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Threats, intimidation, and illegal arrest of HRDs under fabricated charges as reprisal for opposing bauxite mining in Koraput, Odisha

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Bijaya Khila, Dasi Nandibali, G Hemant Kumar, Rabi Khora, Mahanta Khosla, Samba Pangi, Bhikari Guntha, Dambaru Guntha and Ratan Kadia 

Koraput, Odisha

HRDA has issued an urgent appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India on October 14, 2021, regarding the threats, intimidation, and arrest of Mr. Bijaya Khila, Mr. Dasi Nandibali, and other HRDs under fabricated charges as a reprisal for opposing bauxite mining by Hindalco in Odisha’s Mali Parbat, Koraput. 

The HRDs Mr. Bijaya Khila, Mr. Dasi Nandibali, Mr. G Hemant Kumar, Mr. Rabi Khora, Mr. Mahanta Khosla, Mr. Samba Pangi, Mr. Bhikari Guntha, Mr. Dambaru Guntha and Mr. Ratan Kadia are members of Mali Parbata Surakya Samiti opposing mining of aluminium in the forest.  

Hindalco Industries Limited was granted a lease for mining bauxite in Mali Parbat in the Koraput district of Odisha in 2003. To oppose the bauxite mine, indigenous residents formed the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, by stating it would affect more than 44 villages directly and 200 villages indirectly. This included an adverse impact on the perennial streams in Mali Parbat that would affect 2,500 families that depend on the streams for irrigation. Due to the stiff resistance, the mining operation was stopped till 2011. An Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forest opposed the renewal of environmental clearance for the mine in 2020. The lease was extended till 2021 applied for the fresh environmental clearance by the company.

Odisha Pollution Control Board and Koraput district administration decided to organize a public hearing in Kankada Amba village on September 2021, under the Fifth Schedule, and the Panchayat Raj Extension to Schedule Areas (PESA) Act, 1996, affirmed by the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and the Supreme Court judgment in the Niyamagiri Hills mining case in 2013. But before this public hearing, In the lead up to the meeting Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti activists and other villagers received threats. This public hearing was commenced by Mr. Deben Kr Pradhan, ADM of Koraput, and other officials and during this public hearing Kanti, Sorisha Padar, Daleiguda and Pakujhola – 4 Panchayats from the 44 villages came and demanded that the public hearing be cancelled. 

An FIR was registered in the Semiliguda Police Station against the 36 Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti activists, including the organisation’s president Mr. Bijaya Khila under various sections of Indian Penal Code; and other Acts. Police arrested seven HRDs on September 24, 2021 then on October 1 the police arrested 16-year-old Mr. Bikram Khara, son of Mr. Dasa Khara.

We believe the implicating HRDs on false cases and their arrest is an attempt to muzzle opposition against mining and freedom of expression. The action of the administration is in clear violation of the Right to Freedom (Article 19a) and the Right to Peaceful Assembly (Article 19 b) as well as the Human Rights Council resolution 15/21 and Article-1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 1998. 

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