orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik was recently injured in a scuffle in the state legislative assembly over a controversial mining contract and forest lease issued to a company belonging to the Sterlite Group. Although an expression of the opposition's wrath over the issue was expected during the six-day assembly session, nobody had anticipated that matters would get so charged.
Trouble started on the second day of the session when the main opposition, Congress, accused the government of leasing a forest area in Kalahandi district to Vedanta Alumina, a subsidiary of the Sterlite Group, for setting up a Rs 4,000 crore one-million-tonne alumina refinery without environmental clearance. The members also questioned the government about why a global tender was not invited for conducting mining operations at Lanjigarh, also in Kalahandi district, and why the same company was handpicked for the purpose.
Steel and mines minister Padmanabha Behera could not quell the doubts satisfactorily and the Congress wanted to raise more supplementaries. But the assembly speaker did not permit this and the opposition members crowded into the well of the House. When the minister appeared cornered, the electronic media covering the session was asked to pack up. "I threw chappals [slippers] at security persons as they were asking the media to stop telecast. Why only chappals, I can sacrifice my life for upholding the rights of people and the media,' said Anup Sai, Congress representative from Brajarajnagar. While the opposition continued to raise slogans, members from the treasury bench also rushed to the well of the House. Soon a scuffle ensued in which the left foot of the chief minister got caught under a desk.
A little distance away from this high-pitched political "drama', tribal organisations staged a sit-in during the entire assembly session, demanding the cancellation of the mining lease. " Gram sabhas must be consulted before leasing out any mining activity to multi-national companies. Protection of the livelihood of tribals must be the top priority,' said Trinath Sabar, convenor of Orissa Janasangathan Manch.
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