Adivasis of Odisha’s Niyamgiri lend support to movement against against Vedanta’s zinc plant in Gujarat

The Kond Adivasis of Niyamgiri of Kalahandi district of Odisha had succeeded in stopping the Vedanta group from mining bauxite from the Niyamgiri hill top after a long drawn out agitation

Representative Image
Representative Image

Nachiketa Desai

The movement of Adivasis against the proposed zinc smelter plant of Vedanta in South Gujarat got a boost with Odisha’s Niyamgiri Adivasis deciding to lend their support to the fight against the London-based mining multinational conglomerate.

The Kond Adivasis of Niyamgiri of Kalahandi district of Odisha had succeeded in stopping the Vedanta group from mining bauxite from the Niyamgiri hill top after a long drawn out agitation. It was after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who addressed a rally at Niyamgiri and expressed his support to the Adivasis’ struggle that the Union government denied Vedanta the permission to excavate bauxite from the Niyamgiri hill which is worshipped by the Kond Adivasis as their God.

The leader of the Niyamgiri Adivasi struggle against Vedanta, Lingaraj Azad, along with five Kond Adivasis, is coming to South Gujarat’s Tapi district, to lead a cycle rally from Doswada village, the proposed site of Vedanta’s Rs 10,000 crore aluminium smelter, that will cover 95 villages, 91 villages of Gujarat and 4 of Maharashtra, that fall within 10 km radius of the proposed plant.

As many as 250 Adivasi youth have enlisted to join the cycle rally which will start from Doswada on October 2 and will be back on October 10 after covering 95 villages of Gujarat and Maharashtra to create awareness about the hazards of the zinc plant and to mobilise support for the movement against the plant.

The leader of the movement against Vedanta at Niyamgiri, Lingaraj Azad, will not only participate in the cycle rally but will also address meeting of Adivasis on October 11, a day after the culmination of the cycle rally.

The rally will also be attended by Dr Surendra Gadekar, a physicist, and editor of the anti-nuclear movement, Anumukti, and his doctor wife Sanghamitra. The couple have been active in anti-nuke movement in the country since last two decades. Dr Sanghamitra, who completed her master’s degree in medicine from the US, had conducted health survey of villagers residing in Rawatbhata, Rajasthan, around the atomic power station and in Jaduguda, Jharkhand, around the uranium mines. The BBC has made a documentary on her work and so has eminent film-maker Anand Patwardhan.

Dr Surendra Gadekar, on the other hand, has done his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, and post doctoral from Iowa State University and has been editing the anti-nuke magazine, Anumukti.

The Adivasis of Songadh taluka of Tapi district of South Gujarat have been protesting against the proposed zinc smelter of Vedanta for the last three months after the pollution control board of Gujarat made public the environment impact assessment report of the proposed zinc plant. This report has mentioned that the zinc plant would release highly toxic elements such as cadmium, lead and arsenic besides sulphuric acid.

The report was released just a week before the pollution control board announced holding of public hearing. The Adivasi Panch, organisation of Adivasis of Tapi district, and the village heads of over a dozen villages had requested the district collector to postpone the public hearing in view of the prevailing Covid pandemic condition.

Yet, the public hearing was held. Thousands of Adivasis turned up for the hearing where they vehemently opposed the zinc plant saying it would have adverse impact on the health of people and cattle as well ruin their fertile land. There was a clash between police and the Adivasis after the police resorted to lathi charge and lobbed teargas shells.

The district collector was compelled to postpone the public hearing following the incident. The next public hearing is yet to be held.

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