After a historic 12-year battle to save the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights, social activist Prafulla Samantra was recently chosen as one of the six winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. The prize, dubbed the Green Nobel, is awarded to individuals whose work has had an impact at the grassroots.
At the awards held in San Francisco, the other winners included Mark Lopez, United States; Uroš Macerl, Slovenia; Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala; Rodrigue Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Wendy Bowman, Australia. Prafulla is one of six Indians to have won the prize since 1990, the others being Medha Patkar, MC Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla, and Ramesh Agrawal.
Prafulla fought for Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminium ore mine, said the Goldman Environmental Foundation, as per The Hindu. Over the last 12 years, he has rallied tribes indigenous to Odisha's Niyamgiri region and used legal provisions to thwart mining-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta. Ever since then, the company has been forced to suspend plans to mine bauxite.
A lawyer by profession, Prafulla is an avid activist. As a part of Vedanta's project, the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hills in Rayagada district were to be mined to feed Vedanta's aluminium plant. In late 2004, the Odisha State Mining Company (OMC) inked an agreement with the UK-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri Hills, revered by the tribe, a DNA report said.
Prafulla had filed a litigation in the apex court to stop the mining. The litigation ran a course of 10 years and in a landmark judgment, the apex court ruled that the palli sabhas (village councils) of the tribe had the right to vote for or against the Vedanta mine, thus upholding the decision of 12 tribal village councils, who had all voted against the mine. The apex court's decision triggered Vedanta's exit from the project and it also announced the closure of the aluminium refinery.
The Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded to honour grassroots environmentalists who risk their lives to protect the environment and empower those who have the most to lose from industrial projects threatening their traditional livelihood.