dated 24.8.2010 rejecting the Stage-II forest clearance for diversion of 660.749 hectares of forest land for mining of bauxite ore in Lanjigarh Bauxite Mines in Kalahandi and Rayagada Districts of Orissa and also for other consequential reliefs on the grounds of violation of environment and forest laws besides violation of rights of primitive tribal groups such as the Dongria Kondh.
• For proper and effective implementation of the Act, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has issued certain guidelines and communicated to all the States and UTs.
• It was observed and noted that functions of the Gram Sabha, Sub-Divisional Level Committee, District Level Committee, State Level Monitoring Committee and procedure to be followed and the process of verification of claims etc. have been elaborately laid down by Forest Rights Act read with 2007 and 2012 Amendment Rules with regard to the manner in which the nature and extent of individual or customary forest rights or both have to be decided.
• Religious freedom guaranteed to STs and the TFDs under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution is intended to be a guide to a community of life and social demands. These Articles guarantee them the right to practice and propagate not only matters of faith or belief, but all those rituals and observations which are regarded as integral part of their religion. Their right to worship the deity Niyam-Raja has, therefore, to be protected and preserved.
• Gram Sabha has a role to play in safeguarding the customary and religious rights of the STs and other TFDs under the Forest Rights Act.
• Grama Sabha has an obligation to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the STs and other forest dwellers, their cultural identity, community resources etc., which they have to discharge following the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
• The Gram Sabha is free to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims. In the present matter, any fresh claims, as noted, can be filed before the Gram Sabha within six weeks from the date of the present Judgment.
• State Government as well as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to assist the Gram Sabha for settling the claims.
• Proceedings of the Gram Sabha to be attended by the District Judge (nominated by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Orissa) as an observer who shall sign the minutes of the proceedings, certifying that the proceedings of the Gram Sabha took place independently and completely uninfluenced.
The decision which came as a huge blow to concerns like Vedanta and Orissa Mining Corporation, strongly clarified a position that Gram Sabha is a statutory, legal authority and its consent is vital and necessary in the issues present at the local level.
In effect, the present judgment also sends a strong signal to those other thousands of Indian tribal community, whose rights in some way or the other gets jeopardized by inhuman acts coupled with vested acts of Corporate which in some way at times also find support from government agencies.
May we now see more such volunteer acts by people across?
First the mining ban in Karnataka and then in Orissa clears the picture that blind mining have to stop. Until and unless there is protection of rights of people and proper rehabilitation facility is available to them, mining is definitely a distinct task to achieve.
The verdict also cleared that the support of the State Government is cases like such shall have no bearing if the public support is not there. The industry now has to be very careful in making any large investment, in absence of any Environment and Social assessment, any such investment would be a short-sighted deal.