A 16-member fact-finding team of All India Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CDRO) and Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sangathan, Odisha (GASS) had been to Niyamgiri area and Vedanta Plant site, Lanjigada and spent three days from 26th to 28th April, 2019 there. All members got divided into two teams. One team visited various villages of Niyamgiri like Lakpadar, Belang Mandal and Dangamati to investigate violation of human rights in the region. Another team visited affected villages of Vedanta Plant like Chhatrapur, Rengapali and Bandhaguda, met family members of Dani Batra died on by Industrial security forces on 18th March at plant site. The team also went to meet British Kumar at his village Ghatikundru who was allegedly beaten by the SP of Kalahandi. The team members also met Inspector Incharge at Lanjigada police station and talked with the District Collector and the SP over phone.
Our findings :-
More violation of human rights in name of ‘Maoists’ : In Niyamgiri Dongaria adivasis who are in leadership of Save Niyamgiri Movement under banner of Niyamgri Suraksha Samiti have been targeted more in post –gramsabha (2013) situation. At Dangamati village Manda Kandraka died in an encounter by the security forces on 27th February 2017 allegedly as ‘Maoist’. Since then none of the official has visited his village. Lado Sikaka of Lakpadar village has been picked up twice by the police without notice and had been released every time with a warning. In a similar way 16 tribals leaders either have been put into jail in name of Maoist like in case of Dasuru Kadraka of Garata village or have been released with a confessional statement not to be associated with any joint activities. The midnight raid and picking up of Kuni Sikaka (17) of Garata village on 1st May 2017 by the police suspecting her as ‘Maoist’ and when agitation happened she was released under false confessional statement are undemocratic. Lingaraj azad who is at the forefront of the struggle has been arrested and harassed by the police several times.
Adivasis of Niyamgiri have been dependant on the hill. It is their life and livelihood also. The existence of Vedanta Co. in this scheduled area has always been a threat for them. They have been demanding for more schools, anganwadi centres, health centres under their banner of Niyamgri Suraksha Samiri before the government. But in reply the government has been foisting false cases to pressurise them to leave Niyamgiri.
CRPF camp at Trilochanpur: Recently the govt. has converted Trilochanpur Panchayat office into a CRPF camp for the time being. Construction of a new camp has already been started on encroached land of Layi Majhi of Belaguda village. The villagers did gramsabha in this fifth scheduled area and had opposed this plan of setting up of the camp. But none of the officials attended the meeting. He was cultivating that land since generations and had applied for patta under Forest rights act. The administration has neither taken consent of gramasabha before constructing the camp nor has given importance to the application Layi Majhi under FR Act.
Death of Dani Batra: In this ‘alleged’ clashes happened on 18th March 2019 at Vedanta Plant Gate site between the affected villages of Chhatrapur and Rengapali and security forces, Dani Batra died due to heavy lathi-charge done by the Odisha Industrial Security Forces(OISF) engaged by the Vedanta Co. He was standing far from the gate as a spectator when security forces came on rampage and beat mercilessly including Dani Batra. Finding a way to escape Dani Batra fell on a pond and could not be able to come out. His brother-in-law who received dead body after post-mortem was telling that Dani’s hands were broken.
Suspicious Death of Sujit Minz: The allegation is that the local villagers after death of Dani got angry and went on a rampage and destroyed company furniture. Then the villagers “violent in nature bound Hav Major Sujit Minz in the CCTV control room alone tied his legs and killed him by the setting fire” (as mentioned in FIR given by Ashok Kumar Raul, Inspector of OISF). The team finds his death as “suspicious” because;
- The CCTV Control panel room is near about 100 meters far from the main gate where dead body of Sujit Minz was found by the police. This was confirmed by the Inspector Incharge of Police. Also IIC says the villagers have not destroyed any other place on the way to Control Panel except that place. How a mob could go and tied Sujit Minz and set fire and come back just after a sever lathicharge?
- The police version is that after post-mortem of dead body of Dani Batra, his family members received the dead body from Lanigada Hospital and took the body to the Vedanta Gate. But this has not been written in the FIR. Mahendra Bibhar, brother in law of Dani Batra who received body from the police says that all of them came to the village in the night from the hospital and cremated the body on early morning of next day.
- Two FIRs have already been filed. On Dani Batra’s death though section 320 of IPC has been lodged but no action has yet been taken. But on ‘killing’ of Sujit Minz the Lanjigad police have promptly taken action and have arrested 6 people. The FIR copy says list of suspects as ‘villagers of Chatrapur and others’ but Police have circulated ‘27 names and 300 others’ which the team got from the villagers which shows more arrest would happen in near future. Why is there such discrimination in taking action then?
More Displacement by Vedanta Co: In between Vedanta Company has increased its capacity from 1MTPA to 6MTPA and has occupied land of Rengapali, Borabhatta and also Bandhaguda village for expanding its already made Red Mud Pond. The Co. has not yet displaced all of them though it has paid them compensation. The villagers are facing sever health problem because of dust coming from pond site. The village like Bandhaguda (80 families) was not in the earlier plan when the Co. started its operation.
Pollution in Lanjigada/Niyamgiri : The Red Mud Pond has already reached footstep of Niyamgiri. This would disturb entire eco-system of this plateau. The government should set up committee to evaluate impact on environment and before Titukurin-like situation happened the government should close down Vedanta factory.
Harassment of British Kumar by Kalahandi SP: British Kumar, a tribal activist of Khandualmali Suraksha Samiti was picked up by Kalahandi police on 22nd December 2018 while he was in Bhawanipatna town. British says he was taken to the SP office. At 8pm the SP came and asked about his association with Niyamgiri and Khandualmali struggle. The SP first threated him, ‘I woud kill fire you and kill because you are supporting the Maoists’. British argued that this struggle is part of their rights. ‘Don’t brand it as Maoist.’ Then the SP beat him up inside his office and left with a condition that he would sign daily at Bijepur PS. British was going till State Human Rights Commission asked detail about the cases filed against him. It was learned that till that date no such cases had been filed against British Kumar.
- The Vedanta Co. had its earlier plan in setting up alumina plat at Lanjigada and to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri. When in Gramsabha adivasis rejected its plan of mining in Niyamgiri and when the Supreme Court has already uphold decision of the Gramsabha (2013) then we strongly demand before the state government for closing down of the Alumina plant of Vedanta Co. immediately.
- The setting up of CRPF camp at Trilochanpur goes against gramsabha resolutions. The government should close its down.
- A judicial inquiry should be done on suspicious death of Sujit Minz by the High Court sitting judge and till findings of that committee no such arrest should happen.
- The Adivasi villages have demanded for school, teachers, drinking water and health facility. The government should give respect to these demands and should give priority in providing basic necessities.
We conclude here that the state government has been treating Vedanta Co. as if first citizen of the Odisha. The way brutality of industrial Security forces have been suppressed at Plant site and repression by the paramilitary forces on tribals of Niyamgiri have been increased all these actions go against basic spirit of our democracy. The government should be attentive more towards its own citizens rather than the Multinational company like Vedanta Co.
We would bring out a detailed report on this issue soon.
Dat: 29th April 2019
Name of participating Organisations:
APDR, West Bengal
And GASS, Odisha