Nod to Bauxite refinery raises questions
By Anjali Dhal Samanta
NEW DELHI, MARCH 18.
The Union Ministry
for Environment and Forests has come under the scanner
with the Central Empowered Committee demanding an explanation for
environment clearance to a bauxite refinery project to be set up in
Kalahandi district of Orissa. Even though
more than 700 hectares of forest
would be destroyed in this mining and refinery project by Vedanta Alumina
clearance -- required under MoEF guidelines -- was not seen as a
In what is being seen as a contradiction
of its own guidelines, the MoEF
has already granted environment clearance, as required under the Environment
Act, for the refinery on September 22, 2004. This environment
clearance was granted without the required forest clearance
even though the
refinery project includes over 58 hectares of village forest land.
However, that's not all. What
is even more surprising is that this
environment clearance for the refinery was granted without taking into
the mining area that will be spread over 680-odd hectares of
Niyomgiri Forests in Kalahandi district.
guidelines for implementation of the Forest Conservation Act,
work on non-forest land cannot be started pending a decision about
non-forestry use of forest land. However, with a fact-finding
appointed by the CEC reporting that work for the refinery is already under
way, a letter has been shot off
to the Ministry on March 2.
"The State Government as well as Vedanta Aluminium Ltd. are of the view
from the proposed forest area is an integral part of the project
without which the project cannot be viable. It is therefore
seen that the
environmental clearance has been accorded under wrong premise that no forest
land is involved," says the
CEC's letter to the MoEF.
The Niyomgiri hills in Kalahandi district, where mining would be carried
out, are dotted
with dense quality sal, anogeisus latifola and bauhinia
species as noted by the fact-finding committee. The Niyomgiri Forests,
they are called, are also the source of many small rivulets that not only
converge to form the Bansidhara river but
are also used by local farmers to
cultivate the paddy fields.
"The Niyomgiri area is very rich from the bio-diversity
point of view.
There is a proposal to declare this area as a sanctuary. It has also come to
our knowledge that the State
Government has made a proposal to include this
area in the proposed new elephant reserve. Any mining in this area is bound
destroy the bio-diversity and affect the availability of water for local
people," says Ritwick Dutta, advocate for the
three applicants -- Prafulla
Samantra, Academic for Mountain Environics and Wildlife Society of Orissa.
The three applicants
brought the case before the CEC a few months ago.
However, it is not the environmental aspect alone but the fact-finding
as also activists, mention violations of Schedule V of the
Constitution. According to the report, for construction of pillars
conveyor belts the company has acquired village land from tribals in
"There seems to be an attempt to intimidate the local population. It
appears that the project proponents would like people
to believe that there
is no tribal population living on the hills. But there is a primitive tribe
living there that
would be extinguished if the project comes through. They
are in a helpless position as their traditional land rights have
settled. What are they going to do?" says environmentalist Shruti Devi, who
visited the area recently.
fact-finding report also notes that "the rehabilitation package for the
displaced persons given by the user agency is not
in the interest of
sustainable livelihood of the local communities"''.
According to the standing counsel for the
MoEF, A.D.N. Rao, "The
environment clearance has been granted on the ground that no forest land was
involved in the
refinery project. Now the Ministry has received a proposal
for forest clearance. Under the MoEF guidelines if it is a composite
unless forest clearance is given, they cannot start work on
non-forest land. But it appears they have started work. The
MoEF wants to
ensure implementation of its circulars and notifications. It seems in this
case there has been a violation
of the guidelines."
However, regarding the grant of forest clearance, the CEC has "requested"
that pending examination
of the project by the CEC or filling of the report
in the Supreme Court, the proposal received under the Forest Conservation
for diversions of forest land for the project may not be decided.