MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian Supreme Court committee condemns Vedanta's Orissa projects

Published by MAC on 2005-09-21

Indian Supreme Court committee condemns Vedanta's Orissa projects

The report below is a highly detailed and remarkable submission, which by its very detail demonstrates quite clearly how a major mining company, in complicity with a state government, has lied, changed "the facts" and sought deliberately to confuse the "experts" (let alone the public at large) both about the reality of what it was up to and its real intentions.

The company is Vedanta and the state is Orissa in India. The project is one of the biggest of its kind. And now a committee set up by the country's Supreme Court has "recommended" that one part of the project be stopped (the refinery) and the other (the mine) not allowed to go ahead.

The report is a vindication of the efforts, evidence, and urgency evinced by many people and the protests and demands of the tribal communites, which have already been violated by the project.

Chief Minister cornered over Vedanta

Statesman News Service

Sept. 22 2005

BHUBANESWAR— The knives were out against chief minister Mr Naveen Patnaik today as the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court, over forest and environment law violations in the controversial Vedanta Alumina project reached here.

The CEC, which submitted its final report after conducting extensive hearings and deputing a team to the project site at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district, observed that use of forest land in the ecologically sensitive Nimayagiri Hills should not be permitted thus putting a huge question mark on the fate of the mega project.

In its report furnished to the apex court, the CEC has made stinging comments on the functioning of the ministry of environment and forests. It has also not spared the state government. “The casual approach, the lackadaisical manner and the haste with which the entire issue of forests and environmental clearance for the alumina refinery project has been dealt with smacks of undue leniency does not inspire confidence with regard to the willingness and resolve of both the state government and the ministry of environment and forests to deal with such matters keeping in view the ultimate goal of national and public interest,” the report stated. Had a proper study been conducted before embarking on a project of this nature and magnitude involving massive investment, the objections to the project from environmental, ecological and forest angle would have become known in the beginning itself and in all probability the project would have been abandoned at this site.

The CEC has recommended to the apex court that the environmental clearance to the refinery project given on 22 September, 2004 be revoked. It suggested that the project may only be reconsidered after an alternative bauxite mine site is identified. Providing a detailed account and submissions made by the state government, the company as well as the ministry of environment and forest, the CEC verdict has exposed how intentional or otherwise concealment of facts relating to involvement of forest land was done. It also pointed that the grant of environmental clearance was done by delinking the mining project from the refinery project. The flip-flop of the company in the mining issue was underlined by noting that it had initially pleaded that mines were an integral part of the project and when a hue and cry was raised over environment clearance it said that the company can look for raw material elsewhere. Yet again when it was pointed out that clearance can enable them to avail the mines at Niyamagiri, the company reverted to its stand that the plant was dependent on the mines.

Similarly the unprecedented haste and speed in which a withdrawal application with regards to a patch of forest land in the project area was filed, cleared and approved by the government smacked of suspicion that it was done in order to circumvent the CEC orders of stop work. The shocking feature of how one wing of the ministry seemed oblivious of the other wing also stood exposed when documents showed that the environment wing had given the clearance on the ground that no forest land was involved in the refinery project site at a time when application for clearance of forest land was pending with the forestry wing of the ministry.

Within no time here the Opposition was up-in-arms alleging that the CM who was in the dock now stands guilty since he is the forest minister and had laid the foundation stone for the project. It may be noted that Congress MLA Mr Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra had first raised the issue and several Congress members like Mr Debasis Patnaik had joined hands with environmental activists like Mr Biswajit Mohanty and Mr Prafulla Samantray to take it to the CEC. Reacting to the CEC report the leader of the Opposition Mr JB Patnaik said that it was an indictment of the government and it exposes the hollowness of claims to honesty and transparency parroted by the CM. The Opposition had sought intervention of the Governor when the issue was first raised.

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