Bhubaneswar: Apparently corroborating former union minister Jayanthi Natarajan's statement on Rahul Gandhi's intervention relating to rejection of green clearance to Vedanta's mining project, former party MP Pradeep Majhi on Friday said this speaks of the Congress vice-president's commitment towards the 'Dangaria Kondh' tribes in Niyamgiri hills.
"Rahulji had already taken a stand to protect the interests of the tribals under any circumstances. As tribals worship Niyamgiri hills as god and source their livelihood from it, Rahulji did what could be done. There is nothing wrong in it," Majhi, a close associate of Gandhi, told a news agency over phone.
The former MP from Nabarangpur, Majhi said, "I have already said that Rahulji was totally committed to the cause of tribals."
Terming the Niyamgiri issue as a "sensitive" one, Majhi said he did not deny that Rahul Gandhi might have used his influence to ensure protection of tribals fighting against the proposed mining at the hill top.
"This does not mean that Rahul Gandhi was opposing all the projects. But, it is a fact that he opposed mining project at Niyamgiri hills," he said.
Majhi pointed out that subsequently, the Supreme Court also asked the tribal affairs ministry to hold gram sabhas in Niyamgiri area to take views of the local residents. "Of the 20 gram sabhas, 18 rejected the proposal of mining at Niyamgiri," the former MP said.
Gandhi visited Jagannathpur village at the foothills of Niyamgiri on August 24, 2010, barely two days after the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) rejected the environmental clearance to the mining plan of Odisha government which intended to feed bauxite for Vedanta's refinery at Lanjigarh.
While addressing the rally titled "Vijay Samabesh" on August 26, 2010, Gandhi had called himself as the "sepoy" of tribals. "I will fight for you (tribals) as a sepoy for the tribals in Delhi," Rahul had said.
Subsequently, the Odisha government dropped the proposal of starting bauxite mining at Niyamgiri hills. This has led to scarcity of raw material for Vedanta which had to shut down its refinery for some months.
Another former MP Ramchandra Khuntia, however, criticised Natarajan and said, "Some people try to defame Rahulji."
Odisha BJP spokesman Suresh Pujari, however, said that Natarajan's statement has established that Rahul Gandhi was influencing the government's decision during the UPA tenure.