SC ruling on Odisha mining a positive order, says OMC

New Delhi: Hailing the Supreme Court ruling on bauxite mining in Odisha's Niyamgiri Hills, the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) today said "it is a positive order" for the company and for the state government.

"Most of the issues have been sorted out by the Supreme Court and issues related to customs and religious rights (of the tribal) have been referred to the Gram Sabhas (of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts). It is a positive order for the OMC and for the state government," OMC Chairman and Managing Director Saswat Mishra told PTI.

Orissa Mining Corporation had moved to the Supreme Court in 2011 challenging the order of Ministry of Environment and Forests' (MoEF) cancelling the stage two environmental clearance granted to the Niyamgiri Bauxite Mining Project of Sterlite Industries Ltd, a Vedanta Group firm.

The ministry had refused the next stage forest clearance to OMC and Sterlite's mining project in Niyamgiri Hills area in Lanjigarh in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, accepting its Forest Advisory Committee's (FAC) recommendations for withdrawal of the clearance.

The Supreme Court directed that clearance to the Sterlite venture would be subject to the Gram Sabha deciding the cultural and religious claims of the tribes and forest dwellers of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.

"The apex court judgement has sorted out most of the allegations that were levelled on the project in the past, including loss of forestry, loss of ecology and individual claims received from the two districts," Mishra claimed.

Mishra also claimed the Supreme Court order is "a step closer" for doing mining in the Niyamgiri hills, but cautioned it will be "too premature" to think that mining in the Niyamgiri hills can begin soon.

"Mining lease has not yet been given. Then as per the Supreme Court direction, it has to be cleared by the Gram Sabha and MoEF… Mining lease will have to be executed. There are many issues and it will take a minimum of 2-3 years to do mining at the site," Mishra said.

The Supreme Court also directed MoEF to take a final decision on granting Stage-II clearance for the project within two months, once the Gram Sabhas decide on the claims.

When asked about the likely meeting of the Gram Sabhas, Mishra said that OMC has no role to play in it and all matters would have to be placed before them by the state government and Union Tribal Affairs Ministry.

The apex court has also directed Vedanta group which has an alumina refinery in the area and a partner of the OMC, to take corrective steps and rectify the alleged violations by it of the terms of the environmental clearance granted by Environment Ministry.

The court, however, said that the corrective measures taken by Vedanta shall be considered by the MoEF while taking any final decision.