He was attacked by goons, received threats to his life, was called a ‘maoist’ and an ‘anti-national’. But that didn’t stop social activist Prafulla Samantara for standing up to things he thought were right. 

His efforts have now been recognised internationally as he just won the prestigious Goldman environment Prize for 2017, also dubbed as the Green Nobel prize. 

The prize citation is 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 winners include Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo; Uros Macerl, Slovenia; Wendy Bowman, Australia; Mark Lopez, United States and Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala.

What is the Niyamgiri hills issue:

Samantara was one of the key leaders responsible for the ouster of mining-to-metals conglomerate, Vedanta who wanted to exploit the Niyamgiri Hills, a forested region rich in biodiversity.

The region is home to the 8,000-year-old indigenous tribe, the Dongri Kondh, which considers Niyamgiri Hills to be sacred. In 2004, Odisha State Mining Company signed an agreement with UK-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite (an aluminum ore) in the hills, a move which was vehemently opposed by the tribe. 

Samantara then lent his support to the cause and rallied the tribe to make their voices heard and filed a petition with the Supreme Court. He also led multiple rallies and demonstrations against Vedanta. 

Finally in May 2016, the Indian Supreme Court denied a petition from the OMC that sought to overturn the tribal council votes and to mine the bauxite as a sole venture.

About the The Goldman Prize:

This is an annual prize which honours grassroot environmentalists, who undergo risk to their lives, to protect the environment and empower those who have most to lose from industrial projects threatening their traditional livelihood.

Samantra will be the sixth Indian to receive this honour. In the past, five Indians–Medha Patkar, M.C. Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla and Ramesh Agrawal have won this prize.

After Samantra won the prize, many applauded him on Twitter