Indian activist, Prafulla Samantara, 65, has won the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as the Green Nobel, for his efforts in scuttling a mining conglomerate’s mega project in Odisha state. The only Asian among the six international awardees, Samantra, is the convener of the National Alliance of People’s Movements.
The citation said the prize recognized Samantara’s “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.”
The annual prize honours grassroots environmentalists, who risk their lives, to protect the environment and empower those threatened by industrial projects.
The award website describes Samantara as “an iconic leader of social justice movements in India.” He grew up in a farmer’s family and took to fighting for tribals after reading a newspaper report on the Vedanta project in 2003. He filed a petition against the project before a Supreme Court panel on mining, thereby becoming the first citizen to use the law to halt Vedanta in its tracks.
The Supreme Court’s historic decision on April 18, 2013, empowered local communities to have the final say in mining projects on their land. By August 2013, all 12 tribal village councils had unanimously voted against the mine and finally after two years, Vedanta announced the closure of the aluminium refinery it had built in anticipation of the mine’s opening.
The Goldman Environmental Prize is given every year to environmental activists, chosen from the world’s six geographic regions — Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. Each winner gets US$175,000 as prize money.
Set up by philanthropists Richard N. Goldman and his wife, Rhoda H. Goldman, the winners are selected by an international jury.