‘Spurned Vedanta at Rahul’s behest’

New Delhi/Bhubaneswar: In a major disclosure which would have far-reaching ramifications across greenfield industrial projects in the country, senior Congress leader and former Union Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan today said she had received a strong hint from party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to reject environmental clearance to Vedanta’s bauxite mining plan at Niyamgiri in Odisha’s Kalahandi district.

Natarajan, who quit the grand old party, in her resignation letter to party president Sonia Gandhi said, “I received specific requests [which used to be directives for us] from Shri Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honour those ‘requests’.”

“Shri Rahul Gandhi went in person to Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, and publicly declared to the Dongria Kondh tribals that he would be their ‘sipahi’ (soldier) and would not allow their interests to suffer at the hands of mining giant Vedanta,” she said.

“His views in the matter were conveyed to me by his office, and I took great care to ensure that the interests of the tribals were protected and rejected environmental clearance to Vendanta despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in the Cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as ‘stalling’ a Rs 30,000 crore investment from Vedanta,” the letter, which got circulated in the media, further read.

In January last, the Union ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had rejected the stage-II approval of the mining major’s Rs 4,500-crore project under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which prevents diversion of more than 660 hectare of forest land in the two districts of Odisha for mining.

Vedanta wanted to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri to feed its Rs 5,000-crore Lanjigarh alumina refinery.