The Union government should not clear Vedanta's bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa as it violates the environment and forest law, according to a panel set up to investigate the proposal.
“The Vedanta Company has consistently violated the Forest Conservation Act [FCA], the Forest Rights Act [FRA], the Environment Protection Act [EPA] and the Orissa Forest Act in active collusion with the State officials,” said the report of the four-member panel, headed by Planning Commission member N.C. Saxena. The report was submitted on Monday.
The report also catalogued the negative impact that the mining is likely to have on the region's biodiversity and on the Dongria and Kutia Kondh tribal communities, which have economic and cultural ties to the land. “Allowing mining … by depriving two primitive tribal groups of their rights over the proposed mining site to benefit a private company would shake the faith of the tribal people in the laws of the land,” it said.
On Friday, the Forest Advisory Committee will consider the report and make a final recommendation to Union Minister of State (Independent charge) for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. While refusing to discuss his final decision, Mr. Ramesh noted, “as a matter of principle, it would be a tragedy in this country if you can violate a law and then there is a window available to you for a correction … to pay a penalty and go ahead.”
The mine is a joint venture between Vedanta Aluminium and the Orissa Mining Company.
The violations listed by the report include illegal occupation of village forest land, violating both the FCA and the EPA, and a six-fold expansion of the nearby Vedanta refinery without the relevant environmental clearance under the EPA. Mr. Ramesh said he was not aware of either the expansion or the lack of the necessary clearance until the report was handed to him on Monday — this, despite the widespread media coverage of the expansion proposal. “I found out just 10 minutes ago,” he told journalists.