Social activist Prafulla Samantra was announced one among six winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his “historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.”
The other five winners for this year are: Mark Lopez (United States); Uroš Macerl (Slovenia); Rodrigo Tot (Guatemala); Rodrigue Katembo (Democratic Republic of Congo); and Wendy Bowman (Australia).
Prafulla Samantra is a trained lawyer and has been involved in activism since the Jayprakash Narayan-movement. He was an iconic leader responsible for rallying tribes in Niyamgiri region of Odisha and made use of legal provisions to block mining-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta from setting up a bauxite mine there. Samantara was the first citizen to use law to halt the mining operations of Vedanta. As a result of his efforts, the company has been forced to suspend mining of bauxite from that region.
In its April 18, 2013, historic judgment, Supreme Court empowered local communities to have the final say in mining projects on their land. Subsequently, village councils of the Niyamgiri Hills unanimously voted against the mine. In August 2015, Vedanta announced the closure of its aluminium refinery in that region.
Samantara is only the sixth Indian to win the prize after Medha Patkar, M.C. Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla and Ramesh Agrawal since 1990 when the award was first instituted.
Goldman Environmental Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1990 to honour grassroots environmentalists undertaking risk to their lives for the cause of protecting the environment. The award is given to six persons, one from six geographical regions of the world, namely, Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The prize is given by Goldman Environmental Foundation having its headquarters in San Francisco. The prize is also called as the Green Nobel.