Govt moves apex court on Niyamgiri mining

Bhubaneswar: Challenging the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) decision to reject state-II eco clearance to London-based Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) for bauxite mining at Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi, Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) moved Supreme Court after over six months of prohibition order slapped on August 25 last year.

In the petition filed in apex court, the state government has challenged the MoEF decision on withdrawal of forest clearance. The government contested that:

•    Issues related to violation of forest rights act (FRA) comes under the purview of Union ministry of tribal welfare department as it is the nodal ministry. In such scenario, how could MoEF reject final eco clearance to VAL?
•    It is unjust to reject clearance in case the FRA implementation is not completed.  
•    The matter was already subjudice in the apex court from 2005 to 2008. The Supreme Court had granted conditional clearance in 2008 to divert 660. 749 hectare forest land. The state government had assured to rehabilitate the tribals inhabitating in the region before going ahead with the project.

“Though the procedure for FRA was not followed yet stage-II clearance could have been given. Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal ministry and Ministry of Environment and Forests is not the nodal ministry. The stage-II clearance was opposed by the non-nodal ministry rather than the nodal ministry,” OMC MD Saswat Mishra said.

“The state mines department had fulfilled all the conditions, but we moved to the Supreme Court as the Centre had rejected the clearance,”Steel and Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty said.

Earlier during first week of March, a division bench of Orissa High Court comprising Chief Justice V Gopal Gowda and Justice BN Mohapatra reserved its verdict after Anil Agarwal promoted VAL moved the court in November last seeking to quash the Centre`s notification stalling expansion of its refinery at Lanjigarh and the captive plant.

It may be recalled that the in August, 2007 VAL had applied for expansion of the capacity of its Lanjigarh-based existing refinery from 1 MTPA to 6 MTPA and that of the captive power plant from 75 to 300 MW.

But pending an environmental clearance, the company went ahead with the construction work for its six-fold refinery and four-fold power plant expansion.

It suffered a jolt in August last, when MoEF rejected final environmental clearance to the bauxite mining project.