After a long drawn-out 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, the Forest Conservation Act and the Forest Rights Act,” said Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.
He blamed Vedanta, the Orissa Mining Corporation, and 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 nvestigate the allegation that 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 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.
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 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.”
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.