The four-member panel, which holds the fate of Vedanta's bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa, has been given an expanded mandate.

The committee has now been given the job of investigating the “likely physical and economic displacement due to the project, including the resource displacement of forest users and the rehabilitation plan.”

Open-ended course

It has also been given an open-ended mandate, with permission to “inquire into or investigate any issue which committee members might feel necessary for purposes of their report.”

According to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the expanded mandate came at the request of National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena, who heads the panel.

The expanded mandate comes even as the Attorney-General recently gave the Ministry the freedom to refuse forest clearance, despite a Supreme Court order approving the project.

The project, to be run jointly by Vedanta Aluminium and its partner Orissa Mining Corporation, seeks to divert 660 hectares of forest land.

The Ministry will make its decision on the basis of the Saxena committee report, to be submitted by August-end.

The amended order, issued on July 19, also includes the original mandate of investigating the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the area, the impact of the project on the livelihood, culture and welfare of the Dongria Kondh tribals, and the impact on wildlife and biodiversity in nearby areas.

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