Explained: Why there are protests against a mining lease to Hindalco in Odisha’s Koraput

Despite resistance, a public hearing on mining in Mali hills in Koraput district of Odisha was held on Monday. It was on environmental issues regarding the mining lease granted to Hindalco Industries Ltd. 

Despite public resistance, the Koraput district administration in Odisha organised a public hearing on Monday (November 22) on environmental issues regarding the mining lease granted to Hindalco Industries Ltd. The hearing was held amid strict police force deployment, and after over 30 protesting activists and villages were taken into preventive custody. The event was held two months after a public hearing on the same was cancelled due to protests.

The hearing was organised by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), on a report it submitted to the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on mining bauxite in the Maliparbat hill. Villagers and environmentalists have called it a gross violation of their “fundamental rights”, and will challenge the SPCB report.

What is the hearing about?

The Maliparbat hill, spread over 270 acres and 40 km from Koraput at Doliamba village, is rich in bauxite resources. It is estimated to have a total bauxite reserve of 14 million tonnes. It was leased to Hindalco in 2006, but the mining company failed to carry out any operations due to stiff resistance from the tribals, which resulted in the expiry of the lease terms. The bauxite excavation had begun for a very brief period in 2012, but was halted again due to resistance to the transportation of the mineral.

In April 2021, the expert appraisal committee of the MoEF&CC considered its environmental impact assessment (EIA) report and permitted it to conduct a public hearing for environmental clearance.

Why is there public resistance?

Tribals residing in nearby villages have alleged that mining activities in Maliparbat would affect around 42 villages under Sorishapodar, Dalaiguda and Pakhajhola panchayats. Environmentalists have also said that mining would deplete water sources from around 32 perennial streams and four canals in Maliparbat, adversely affecting the livelihoods of the tribals. The Mali and forest area are inhabited by members of Kondha, Paraja and Gadaba tribes.

On November 18, women from different villages under Semiliguda block had gathered at the Collectorate and resisted the hearing scheduled for Monday on grounds that most of their senior leaders who have led the protest were behind bars.

What happened during the previous hearing?

A previous hearing scheduled on September 22 was cancelled after villagers faced off with the district administration and Hindalco officials in Kankaramba village. As many as 28 people were arrested based on an FIR filed by an assistant sub-inspector of Semiliguda police station, under charges of rioting, armed with deadly weapons, causing hurt to a public servant, causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons, attempt to murder and criminal intimidation.

A background of the conflict

The opposition to the mining activities in Maliparbat dates back to 2003, when a public hearing was organised by the Odisha SPCB for environmental clearance. After a lease was granted to Hindalco, villagers had alleged that their grievances and objections to the project were ignored in the final report to the MoEF&CC.

In its lease agreement, the company was given the approval to extract 0.6 million tonnes of bauxite from the hill per year. The environmental clearance of the company expired in 2011. After MoEF&CC permitted a public hearing for environmental clearance, the SPCB organised the public hearing on September 22, which was disrupted by protests. It was then rescheduled to November 22.

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