Guest post by Chandra Sekhar
All images courtesy the author
Bodikonda is a monolithic stone hill in Lakshminarayanapuram village in Parvathipuram mandal in Vizianagaram district. This has been in the news on and off over the last two years or so, because local people have been protesting the lease given to private companies for mining colour granite, without their being consulted nor any sort of public hearing.
Three leases for quarrying coloured granite were granted and executed in favour of MSSS Srinivas for an extent of nine hectares, M Madhupriya for an extent of six hectares and Kishore Granites Pvt. Ltd. for another nine hectares ( total of 24.29 hectares) for a period of 20 years. This comprises almost 50% of the area of the total hill. These companies applied for a lease in 2010 to the Assistant Director of Mines and Geology, Vizianagaram, and new licences were given in December 2019.
There was no public hearing conducted or grama sabha consultation before giving the licences for mining. The lease in 2010 was granted based on a resolution from the village which was given without conducting grama sabha (which makes it illegal). Before awarding the new licenses in 2020 no consultation was made. The Lakshminarayanapuram village has conducted grama sabha in July 2021 and passed a resolution against any mining activity in their village area. These mining companies have also leased some agricultural lands around the hill which are assigned lands and cannot be transferred.
This project is classiﬁed as Category B2 for Environmental Clearance under Environmental Impact Assessment notiﬁcation 2006. However, the general condition in the EIA notiﬁcation mentions that “Any project or activity speciﬁed in Category B will be treated as Category A, if located in whole or in part within 10 km from the boundary of: (i) Protected Areas notiﬁed under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, (ii) Critically Polluted areas as notiﬁed by the Central Pollution Control Board from time to time, (iii) Notiﬁed Eco-sensitive areas, (iv) inter-State boundaries and international boundaries.” This project is situated at 3.7 km from the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border which makes it fall under Category A and hence requires Environmental Clearance from the Central Government.
The entire region around the hill, 15-20 villages including tribal hamlets, are dependent on agriculture and domestication for their livelihood. There is no water source like rivers which makes the region depend on rains for irrigation. The rainwater ﬂows from the hilly region to the lower areas ﬁlling the village ponds which in turn facilitates the irrigation of the land. The tribals living in nearby villages graze their cattle around the hill. These people live adjacent to the hill. If the hill is mined by these companies the livelihoods of thousands of people will be aﬀected.
Bodikonda also has a spiritual signiﬁcance. The locals worship goddess ‘Bodamma’ and celebrate the annual festival near the hill. The hill hosts the temple of the goddess. Whenever there are no rains, the locals worship the goddess and there is a strong belief that the goddess always answers their prayers with spells of rain.
Prof P D Satyapaul, head of Anthropology department, Andhra University, who conducted a series of studies on tribals in the Uttarandhra region, told The Hans India that the mining activity will have an adverse impact on environment and humans, especially tribals in the forests, in three forms:
The streams, lifeline for the people In the forests, and feeders of the major rivers in the plains will go dead as the mining activity will disturb the course; the source of living of tribals will be affected by way of loss of forest produce and loss of water for farm fields; and as a whole, the mining activity will pose a great threat to the Eastern Ghats that pass through the Uttarandhra region.
The struggle and its suppression by the state
The villagers got to know on 19th March 2021 that bore wells were being dug at the site. They reached the site on 21st March, and by then the work had begun. Workers were levelling the ﬁeld to make it easy for the machinery to move. The villagers asked them to stop the work as no process of consultation had taken place. The workers gave the phone number of their contractor. He was called and told that work cannot continue without talks being held and all the stakeholders consulted. The contractor said he will come and hold talks. That did not happen and for a few months work was stopped. The locals also celebrated the annual festival in the ﬁrst week of April at the hill which, as always, thousands of people from nearby villages also attended.
Again in July a new set of people came and started working. When the villagers stopped and questioned them, they said that they have all the permissions and will continue their work. House to house mobilization was carried out and the locals prepared to launch a struggle. It was decided to hold a protest on the 9th of July at the mining site. Some of the leaders received a call from Parvathipuram Rural Sub Inspector on 8th July. He told them to proceed legally and not to hold any protests. He was assured that the protest would be peaceful and will not create any law and order issue, to which he agreed. Around 150 people reached the site as planned and raised slogans. The police had arrived there already and displayed a banner saying that, “Section 30 of Police Act is under implementation and no protests are allowed here without permission”. While the protest was going on the Sub Inspector reached there and asked protesters to vacate the place. They answered that they would only go back after the work is stopped. He assured the people that he would speak to his higher oﬃcials and try to stop the work. In response, the protesters dispersed.
Surprisingly, the next day morning a few of those who were present at the protest received a call from the Sub Inspector asking them to visit the police station. When they reached there they were met by the Circle Inspector who informed them that a case was registered against ten people for violating the COVID regulations under sections 188 and 269 of IPC and section 51b of the Disaster Management Act. They were warned that if the ‘oﬀence’ was repeated, the police would take serious action which could impact the future careers of those who were students.
The villagers were thoroughly intimidated by this. At present, the mining has resumed at full strength but the villagers feel helpless, as the state agencies seem to fully back private companies against the affected people.
Chandra Sekhar is a resident of Lakshminarayanapuram village, affected by the mining.