The administration in Odisha’s Rayagada district on Monday held a public hearing for Vedanta Limited’s proposed Sijimali bauxite mining project, amid protests by those opposed to it.
While more than 150 armed police personnel were guarding the venue at a school at Sunger under Kashipur block, hundreds of men and women assembled to participate in the hearing.
Though several people alleged that they were denied entry into the venue, the Rayagada district administration claimed that the views of both sides were taken and their grievances redressed during the meeting.
“There was no law and order situation at the public hearing venue though several hundred people participated in the meeting. There was some noise at the meeting venue, but many villagers were allowed to speak their minds,” Rayagada collector Swadha D Singh told PTI.
While some of the people supported the mining project, others opposed it, he said.
“We have recorded all the views. The people’s opinion will be sent to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,” Singh said.
The public hearing was attended by the officials of the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB), Bhubaneswar, district administration officials and project proponents.
People who are opposed to the project raised slogans and allegedly broke a police barricade during a protest. The police, however, controlled the situation.
Anti-displacement activist and advocate Biswapriya Kanungo termed the public hearing as an “arbitrary procedure” claiming that people attended it in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
“Therefore, the very purpose of holding the public hearing is defeated,” Kanungo said.
Another activist Narendra Mohganty said as many as 21 people have been arrested and sent to jail for opposing the mining project while more than 95 people are booked in “fake” cases for not supporting the project.
Sources said that the proposed bauxite mining at Sijimali area is likely to displace 100 families from 18 villages and also affect the livelihoods of an additional 500 families.
“About 80 per cent of the people to be displaced due to the proposed project are tribals,” Kanungo said.
The proposed mining lease area where 18 villages are located is classified under Schedule V in the Constitution due to the preponderance of the Adivasi population.
Earlier, the Maoists on Sunday had asked people people to boycott the public hearing. On October 6, nearly 25,000 people of 24 gram panchayats in Kashipur and Thuamul Rampur blocks, held a rally in Kashipur, supporting the proposed bauxite mining.