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Tribals up-in-arms against Vedanta

Bhubaneswar, April 25: At least 30,000 people, many of them tribals, led by Green Kalahandi, an outfit founded by former Union minister Bhakta Charan Das, today gheraoed the office of Kalahandi district collector in Bhawanipatna to oppose the 1-million tonne alumina refinery by Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Alumina.

The gherao marked the end of the 12-day rally by Green Kalahandi in the district to protest against the refinery. The protesters along with politicians from the Congress, the CPI and the CPM vowed to stop the $900 million project. The agitators also blocked several roads in the town.

Tribal women dressed in traditional attire and wearing colourful headgear held placards that read “Vedanta go back”.

State Congress chief Jaydev Jena was present at the demonstration.

The rallyists, who started their march on April 14 from Kesinga town of Kalahandi, coursed through Lanjigarh and Niyamgiri, on foot braving the hot April sun. Das led the rallyists.

“The gherao is to protest the mindless exploitation of land, water and natural resources of the district by Vedanta. They must leave Kalahandi,” Das said over phone. “Vedanta is destroying the rich bio-system of Niyamgiri Hills by mining activities. The people would foil the company’s evil designs,” he said.

Kumuti Majhi, a tribal, said people belonging to his tribe would oppose the refinery tooth and nail. “The company can’t give us jobs. But it would take our water, forest and land. We would not allow the company to stay in Kalahandi,” he said.

Despite the presence of police slogans like “Vedanta go back”, “Niyamgiri or No Niyamgiri” and “Vedanta must leave Kalahandi” and “We want development not disaster” rent the air.

Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri, armed with traditional weapons, joined the protest. The Dongrias are among the most primitive tribes of the country and are found in the Niyamgiri Hills only.

Vedanta signed an agreement with Orissa in 2004 to set up an alumina refinery in bauxite-rich Lanjigarh.

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