MAC: Mines and Communities

Nyamgiiri In The Balance

Published by MAC on 2006-10-15
Source: Forest Case Update ()

Nyamgiiri in the balance

India's Supreme Court has finally held a hearing into the proposal to mine bauxite in Orissa's Niyamgiri Hills, made several years ago by Vedanta Alumina. After the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) submitted its report, the Supreme Court in February 2006 had referred the matter to the Forest Advisory Committte (FAC) and ordered detailed assessments. This was to be done in 3 months. Following this, assessments by two institutions were carried out: Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun (on Wildlife aspects) and Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Limited (CMPDI), Ranchi (on mining aspects). CMPDI is a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

Based on these two reports, in October 2006 the FAC gave its approval for the diversion of forest land for the project, subject to conditions This was highlighted by Mukul Rohtagi, advocate for Vedanta at a hearing last week in Delhi . He added that the bauxite reserves in Orissa and Niyamgiri Hills are largest in the world and that they want to exploit it scientifically. Further, the company has already invested in the area by setting up schools, colleges and a refinery. However, the company does not have mining rights. On enquiry from the court the advocate clarified that the Refinery cannot function without mining and that China has many such industries.

The Supreme Court enquired as to whether the CEC has looked at the reports. Mukul Rohtgi responded that all the issues raised have been examined by the reports which was ordered as further enquiry following the CEC report.

UU Lalit, Amicus Curaie brought to light that 1st report of the CEC was against the mining, following which the court had asked for additional details in February 2006. This was because the proposals were full of manufactured details, data and permissions. This fact can be established in the court. He also added that the as per the 30.11.2006 order of the Supreme Court, all decisions of the FAC are to be reviewed by the freshly constituted FAC as the current FAC was not according to the required composition. The decision on the mining in Niyamgiri Hills is also one such decision which requires a review by the newly constituted FAC.

The advocate for Vedanta was not supportive of the idea of the matter being re-examined by the new FAC, as it is just going back and forth and there are delays.

The Supreme Court asked the CEC if they were per se against the project or are looking at procedural issues that can be resolved. The response of the CEC was that based on the facts of the case, they are per se against the project. The CEC was given 7 days time to respond to the two reports prepared by WII and CMPDI. The advocate for the applicant asked for the copies of the report to file a response, which was refused.

It was finally decided that all the reports, including the first one by CEC, the ones done by WII, CMPDI and CEC's comments on it, will be presented before the newly constituted FAC (to be constituted by 15th December), following which they can consider the matter. The matter will be listed in January 2007. [Information from Forest Case Update, India, December 2006]

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