FROM THE HINDU
After a long-drawn consultation process, the Union government has finally pronounced its verdict against Vedanta Alumina’s $1.7 billion plan to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa. “There has been a very serious violation of the Environment Protection Act, Forest Conservation Act and the Forest Rights Act,” said Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. He blamed Vedanta, the Orissa Mining Corporation, and the State officials for the violations. “The clearance stands rejected.”Mr. Ramesh accepted the recommendation of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) to withdraw the Stage I forest clearance, granted in 2008, and reject the Stage II clearance that the promoters had applied for. In the light of this, the environmental clearance will also become invalid.
In a further blow to Vedanta’s plans in the region, the Ministry will investigate the allegation that the bauxite for Vedanta’s Orissa refinery is being sourced from 14 Jharkhand mines, of which at least 11 do not have a valid environmental clearance.The Ministry is also issuing a show cause notice, threatening the cancellation of the licence given to the refinery itself, which has illegally grabbed village forest lands and carrying out a six-fold expansion without permission. The appraisal process of the expansion has been suspended.
Based on Saxena report
The FAC’s recommendation was based on the N.C. Saxena Committee report that detailed the violations and the adverse impact of the project on the local Dongria Kondh tribal community and biodiversity in the region. The Orissa Forest Secretary met Mr. Ramesh on Tuesday to voice the State government’s objections to the report. He also reiterated the argument put forth by Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik that the Supreme Court’s August 2008 ruling in favour of an in-principle clearance made the final clearance a fait accompli. “No Ministry can abdicate its responsibility of enforcing the laws passed by Parliament,” said Mr. Ramesh, citing the Attorney General’s opinion that he was free to decide on final clearance despite the Supreme Court ruling. “My Ministry cannot function on the basis of fait accomplis…Since August 2008, a lot of new information has come to light. It is on the basis of this incriminating new evidence that the decision has been taken.”
No witch hunt
Among the new information is the State government’s failure to implement the Forest Rights Act, which protects the community rights of forest-dwellers, especially tribals. Instead, the Saxena committee found that district administration officials deliberately submitted documents faking the consent of gram sabhas. However, Mr. Ramesh refused to take action against State officials. “I am not prepared to believe [the allegations],” he insisted. “I am sure they were acting to the best of their ability and intention.” Later, he admitted that “the state government has violated the FRA. The Ministry was examining what penal action would be taken. “There will be no witch hunt,” he reiterated. Mr. Ramesh dismissed reports that the Vedanta rejection showed bias against the non-Congress government of Orissa, or was part of any deal that would give clearance to the Posco steel project in the State instead. “There was no emotion, no politics, no prejudice in this decision,” he insisted. “It was not because Niyamgiri is considered sacred [by the Dongria Kondhs]. It is a decision on a purely legal basis.”
REFERENCE RESOURCES / REPORTS
- India Bars Company From Mining Bauxite (nytimes.com)
- India Rejects Vedanta’s Proposal for Orissa Mine (businessweek.com)
- India backs tribes in mine ruling (bbc.co.uk)
- Don’t clear Vedanta’s mining project: panel (thehindu.com)
- Naveen positive on Posco, mum on Vedanta (thehindu.com)
- Indigenous group in India wins victory against British mining giant (cnn.com)
- Vedanta’s Indian mining project under threat (guardian.co.uk)