The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed the Orissa government's plea seeking extension of time till August 19 to hold gram sabhas to decide whether schedule tribes and other other traditional forest dwellers have any religious rights over the eco-sensitive Niyamgiri hills from where Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Aluminium’s (VAL) wants to source bauxite to feed its $800-million alumina refinery project.
A bench headed by Justice KS Radhakrishnan granted time till August 19 after Orissa counsel RS Jena informed it that 10 out 12 gram sabhas have been already held and the other two village meetings are scheduled for August 13 and 19.
However, the ministry of environment and forests, through additional solicitor general Siddharth Luthra, opposed the state government's plea, saying that there are more than 12 gram sabhas.
“The assumption of just 12 gram shabhas is misconstrued,” he argued.
The state government’s stand runs counter to the Centre’s view that limiting the gram sabha proposal to only a dozen of villages would not be in line with Supreme Court orders. The state government had last month said that the Centre was free to approach the
apex vourt over its decision to select only 12 villages
of Niyamgiri hills which would hold gram sabhas that willl determine the fate of the proposed Vedanta bauxite project.
The bench, however, clarified that it was only granting time for holding such meetings and not going into correctness of its earlier April 18 order that directed the gram sabhas of the two districts to decide in three months issues relating to the mining project and to tribals residing in the area.