The first gram sabha held to decide proposed bauxite mining in Odisha's Niyamgiri hills for Vedanta group's alumina plant on Thursday unanimously voted against it, with tribals asserting their religious and cultural rights over the hills.
The gram sabha or village meeting, held on the directive of the Supreme Court, also passed a resolution stating that mining the Niyamgiri hilltop would not be allowed under any circumstances as it would adversely affect the tribals' religious and cultural rights.
The gram sabha was held at Serkapadi village in the well-forested Rayagada district, more than 500 km southwest of Bhubaneswar, following an order by the Supreme Court on 18 April.
''Out of the total 44 villagers, 36 villagers were present in the gram sabha,'' Rayagada collector Sashi Bhusan Padhi said.
All those present, including 20 men and 16 women, opposed mining.
The apex court in its order had said the decision of the gram sabhas of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts was crucial on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in the hills, home to nearly 10,000 endangered Dangria Kondh tribals.
Following the apex court's order, the Odisha government had issued notices to the collectors of the two districts to complete the process of gram sabhas in 12 villages – five in Kalahandi and seven in Rayagada – between 18 July and 19 August.
The state government's decision however has drawn flak from social activists as well as union tribal affairs ministry, who want gram sabhas in more than 100 tribal villages around Niyamgiri hills.
Those opposing Vedanta also alleged that the government was not talking to all the tribals, only selecting those villages where resistance was least expected. Sibasankar Ulaka from the Youth Congress in-charge of the Niyamgiri region said, "This is a fact. We had to therefore make arrangements to transport and accommodate tribals from nearby villages to Serkapedi last evening. Even they want to be heard but the government is not hearing them."