Prafulla Samantara led a protracted legal battle to protect the indigenous Dongria Kondh tribe’s land rights
Prafulla Samantara, has been single-handedly rallying Dongria Kondh tribals - indigenous to Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills - into blocking multi-national conglomerate Vedanta from bauxite mining in the region. His 12-years struggle has now been recognized with prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize being bestowed on him.
The prize, also known as Green Nobel prize, was announced in San Francisco last week. Samantara’s Lok Shakti Abhiyan, a civil rights organisation, was at the forefront of the protests in Niyamgiri in Lanjigarh district where Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of Vedanta Alumina, was planning to set up mining operations in a joint venture with state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC).
He had filed a petition with the Supreme Court against the project which involved demolition of 7 square km of Niyamgiri hill, considered sacred by the Dongariya Kondh tribe inhabiting the area. Samantara had succeeded in his mission in 2010 itself when Environment Ministry denied clearance to the project. In April 2013, the given a chance by the Supreme Court, all 12 tribal village councils unanimously voted against the mine. In August 2015, Vedanta announced the closure of the aluminium refinery. He is among the six people selected for the award from contenders across the world. Other awardees are - Mark Lopez (US), Uroš Macerl (Slovenia), Rodrigo Tot (Guatemala), Rodrigue Katembo (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Wendy Bowman (Australia). Previous Indian winners of this prize are Medha Patkar, M C Mehta, Rashida Bee and Champa Shukla.
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