India has just witnessed a unique event – its first green referendum in which people had to vote for or against a mining project. The results are out though the process of referendum has not yet concluded. A majority of people have already voted against the project. Unlike parliamentary or assembly elections, this referendum is an open process. Out of 12 ‘constituencies’ that are part of this unprecedented exercise, eight have said no to the project with an overwhelming majority. So the result of the referendum in the rest four does not matter.

While echo of this green poll was hardly audible in Delhi, it did create ripples in far away London because the referendum has sealed the fate of one of the largest bauxite mining projects in the world belonging to Vedanta group in Orissa. To make the matter worse for the mining giant, the referendum coincided with the annual general meeting of Vedanta Resources in London. The repercussions of the green poll are bound to rattle board rooms in India as well.

Is this the beginning of green democracy in India? Are new projects in future going to be decided with a vote of local villagers? Does billions of dollars worth of investment depend on what a handful of people think about their local deities and gods? Are grazing rights of tribals more important than the need for India to attract foreign direct investments? Shouldn’t the same kind of referendum be held in nuclear project sites of Kundankulam or Jaitapur?

Such uncomfortable questions are bound to be raised in the wake of the outcome of Niyamagiri referendum over the coming weeks and months. One can argue that the case of Niyamagiri, inhabited by indigenous people called Dongria Kondh and presided over by the deity of Niyamaraja, is different from sites of other such mega projects.

At stake in Niyamagiri are cultural and religious beliefs of the tribals as well as their right to forest areas for grazing and livelihood. In fact, action groups from Orissa contend that the referendum should have been held in over 160 villages inhabited by Dongrias and not just one dozen villages which are on the hill slopes.

Courtesy: India