Country-wide police crackdowns are being carried on the social activists who are struggling to protect the rights of marginalised communities. Lingaraj Azad – an important member of Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti (NSS) – became the recent victim of this. On 6th March 2019, he was arrested from Lanjigarh. Starting from the consistent protests against the attempts of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills to the protests against the repression of state and corporate powers on the local adivasi people, this organization has played a significant role for the last two decades and still continuing its activities with the same vigour. However, since April 2017, the present fascist ruling class have initiated a propaganda that NSS has links with the banned outfit CPI (Maoist), and using this as an excuse, the members of NSS and few other rights organizations are attacked by the police. For example – Raygarh police arrested another important member of NSS – Lada Sikaka on 23rd October 2018. British – a member of Bhumi Adhikar Surakshya Samiti – was arrested illegally in Kalahandi. At present, Lingaraz Azad was arrested based on two FIRs, among which the older one was registered on April 2017 alleging his active involvement in the protest outside the Vedanta aluminium plant, and the recent one was registered on February 2019 for his participation in the protest against setting up a CRPF camp in the panchayat office of Trilochanpur. The Orissa police informed that the arrest of Azad is a part of severe crackdown on “anti-socials”, “Maoist supporters” and “all those who are creating problems in the district by organizing mass-protests against the bauxite mining in Niyamgiri”, before “the general election of 2019”. Undoubtedly, these social activists are real problems in front of Vedanta. Thus, the police statement made it clear that in reality the problems of ruling class and the problems of big corporates are synonymous.
Worldwide, the list of Vedanta’s misdeeds such as violating environmental regulations, violating human rights is quite long. Last year the incident of unprovoked police firing on the unarmed protestors in front of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plat in Thuthukudi, Tamil Nadu, in which 13 people died, was added to that list as another misdeed by Vedanta perpetrated in India. In Orissa’s Niyamgiri, for the last two decades, the same Vedanta and its pernicious activities are resisted by the local Dongria Kondh tribe. In 2003, suppressing the real facts of violations of environmental regulations, Vedanta submitted an application seeking permission to set up an aluminium refinery along with a thermal power plant in Lanjigarh. However, due to the Supreme Court’s investigation into the matter the real facts were revealed within two years. It was realized that the real intention of Vedanta behind the plan of setting up this refinery is to extract bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills. This mountain is very sacred to the local people belonging to Dongria Kondh tribe and it is worshipped by them. Moreover, the lives and livelihoods of the local tribal people rotate around this mountain. Thus, bauxite mining in this mountain will not only violate the religious and cultural rights of the local people, but also negatively affect the eco-system and environment of that region. Considering all these points, the Supreme Court of India, after a long legal battle, finally instructed to protect the rights of local people belonging to Scheduled Tribes (ST) or Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) categories, in any case. Thus, the Orissa government was forced to conduct village-council meetings in 12 villages. In each village, the villagers opined unanimously against the mining in Niyamgiri hills. Therefore, finally Vedanta’s plea of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills was rejected. Lingaraj Azad, Lada Sikaka and the whole NSS played a significant role in this long legal battle. However, after the new government came into power, the Vedanta has again started creating problems in the area. It again appealed the Supreme Court to reconsider the decisions taken in village-council meetings. Meanwhile, it started to create an ambience of fear in the villages so that the villagers hand over their own jal-jangal-jamin to Vedanta, out of fear. In this new misdeed, the police force of ruling class is acting like the hired goons of Vedanta. They are involved in all kinds of nefarious activities such as – conducting raids at night, harassing Dongria Kondh women and activists who are against mining, arresting people in false charges and assaulting them in police custody, kidnapping etc. To handle these “problem-creating” “anti-socials” they are implicating them with Maoist connections and using the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as a weapon to arrest them. Also, it must be mentioned that the attempt to set up a CRPF camp in Trilochanpur is violating the PESA Act and FRA Act. Still, in spite of the peoples’ protest, the construction work of the camp is going on. Anyone can understand that why and for whose interest this camp is being set up.
At this moment, the villagers of more than one village in that area are facing the joint attack of Vedanta’s security forces and state-police forces. Recently when the displaced tribal people were demonstrating in front of Lanjigarh refinery with their demand of ensuring education of their children, the police brutally attacked them. It is reported that one villager died and more than thirty are wounded. Police also attacked the Basantapada village. In this way, every moment the nexus of state and the corporates are unleashing fresh attacks on common people. Let us raise voice together and form a united resistance against such attacks.