Green spoke in Vedanta’s mining plot
New Delhi, August 24
While the forest clearance for the bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills has been cancelled, the government is also planning a penal action against Vedanta. It may slap a show-cause notice on the firm for illegal mining.
The decision has earned the government bouquets from the green lobby and activists fighting for tribal rights. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) chief Sunita Narain while welcoming the Environment Ministry’s move said: “The ease with which Vedanta has been violating all laws is appalling. This is certainly a decision which goes in favour of the poor and marginalised sections of Orissa.”
The rejection of environment clearance to the project came after the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) submitted its report to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh after reviewing the NC Saxena panel findings.
Accepting the recommendation of FAC, Ramesh said Vedanta had violated laws and the Niyamgiri Hills project could not be given the go ahead unless the Forest Act was complied with.
He said the stage II forest clearance for the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and sterlite bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri Hills in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and Rayagadha districts of the state could not be granted following serious violation of the Environment Protection Act, besides Forest Conservation and Forest Rights Acts.
Ramesh said a show-cause notice would be issued to the company for illegally increasing its alumina refinery’s (Lanjigarh) capacity from one million tonne to six million tonne.
Coming down heavily on the Vedanta project promoted by UK-based billionaire Anil Agarwal, the Saxena committee said the project endangered nearly 7,500 sq km of forest land and violated tribal forest rights in Niyamgiri Hills. It cited many violations of environment clearance given to the OMC, including non-compliance with provisions of the Forest Rights Act.
The panel even said that the consent certificate of the gram sabha was fake, thereby; depicting how big corporate companies were blatantly violating forest and environment laws in collusion with state officials and politicians. Extremely critical of the Orissa government, the committee said: “State officials colluded with the company to allow blatant and widespread violations of forest and environmental laws.”
Vedanta had contended that the Environment Ministry had given in-principle approval to its project in 2007.
The project was approved by the Supreme Court in August 2008, but the court left the final decision up to the government. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ramesh to discuss the controversial deal.
“ I hope it is not politics,” Patniak said. Ramesh, however, denied allegations of prejudice against the state government or Vedanta.
Making it clear that his ministry was not getting into any “witch-hunt”, Ramesh said there was no politics or prejudice involved in the Vedanta’s case and the decision was based on the Saxena panel report, Auditor General’s (AG) report and FAC recommendations.
He said there was no prejudice against the BJD-government in Orissa as his ministry has cleared an important irrigation project in the state for which in-principle approval was accorded yesterday.
The Man: High-school dropout Anil Agarwal, 56, cycled to the municipal school. He did not know a word of English when he started his business. The spiritually-inclined business magnet now cycles in Hyde Park at London’s posh Mayfair area!
His business: Anil started as a metal scrap dealer. Agarwal has taken his company to list on the London Stock Exchange.
The issue: Vedanta consistently violated several laws in bauxite mining at Niyamgiri, encroached upon government land, got clearances on the basis of false information.