The environment ministry's decision to shut down Vedanta's mining project in Orissa has sparked controversy. Rahul Gandhi may have heard the voice of the tribals fighting to save their forest. But how do the Kondh tribals feel about Vedanta? CNBC-TV18 reporters Jajati Karan and Ashwin Mohan trekked through the forests of Niyamgiri - the only green patch left in drought prone Kalahandi - to get some answers.
Lakhpada is a village of the Dongria tribe which has led the anti-Vedanta movement in Niyamgiri. Many of the people here are down with fever. They must walk 20 km to the nearest hospital. So they rely on prayers to their God 'Niyamraja', and herbs that grow nearby. Health workers say most villagers suffer from malaria and scurvy.
Kanu Majhi, a member of the Dongria tribe, says, "Many of us are suffering for last two months. We use 'cheri muli' (herbs) for cure but do not go to doctor."
A man called Lado Sikaka Majhi was falsely branded as a Maoist by the district police for raising his voice against Vedanta. Lado shared the dias with Rahul Gandhi upon his recent visit.
Lado Sikaka Majhi, a leader of the Dongrias, says, "Vedanta is going to harm our Niyamgiri hill, which is the place of our Niyamraja God. Our God has got angry; that is why our prayers and herbs, which used to have magical properties earlier are not working anymore."
The tribals here live off the forest and do not want development at the cost of their forest. Bugda Sikaka, another Dongria, adds, "Vednata has come here for its own interest not for our interest. We are happy that the government has denied permission to Vedanta for mining on Niyamgiri."