The Centre has ordered an enquiry into violation of the terms of “in-principle” approval for bauxite mining by Vedanta, a private company, granted by the Orissa Mining Corporation. It has also sought an explanation from the State government how the violation was permitted.
In a letter, Minister of State (Independent charge) Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has asked the Orissa administration to explain how the violation was permitted when there were clear guidelines that “in-principle” approval granted for bauxite mining projects in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts on February 26 under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 should be converted into final approval, after fulfilment of stipulations, before any activity was undertaken.
Acting on representations received by the Ministry since August this year on Vedanta’s activity even before the final approval, Mr. Ramesh asked the Regional Conservator of Forests (Bhubaneswar) to investigate the complaints and he found them to be correct.
Technically, this is not flouting of law but is a violation of the Ministry’s guidelines. When a project involves both non-forest and forest land, construction on non-forest land should not begin without clearance for activity on the forest land itself, the Minister has explained.
Guidelines to States
Importantly, on August 3 this year, the Ministry issued guidelines to all State governments that any application for diversion under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 would be considered only after all due processes contained in the Scheduled Tribe and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act, 2006 were fully and satisfactorily completed.
A letter has also been sent to the Orissa government to provide evidence of compliance before the Centre could examine conversion of ‘in-principle’ to final approval. A reply is awaited.
In addition, a site inspection team is being sent shortly to verify fresh allegations of violations of the terms of ‘in-principle’ approval.
The new policy of the Ministry does away with ‘in-principle’ approval. Projects are now being examined for approval or rejection so that there will be no ambiguity and project proponents will not misuse ‘in-principle’ approval, Mr. Ramesh explained.
The total area of forest land proposed to be diverted in the two districts of Orissa is 660.749 hectares, of which 353.14 hectares is in the Niyamgiri forests. Concerns have been raised on the impact of this project on the livelihoods of tribal communities.