He did everything in his power to protect indigenous tribals in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills by fighting the big conglomerates that wanted to set up shop in the region. Now, he’s been conferred the Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the biggest grassroots environmental honours and more popularly known as the ‘Green Nobel’.
Prafulla Samantara waged a 12-year-long legal battle to stop a company called Vedanta from mining bauxite from Niyamgiri hills.
Photo source: Twitter
He was able to mobilise the tribes and got them to rally for the protection of the hills. Having been trained in law himself, he became one of the most prominent leaders of this movement along with Lok Shakti Abhiyan, the civil rights organisation he started.
The company’s project would have meant the destruction of 7 square km of the hills, posing an immediate threat to the Dongariya Kondh tribe that inhabited the region.In order to stop Vedanta, Prafulla filed a petition with the Supreme Court through his NGO.
It was a fight that was ultimately successful as the Supreme Court of India in 2013 ordered that the decision on how to proceed with the project would be put in the hands of the Dongariya Kondh tribe and that 12 village councils would vote on the Vedanta project. Suffice to say, the councils voted unanimously to end the project and by 2015, Vedanta had announced that it would shut down its aluminium refinery.
The battle might be won but the war is far from over for Prafulla. Before he won the prestigious award, he spoke to The Hindu and noted, “We must have a national mining policy to rationally decide how much of our natural resources can be used for mining.”
Additionally, he spearheaded the resistance against POSCO’s Odisha steel project
The Goldman Environmental Prize was announced in San Francisco and it recognises the extraordinary work done by activists from across the world in order to protect the environment. Since 1990, when the prize was instated, it has been awarded to five other Indians, including Medha Patkar and MC Mehta.
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