Niyamgiri and Ramar Setu: A study in contrast

Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh has written an interesting article in Tehelka exposing the Supreme Court’s double standards in the cases of Niyamgiri and Ramar Setu. The author begins with this pointed intro: “ONE MIGHT BE a bridge long held to be a part of Hindu beliefs.(Ramar Setu/Sethusamudram project) Another, a forest that has for centuries been part of the active spiritual beliefs of an ancient tribe (Niyamgiri in Kalahandi, Orissa). Yet, when called upon to pass judgement on “development” projects that threaten both, the judges of the Supreme Court signalled that while they considered the first to be important, the latter was expendable.”

The author writes: “This tract of dense forests and grasslands (Niyamgiri) has a number of streams and provide sustenance to millions of people. It is also home to the Dongriya Kondh (classified a “primitive tribe”) who consider Niyamgiri a sacred hill, crucial to their culture and their well-being. For them, Niyamgiri is equivalent to a church, temple, or mosque. Except that it is a fully functioning ecosystem.” The Supreme Court has permitted Sterilite Industries India Limited, a subsidiary of Vedanta Aluminia Limited, to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri, overruling environmental objections and the tribals’ right to their sacred forests.

The author observes: “A physical land formation in the sea is given so much importance that the judges question the construction of what the government considers a project of national importance. A sacred forest, threatened by the greed of a private company, however, has no such relevance. Clearly, a dominant religion backed by powerful groups and individuals is able to move the highest court of the land, but an ancient tribal faith gets no such consideration.” The author is equally critical of Sethusamudram project on environmental grounds, which he claims, were unjustifiably ignored by the Supreme Court.

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  • Ashis raises some pertinent points.
    This issue is not unique to India.Elsewhere also indigenous
    people object to setting up mines,drilling for oil in their
    sacred sites and places.Dr.Swamy supported Narmada Project and so
    did the sangh pariwar.In tehri dam
    project first VHP joined hands with Sunderlal Bahuguna only to
    reverse its position later.In the
    ender he lost his credibility and
    was criticised for joining hands
    with VHP.The views of the congress
    or left or BJP on environment and
    development issues are almost the
    same.In Sethu project the difference is again not on the project per se or its relevance but only on what some considered as sacred and hence want to preseve it while others do not share this view .Unfortunately it has turned out be an issue of BJP vs the rest and real issues like economic viability and environmental impacts have not been given the importance they deserve.Both sides appeal to passions over reason and want
    to win their case soley on that.

    Why is that the blog always goes to print mode when one accesses it.

  • Sir:

    Leaving aside the merits of Sethusamudram vs Niyamgiri, it would appear that the Supreme Court has made no such stricture in the Niyamgiri case.

    The article at
    seems to suggest a different persective.

    Incidentally, authors of the two articles, the one you have cited and the one I have cited appear to belong to the same organisation, Kalpvriksh.

    Thus it is interesting that the two have such divergent views on the same topic.