While regretting the effectiveness of the regulatory system, Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests, told the Rajya Sabha on Monday that corporate majors Vedanta and Posco were being investigated for alleged violation of government guidelines.
Replying to supplementaries during Question Hour, Mr. Ramesh said a four-member Expert Group, which is currently in Orissa, was looking into all cases of violations.
“Once I get the report of this group, we will take a final call on what the future of this project [Vedanta] would be. There are also a large number of questions that have been raised about the Posco Project. This also is under investigation by our Ministry,” Mr. Ramesh said.
“The government will not tolerate any violation of the Forest Conservation Act or any violation of the conditions governing approval,” he added.
Mr. Ramesh acknowledged that as far as major minerals were concerned “the honest truth” was that the regulatory system was not effective enough to stop illegal mining.
“Whether it is in contravention of the Minerals Act or whether it is in contravention of the Forest Conservation Act, the honest fact and the honest truth is that we do not have an effective regulatory system to deal with illegal mining,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh added that the government has set up a Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and its report was being finalised. One of its terms of reference is to see how to put in place an effective regulatory system, both at the Central level to deal with the major minerals and at the State level to deal with illegal mining in minor minerals.
Referring to the killing of an RTI activist in Gujarat for raising issues related to the illegal mining of minerals around the Gir Forest, the Minister pointed out that State governments were responsible for minor minerals. In Karnataka, S.D. Minerals, Trident Minerals and V.M. Minerals had violated the Forest Conservation Act, he claimed.
Mr. Ramesh denied that the government was handing over more forests to mining companies. It was incorrect to say that mining should not be allowed in any forest area.