This is about an incident happened in the year 1995. One Kondh tribal lady courageously came in front of the armed police forces and blocked their entry into the hamlet. The police force was there to evacuate the tribal villagers for a mining company. Villagers were blocking the road.
The then Superintendent of Police warned the villagers to leave the road otherwise they would burn entire hamlet. He was there with district revenue officers to serve the notice of Land Acquisition for the bauxite mining company, Hindalco.
Entire women folk of that hamlet were standing behind that old woman. When she, at her age of 45, heard of threat of burning the houses she could not resist herself. She threw her saree before the SP andshouted,“Beware! Do not step forth. If you want to go into the hamlet, you must go past me. …. If you choose to do so, remember one more thing… if you once touch my body, you will have to marry me. That’s the tradition of this hamlet.” All village women were standing behind Alayi Majhi.
This happened much before the women of Manipur striped and shouted in 2004, ‘Indian army rape us’. That old lady was Alai Majhi of Barigaon village of Koraput district in southern Odisha.
This was early days of entry of Hindalco to Kashipur-Laxmipur area of Koraput district in Southern Odisha. Kodinga Hill then was given to Hindalco for mining bauxite. This was given by the then Chief Minister of Odisha Biju Patnaik of Janata Dal in 1993 without signing any MOU with the Company.
Such move was part of New Economic Policy of Privatisation and Liberalisation for opening up of bauxite mining for private corporations and MNCs. This NEP was implemented by the Narasingh Rao-Manmohan Singh led Congress government at the Center.That time the Congress was in the opposition in Odisha assembly. But there is no difference between the Janata Dal and the Congress ifissue comes relating to any big Corporations.
The New Economic Policy has leveled the battle field.
The villagers including Alai Majhi were opposing constructionsof a dam on river Vasundhara coming from Kodinga Hill. But construction of such dam was essential for supplying water to the Hindalco mining project. This is an essential feature of bauxite that it keeps rain water for a longer time. I have seen several perennial streams around bauxite hillsincluding Kodingain southern Odisha.
On that day of 1995 finally the police forces withdrew from the village. Later, several leaders of the area including Bulka Miniaka were arrested. Bulka was telling me, “They filed cases against me. The police OIC (Officer In Charge) came to arrest me. He asked me, ‘what do you want?’ I said ‘I want our land, forest and river.’ Then he did not talk with me and sent me to the jail. Had I said money, he would not have sent me to jail.” I was then making my documentary film “The Conflict”. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hrIt5l0r-A&t=453s)
Sabiha Bhoomi Gowda, famous Kannada writer who had come to the Alayi Majhi’s village in 2014 writes after returning from Odisha, ‘All through the journey, I kept ruminating over Basavaraj Kattimani’s short story “Ajnatavasi” (The unknown Person) and Mahaswetha Devi’s “Dopdi”. Though both the stories deal with oppression and violence, the worldviews of these two authors have symbolically blossomed in these (Alayi’s) narratives.
That time Kodinga Hill was saved from the clutches of Hindalco.
Now Mr. Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha and son of Biju Patnaik has given Kodinga Hill to the Vedanta Company. The Vedanta Co. will not do mining on its own. Rather Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), a State Public Sector Unit will extract bauxite and will supply it to the Vedanta Co. The deal was done on 10th January 2017 and happened without waiting for environment clearance.
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2015 gives the state government to do so (section 4(A).When this Act was presented in form of Bill in Loksabha by the new government wider opposition was there from environmentalists and activists.
Prior to such granting of lease of mining bauxite in Kodinga hill, several sponsored stories were coming in mainstream media about difficulties of Vedanta Co. of not getting sufficient bauxite for its Lanjigada alumina plant and Jharshuguda Aluminium plant both in Odisha.
Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mining project could not succeed because consent of Gramsabha went against the Company. The Dongaria Kondh villages had given their opinion against the Vedanta Co. in 2013.
In these years Naveen Patnaik, CM of Odisha, has never said a word in favor of the tribals of Odisha. But he and his mining minister, Prafulla Mallick, have expressed their ‘concerns’ several times over deficient supply of bauxite after the Gramsabha resolution to the UK based Vedanta Co Limited.
In India, democracy can be purchased and democracy can be sold also.
Kodinga Hill is spreaded over 428.31 hectares of land in Koraput-Rayagada district. On one side of the Hill, several villages of Champi and Pipalapadar panchayats are situated. On its other side Mankadajhola panchayat of Kashipur block of Rayagada district is situated. If mining happens then large number of tribals and dalits will suffer. The government has never thought over its impact on life of tribals in the mining area. It has never felt its urgency.
The tribals, mainly Kondh and Paroja, are doing cultivation on both sides of perennial streams flowing from Kodinga Hill. It is established that wherever bauxite mining has happened it has dried up the streams. Such mining has forced people to migrate other areas. This has happened to the villagers around Panchaput Hill where NALCO, National Aluminum Company, is doing mining.
For this 81 million ton bauxite of Kodinga Hill, no Public Hearing has yet been done. The government also has not taken consent of Gramsabha before granting mining lease to the OMC/Vedanta. It is desired in the law because this area comes under fifth schedule of the constitution.
But everything can be manipulated.
Earlier, the Vedanta Co. got lease of Niyamgiri in 2005 to mine bauxite. It had started constructing conveyor belt to the Niyamgiri hill without any forest clearance from the Forest Dept. The state bureaucracy had played dubious role behind such construction for which it was possible. Finally the matter went to the Supreme Court and the Court directed the state government in 2013 to conduct Gramsabhas in Niyamgiri villages.
But the administrators who played an important role in manipulating entire forest clearanceshave never been punished. Rather theyhave got promotion. For example, the then District Collector of Kalahandi in which Niyamgiri comes had worked for Vedanta. But later he was placedas the Directorof the Odisha Mining Corporation instead of his suspension from the job. The government has lot of faiths on them.
This time, the man behind such ‘success’ of Vedanta, isMr. Bijay Kumar Patnaik, retd. IAS officer. He was Chief Secretary of Odisha and had served as Principal Secretary to the CM Naveen Patnaik as well.He was nominated as Member of State Human Rights Commission after his retirement in 2014. But he quit his prestigious post and joined Vedanta Group in 2015.
Some people have taken birth to serve the State and the Corporations. They never feel bad with slavery.
But the struggle of Alayi Majhi has always been a source of inspiration for the activists and writers who have come to the area, have a dream of better society and have supported the tribal struggles Sabiha Bhoomi Gowda writes in that travel story “Alayi” that ‘Alayi is a unique and rare example of unparalleled courage in unforeseen circumstances. Further her resistance has accelerated the struggle against oppression so that the work on the Vasundhara has come to a standstill.’
Now worldwide resistance against mining of Kodinga Hill by the Vedanta Co. is needed.
Deba Ranjan is an activist from Odisha