per cent of the streams in the Khandadhar region have vanished resulting
in 50% decrease in the water-flow to the waterfalls at Padhanpata in
Deogarh, Khandadhar in Sundargarh and Sanaghagara and Badaghagara in
Keonjhar district. The shortage of water would reach alarming
proportions if mining by Posco is allowed in the Khandadhar hills,” said
a former lawmaker Bibhudendra Pratap Das who is also the president of
the farmers’ body Odisha Krushak Mahasangh.
“Keeping in view that the rapid decline in forest cover has forced wild
animals to stray into human habitations in search of water and food,
allowing more mining will further aggravate the man-animal conflict in
the region,” Das added.
Khandadhar, the hill range in Odisha’s mineral rich Sindargarh district
covered by thick natural forest and the host of one of the most
spectacular water falls, comes under the fifth schedule of Indian
Constitution that protects the rights of the tribal people over the
forests and other natural resources. Even though a special Act named
“Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act” of 1996 has been enacted
through a special amendment, the tribal communities are yet to exercise
their powers delegated through the Act. The irony is that states like
Odisha are not even implementing the Act fearing that this would
restrict their authority to pursue several projects in favour of large
corporate houses and foreign investors.
Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, which is enacted to protect the rights of
tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers, is not respected by the
governments too. Since Khandadhar is habitat of the Paudi Bhuyan, a
Primitive Tribal Group (PTG), both the State and Central governments are
supposed to proceed on everything in consultation with the tribal people
following the provision of FRA.
apex court of India, in its landmark judgment over mining in the
Niyamgiri hill range, also asked the government to consult and obtain
consent of the tribal people living in the forest villages. As people
unanimously said ‘No’ to mining, the UK based Vedanta Group had to stop
all its activities for mining bauxite out of the hill.
While raising their voice against the anti-people projects pursued by
the governments in the state of Odisha and at the centre as well,
tribals living in Khandadhar expressed their anger over the ongoing
mining activities by the state owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC)
which already have destructive impacts on the forest and the whole
“Water extraction by OMC by checking the Phuljhar Nala restricts the
water flow and leads to scarcity of drinking water for the locals,” said
the tribal people who joined the rally.
Since Khandadhar is the major source of water and livelihood for
thousands of tribal families, the local communities are not convinced to
spare it for mining activities at any cost.
Local political leaders like the Member of Parliament from the area,
Jual Oram, who also happens to the Minister of Tribal Affairs in the
Modi cabinet, are against the idea of mining activities in Khandadhar
from the very beginning.
During his recent visit, Jual said while addressing media in
Bhubaneswar, “My stand on mining in Khandadhar hills is still the same.
I am against any project that has the potential to harm the natural
environment or cause displacement. I am for zero displacement and no
harm to the natural heritage.”
Just after taking charge of the Tribal Affairs Ministry, Jual urged that
the Posco project be stopped in view of the strong opposition by people
at the project site and the place where it want to have a captive mine.
It’s because of strong people’s resistance that Posco has not yet been
able to start the works for its US$12 billion integrated steel plant
project for which it signed the memoranda of understanding (MoU) on June
22, 2005. In spite of all supports from the Odisha government, the
project is facing opposition from people on issues of displacement,
allotment of water to the plant from river Mahanadi, the lease for
captive iron ore mine and ecological impacts of mining activities in
With the legal battle over several issues pending in the court, people’s
movements going stronger and obtaining support from local political
leaders, issues adding up, it may not be easy on part of the government
and the South Korean steel producer Posco to push the project hard and
get it realised in a shorter time.
it looks like, the War for Steel may expand and enter its next phase
over the issues of Water to the plant and mining at Khandadhar.