India: environmental defenders receive death threats, arrested for opposing irregular public hearingEvent
- Initial Date
- Sep 22, 2021
- Event Description
The Adivasis and Dalit farmers of Odisha have been resisting bauxite mining at their sacred shrine of Mali Parbat for more than two decades. Spanning across 270 acres, the Mali Parbat mine is in Koraput district, in south Odisha.
The 2007 mining lease of Hindalco Industries expired after it operations were halted due to the tribe’s stiff resistance. In April, the company’s lease was extended by 50 years and it applied for fresh environmental clearance.
When the tribal activists protested the September 22 public hearing of the company, some of them received alleged death threats. Activist Sharanya Nayak, who participated in the hearing, told Newsclick that “325 objections had been raised against the EIA [environmental impact assessment] reports that gave the go-ahead to mining”.
Explaining how officials ensured that there was no opposition during the hearing, Nayak said, “The villagers of Doliamaba had geared were all set to participate in the hearing. There were more than 700 written physical objections against the proposed mining. However, the police, company officials and hired goons had blocked the three roads leading up to the venue. The officials started the meeting before the scheduled time of 11 am to ensure there was no opposition.”
Alleging that “company officials or people hired by them are threatening and singling out the activists who had opposed the public hearing and mining”, Nayak said, “One such activist, Abhi Sadepelli who is secretary of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, and his wife were threatened that they would be killed if he does not support mining in the region. The activists have registered police complaints against the ongoing death threats.”
When the lease was awarded to Hindalco in 2007, the EIA report mentioned that there was no water body in Mali Parbat.
According to The Hindu, Hindalco failed to mine bauxite till 2011and its environmental clearance expired. However, it started illegal mining in 2012-2014 without an environmental clearance, which was resisted by the tribe.
Locals allege that neither the company nor the state government have clearly explained the adverse impact mining to the villagers. The villagers contend that the EIA report, prepared by VIMTA Laboratory Private Limited of Hyderabad, disregarded the impact of mining on the water sources and subsequent effects on agriculture and horticulture.
The villagers said mining will affect more than 44 villages directly and 200 villages indirectly. While the EIA report shows that there are no water bodies, the villagers said that there are 32 perennial streams and four canals emerging from this hill. Nearly 2,500 families inhabiting 44 villages relying on this water for irrigation will be adversely affect as mining will impact the streams and soil moisture, they added. Other likely hazards are water and soil pollution due to dumping of oil, lubricants and other waste material by the company.
Besides, significant land degradation caused by mining has not been mentioned in the EIA report. Odisha is among the states with the highest soil erosion caused by mining and deforestation. Koraput already has other bauxite mines, including Deomali. Serious soil erosion and land degradation have adversely impacted the region.
Rajan, an anti-mining activist and supporter of Adivasi movements, said, “The Naveen Patnaik government is acting as a stooge for Hindalco and all the other extractive industries; it is against Adivasis and Dalit farmers. The leaders of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti are being harassed and threatened for opposing the proposed Hindalco mining at Mali Parbat.”
Alleging that the public relations officer and the company’s staff are instigating fights at villages, Rajan told Newsclick, “The Koraput local administration and the police, who are hand in glove with the company, are trying to book villagers and tribal leaders who opposed mining under false charges.”
Besides the environmental concerns, the villagers have religious and cultural sentiments attached to the hill. There Adivasis have a place of worship in the Mali Parbat known as Pakuli Pahar Gumpha (sacred cave). The deity is worshiped by the natives of the surrounding villages of Aligon, Kachiguda, Daleiguda, Rajaniguda, Pakijhola and Mania. This old religious place will be destroyed if mining resumes. Attempts by Newsclick to contact Hindalco didn’t get any response.
On September 22, 2021, the public hearing commenced in the presence of Mr. Deben Kr Pradhan, ADM of Koraput and other officials at 9 AM, around two hours prior to the scheduled start at 11 AM. Angered by this breach of due procedure, residents of 44 villagers from four panchayats – Kanti, Sorisha Padar, Daleiguda and Pakujhola – who arrived for the hearing shouted slogans and demanded the hearing be cancelled. The authorities postponed the public hearing. On September 22, 2021, an FIR (91/2021) was registered in Semiliguda Police Station by Assistant Sub Inspector Padma Charana Nayak against the 36 Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti activists, including the organisation’s president Mr. Bijaya Khila were named in the FIR. They were charged under Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 294 (obscene words in public place), 307 (murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 326 (causing grievous hurt), 332 (causing grievous hurt to a public servant), 379 (theft), 427 (mischief causing damage up to Rs 50), and 506 of the Indian Penal Code; Section 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act; Section 3 of the PDPP Act; and Sections 25, 27 of the Arms Act. On September 24, 2021, police arrested seven HRDs including Mr. G Hemant Kumar (42), Mr. Rabi Khora (43), Mr. Mahanta Khosla (35), Mr. Samba Pangi (45), Mr. Bhikari Guntha (43), Mr. Dambaru Guntha (38) and Mr. Ratan Kadia (28). On October 5, five more HRDS were arrested in connection with the incident, including Mr. Khila, ex-sarpanch Mr. Dasi Nandibali, Mr. Giridhar Khila, Mr. Gobardhan and Mr. Mangudu.
On October 1, at 8.30 PM, police arrested 16-year-old Mr. Bikram Khara – a student of class 9 whose father Mr. Dasa Khara is named in the FIR; although he was a minor and Section 10 of the Juvenile Justice Act mandates that an apprehended juvenile be placed under the charge of the special juvenile police unit and produced before the Board within 24 hours, these provisions were not extended to him. None of the arrested HRDs were shown any arrest memo, or allowed access to a lawyer, in flagrant violation of DK Basu guidelines. They were all produced in court and are currently lodged in jail. Whereas other HRDs named in the FIR fear being arrested in violation of due procedure and are extremely concerned about their physical safety.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Other (e.g. undefined, organisation, community)
- (Arbitrary) Arrest and Detention
- Death threat
- Intimidation and Threats
- Rights Concerned
- Right to healthy and safe environment
- Right to liberty and security
- Right to Protest
- Community-based HRD
- Environmental rights defender
- Family of HRD
- Suspected non-state
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 22 September 2021, 36 community-based and environmental defenders were charged for protesting the irregularities of a public hearing on the extension of the licence of a bauxite mining company, and 16 of them including the 16-year-old son of a HRD were arbitrarily arrested in the next days by the police, while Mr. Abhi Sadepelli and his wife received death threats by unknown individuals in Koraput district, India.