65 year-old social activist, Prafulla Samantra has been announced as one of the six winners of 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize. The award ceremony was held on April 24, 2017 in San Francisco, US.
- The Goldman Environmental Prize website describes Prafulla Samantra as “An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, who led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminium ore mine.”
- Prafulla Samantra is the sixth Indian to receive this prestigious award. Other Indians who have won this award in the past are Medha Patkar, M.C. Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla and Ramesh Agrawal.
Tribals of Niyamgiri Hills Vs. Vedanta Resources:
Niyamgiri Hills, located in Odisha is home to around 8000 members of an indigenous tribe called Dongria Kondh. Niyamgiri hills and the surrounding forest land hold tremendous social, economic and spiritual importance for this tribe.
- In October 2004, an agreement was signed between the Odisha State Mining Company (OMC) and UK-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite, an aluminium ore, in the Niyamgiri Hills. The mining of bauxite and other activities to support it would have destroyed massive portion of forest land. This threatened the existence of tribal people in Niyamgiri hills.
- Prafulla Samantra, who is a trained lawyer took up the cause of tribal people and filed a petition against the project before a Supreme Court panel. On April 18, 2013, Supreme Court took a historic decision and empowered local communitiesthrough the village council to have the final say on whether to allow the mining project or not. By August 2013, all tribal village councils unanimously voted against the mining activity which forced Vedanta to terminate its mining plan.
- During the litigation process, Prafulla Samantra was kidnapped, assaulted and attacked several times. He was even accused of taking an ‘anti-development’ stance.
Other Winners of 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize:
- Mark Lopez – United States
- Uroš Macerl – Slovenia
- Rodrigo Tot – Guatemala
- Rodrigue Katembo – Democratic Republic of Congo
- Wendy Bowman – Australia
About Goldman Environmental Prize:
- Founders: Richard and Rhoda Goldman
- First Awarded in: 1990
- Awarded for: Outstanding efforts to protect and enhance natural environment
- Prize: The winners are provided funds to support the cause for which they undertook the struggle. Besides, every winner receives a bronze sculpture called the Ouroboros, which depicts a serpent biting its tail.