Arbitrary arrest of 28 tribal youths for protesting against proposed bauxite mining in Odisha

The Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has issued an urgent appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India on 28 November 2021 regarding the arbitrary arrest of 28 tribal youths for protesting against the proposed bauxite mining at their sacred shrine of Mali Parbat in Koraput district of Odisha.

The Adivasis of Odisha have been resisting bauxite mining at their sacred shrine of Mali Parbat for more than two decades. The operations of the Hindalco Industries Ltd (part of Aditya Birla Group) were halted due to the tribals stiff resistance, but the company’s lease was extended by 50 years in April 2021 by the Odisha Government. The local tribals, majority of them from the Paraja tribe, have been resisting the mining of their sacred hill of Mali Parbat because they fear destruction of their livelihood and cultural heritage and adverse impacts on the environment and forests. If the mining is allowed, four Gram Panchayats including Pakajhola around Mali Hill are going to be affected by the project. These four Gram Panchayats together have 44 villages with a population of around 20,000 people who are mostly tribals. On 22 September 2021, the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) of Odisha held a public hearing at Kankaramba village in Koraput district on issue of granting of environmental clearances to the company for mining. But there are allegations that the police and paramilitary forces deployed there prevented the public from reaching the venue in the village of Kankadamba. The hearing was called off amid widespread protest, after officials began it ahead of schedule. In retaliation to the protest by the tribals, the police arrested at least 28 tribal youth based on a first information report filed by the assistant sub-inspector of Semiliguda police station. Among the 28 youths jailed included a class eight Adivasi student. All of them have been booked on a series of criminal charges, including attempt-to-murder, criminal intimidation, rioting and “obscene acts and songs”, all of which were “false” according to the local tribals.

The Forest Rights Act provides that “the free informed consent of the Gram Sabhas” to resettlement of the Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers and to the package of resettlement and rehabilitation has to be obtained in writing.

Further section 5 of the FRA states, “5. The holders of any forest right, Gram Sabha and village level institutions in areas where there are holders of any forest right under this Act are empowered to (a) protect the wild life, forest and biodiversity; (b) ensure that adjoining catchments area, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas are adequately protected; (c) ensure that the habitat of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage; (d) ensure that the decisions taken in the Gram Sabha to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are complied with.” Hence, without the consent of the concerned Gram Sabhas within the areas affected by the mining of sacred shrine of Mali Parbat in Koraput district cannot be allowed.

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Image Description: Bijoy Khillo along with other women leaders in the village walking towards the public hearing venue. He was later arrested with 27 others on 22 September 2021