Vedanta Resources Plc's proposed bauxite mining project in Orissa's Niyamgiri Hills now looks a non-starter, as the seventh of 12 gram sabhas - at Phuldumer in Kalahandi district – on Monday rejected the plan (See: Niyamgiri villagers vote to boot out Vedanta bauxite project).
Earlier, the first six of the 12 villages in the Rayagada and Kalahandi districts chosen by the state for a referendum on Niyamgiri mining, too, had turned down the proposal
The remaining five gram sabhas, scheduled for 10 August, are not expected to buck the trend.
Commentators surmise this therefore looks like the end of the decade-long struggle between local residents and the London-based miner that wanted to dig up the ore crucial for its alumina refinery.
The Supreme Court in April said a ban on Vedanta's bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills would remain until local gram sabhas conducted a study and filed a report on whether it could be allowed to mine in the area.
The Orissa government identified 12 villages to prepare the reports.
In its order, the apex court gave gram sabhas in the Rayagada and Kalahandi districts three months to prepare their reports on whether bauxite mining can be allowed and to what extent.
Though the Supreme Court had asked for the gram sabhas' mandate on the protection of tribals' religious rights over their presiding deity, Niyam Raja, located at Hundaljali, about 10 km from the proposed mining site, the villagers in all gram sabhas have claimed religious rights over the entire hill range - not just Hundaljali.
''This village (Phuldumer) repeated what the previous villages have said against the mining. This was a unanimous no. But this village is more significant than the others because it is a village where Vedanta was doing development work to convince the villagers for the mining,'' Sidarth Nayak of NGO Green Kalahandi said.
The apex court's direction was to preserve the religious and cultural rights of the Dongaria Kondhs at Niyamgiri.
P K Nayak, block development officer of Lanjigarh, under which Phuldumer village falls, told Mint newspaper over the phone that the villagers were ''not ready for mining in Niyamgiri''.
Ljirupa, another village in Lanjigarh block, will hold a meeting on Tuesday to give its opinion on bauxite mining in the hills, he said.
The latest gram sabha decision means a majority of the 12 villages that are being officially consulted by the Orissa authorities have rejected the proposal, Amnesty International said in a statement.
''Today's vote surely means the end of Vedanta's plans to mine the Niyamgiri Hills - a project that would violate the community's economic, social and cultural rights and almost certainly their rights as indigenous peoples,'' Ramesh Gopalakrishnan of Amnesty International said in the statement.
''After struggling for a decade against the threat to their way of life, the Dongria Kondh have now finally been able to assert their right not to consent to the mine.''