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Niyamgiri team seeks support

Bhubaneswar, July 26: A confrontation between the Odisha government and the Union ministry of tribal affairs over the gram sabhas being organised to decide the fate of the Niyamgiri bauxite mining project seems to be on the cards.

Miffed with the Odisha government’s decision to hold the meetings at only 12 of over 100 villages in the Niyamgiri area spread over Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, the Centre has constituted a five-member team to assess evidence about claims having been filed from other villages as well.

The Union ministry, in a letter to the Odisha chief secretary, has urged the state government to provide logistic support to the team, which will visit the two districts between August 4 and 8.

The team consists of deputy secretary of the tribal affairs ministry Gopal Sadhwani, consultant in the ministry Sreetama Guptabhaya and legal expert Shomona Khanna, apart from two office-bearers of a Bhubaneswar-based NGO.

The gram sabhas are being organised in tune with a Supreme Court judgment. The court ordered that opinion of the tribal people, inhabiting the villages to be affected by the project, should be sought.

The letter from the Union government said that the ministry, which had received copies of several claims from villages beyond the 12 chosen by the Odisha government, sought the opinion of the law and justice ministry on the issue. The law and justice ministry had endorsed the position taken by the Centre.

“The ministry of law has opined that the scope of filing the claims is open for the entire district of Rayagada and Kalahandi and there is nothing in the Supreme Court judgment to restrict the same to 12 villages,” the letter said.

However, the Odisha government, which has already organised gram sabhas at five villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts following submission of claims by the local tribal people, continues to stick to its guns. An official said there was no change in their stand on the issue.