Plight Of Tribals

Back from Mali Hills

Sudheer Patnaik

Mali hills situated in the Similiguda block of Koraput district in Odisha, are revered by local tribal people. There are many worshipping centres. Parva-badi, Pakkulipar, Pat debta, Patripakan, Nisanimunda, Hattis pura are some of the important places of worshipping. Throughout the year, adivasis observe various festivals linked to agricultural and forest activities. Despite the entry of TV and cinema, adivasi culture continues to survive and dominate. Now bauxite beneath the Mail hills is a curse for the people. The Birla-owned Hindalco is threatening their peaceful abode and livelihood.

The Navin Patnaik government permitted Hindalco to extract bauxite in this area some time in 2003. The permit allows Hindalco to extract bauxite deposits in an area measuring 1700 acres for 15 years. In other words 44 villages with a population of 20,000 will be affected.

In May 2003, Hindalco initiated collecting people's opinions. At a meeting where district officials attended 90% people opposed the proposed mining. Arun Patnaik, a paid agent of the Hindalco, along with his hired goondas put out a banner: "Welcome to Hindalco". People later formed "Save Mali Hills Committee" (SMHC), to stop bauxite mining and protect their homes and hearths.

The then MLA Pansi Jayaram, with the help of agents like Arun Patnaik convinced people in 3 or 4 villagers to support Hindalco Plans. They assembled in a lodge at Similiguda and held a fake "gramsabha" and produced a 'consent' letter with the signatures of villagers giving a green signal to mining. The SMHC learnt this, and immediately informed the District collector about the fake gramsabha. Collector acceded to their demand and promised to send a 7-member Committee to gather people's opinions.

But neither the investigation team visited the villages nor the police allowed people to reach the team that was camping at Koraput. Meanwhile, the camping team held a meeting with few villagers of the said four villages and somehow a consent letter was produced. But it was a fraud—plain and simple.

Hindalco started mining by bribing a few villagers and district officials. Rajasthan Transporters got the contract to transport the bauxite earth. Around 75,600 tonnes were transported to UP in 5 goods trains, though a huge amount of unloaded bauxite earth is lying unloaded still. As the value of 1 tonne of bauxite is around Rs 6000, Hindalco has already taken around 45 crore of wealth from Mali hills. Government gets a pittance as royalty—Rs 20 a tonne

By 2007, with the 4 villages becoming the main support base of Hindalco's operations the company continued to destroy Mali hills with impunity. Meanwhile SMHC activists were routinely attacked and terrorised.

SMHC held several rallies, demonstrations, dharnas in protest against the mining. As the resistance grew the company tried to corrupt the leadership. Having failed to buy the leadership, 200 hirelings attacked several villagers supporting SMHC in August 2008. 34 people were injured. Some attacks were done in the presence of police.

Meanwhile, PLGA (People's Liberation Guerilla Army) killed one Anand Kirsani, the main betrayer of the popular anti-mining struggle. Hindalco went on backfoot and stopped its operations temporarily. After some time they started their transport work again. In January 2013, there were clashes once more between the transporters and people. Criminal cases were foisted on 20 persons.

In July people again resisted transportation of the bauxite earth. Criminal cases were thrust upon the people immediately. People became furious. 1,500 people reached the police station. 3 vehicles of Hindalco were smashed completely, before the police. Police registered cases against the SMHC leadership.

In January 2014, when Hindalco tried once again to transport the bauxite earth that has been lying unloaded for several years, people obstructed the vehicles with sit-ins. Hindalco sent 30 ruffians in vehicles in the night and attacked the protesters. Many were injured. Agitationists resisted the Hindalco rowdies and smashed two vehicles in which the attackers had arrived. Attackers had to flee.

The next day, People reached the transport company, destroyed their JCB machines, 30 vehicles, furniture, computers, CC cameras and police imposed an indefinite curfew under 144 sec. CrPC.

All the Parliamentary parties are making false propaganda alleging that Maoist party is also in favour of bauxite mining and hence the Hindalco paid crores of rupees to the party. There are some voluntary organisations that are also working with Hindalco and government, except a few. Despite physical threat several intellectuals and civil liberties activists are in full support of the movement.

From the womb of Mali hills, 41 streams flow throughout the year. Many such steams join the Kolab river. The Hydro-electric power produced from the Kolab river is distributed between Odisha and two Telegu states.
One stream is now completely dried up, thanks to bauxite mining.

Mining remains suspended for the time being because of people's resistance. Even the transportation of remaining bauxite earth that was extracted several years ago is still lying there.

If mining begins again, the woods, streams, grassland, flora and fauna will simply disappear in no time. That is why people are on agitational path for over a decade braring police repression.

Vol. 48, No. 9, Sep 6 - 12, 2015