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Government panel nixes Vedanta's Orissa project

Government panel nixes Vedanta's Orissa project

The panel, investigating the project said that allowing mining in the area would shake the faith of the tribal people.

New Delhi: Vedanta Resources' bauxite mining project in Orissa's Niyamgiri hills will not be allowed unless the local tribal communities give their consent and village councils agree to the use of forest land for the project, a government panel said on Monday.

The panel, investigating violations of the Forest Rights Act and environmental norms by the company in Kalahandi district, said that allowing mining in the area would shake the faith of the tribal people.

"The committee is of the firm view that allowing mining in the proposed mining lease (PML) area by depriving two primitive tribal groups – Kutia and Dongaria Kondh – of their rights over the proposed mining site in order to benefit a private company (Vedanta) would shake the faith of tribal people in the laws of the land," said the four-member panel, headed by National Advisory Council Member NC Saxena.

The committee said that since Vedanta has repeatedly violated the law, allowing it further access to the proposed mining area at the cost of the rights of the tribes would have serious consequences for the security and well being of the entire country.

The tribals, who hold the hills sacred, have been opposing the project and because of the controversy, some of the investors of Vedanta have even withdrawn their shares.

The environment ministry will now have to take a call on the fate of the project.

The committee said that the company is illegally occupying 26.123 hectares of forest land and its claim of following the state government orders is completely false.

"This is an act of total contempt for the law on the part of the company and shows an appalling degree of collusion on the part of the concerned officials," it said.

The committee concluded that the Orissa government is not likely to implement the Forest Rights Act in a fair and impartial manner as far as the PML area is concerned.

"Since it has gone to the extent of forwarding false certificates and may do so again in future, the environment ministry would be well advised not to accept the contentions of the Orissa government without independent verification," it said.

According to the committee, mining in the area will not only be illegal but will also endanger the self-sufficient forest-based livelihoods of primitive tribal groups.

Besides, construction of roads in the area will make it accessible to wildlife poachers and timber smugglers, threatening the rich biodiversity of the hills.

Highlighting the violation of the Environment (Protection) Act by Vedanta, the report said, "The company has already proceeded with construction activity for its expansion project that would increase its capacity six fold without obtaining environmental clearance as per provisions of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 under the EPA."

"This expansion, its extensive scale and advanced nature, is in complete violation of the EPA and is an expression of the contempt with which this company treats the laws of the land," it added.

Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Saturday the government would not tolerate any violation of the Forest Act by any corporate and would decide the future of the Vedanta project after the panel submitted its report.

Britain-based Vedanta Alumina, part of the Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta Resources Plc, has built an alumina refinery at an investment of $ 800 million at the foot of the hills, where production has already started.

The firm, which is currently sourcing bauxite from other states at market rates, said mining permission in the hills was essential for it to reduce the cost of production.

first published:August 17, 2010, 09:22 IST