In a landmark decision to safeguard the environment while implementing industrial projects, Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday said the bauxite mining clearance given to Vedanta Resources and the Orissa Mining Corporation in Orissa had been withdrawn. He also said an initial approval for a six-fold expansion to Vedanta’s aluminium refinery in the state was being suspended.
The ministry has also barred the Vedanta refinery from buying bauxite — the main raw material needed to make aluminium — from 11 other mines in Jharkhand, pointing out that these were illegal. “There is no environment clearance for bauxite mining in Jharkhand,” Ramesh said.
The company did not respond to specific charges but said the mining project had been “extensively reviewed by the Supreme Court” in 2008.
Ramesh, however, quoted the Attorney General of India as saying the court had never said Vedanta would not have to get the ministry’s approval. He also said many violations came to notice after the 2008 judgment.
The decision has been welcomed by tribals of Niyamgiri Hills, where the mining was planned.
They had been agitating against the project for the past four years. “The agitation in that area will now die down,” said an official. “It will also signal that the government is sympathetic to the tribals.”
Ramesh withdrew the environment clearance given to the state-run Orissa Mining Corporation to mine three million tonnes of bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills. The action was taken on the recommendations of two committees: one headed by National Advisory Council member N C Saxena and the other a Forest Advisory Committee.
Both concluded that Orissa Mining Corporation and Vedanta had violated three central laws – the Forest Rights Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. “I have to enforce policy. As environment minister, I take responsibility,” Ramesh said, adding that his decision was based on new evidence submitted by the two committees. The Saxena report had said that allowing mining operations would mean a loss of 1.21 lakh trees, affect the region’s water supply and will shake “faith of tribal people in the laws of the land”.
BOX : Decisions on environment clearance to Orissa Mining Corporation and Vedanta refinery.
1. Final forest clearance to Orissa Mining Corporation and Sterlike bauxite mining project on the Nyamgiri Hills rejected.
2. Since forest clearance is rejected, environment clearance stands inoperable.
3. Vedanta refinery not to get bauxite from 11 of 14 mines, which does not have environment clearance.
4. Show cause notice to Vedanta on why environment clearance to one million tonne refinery should not be suspended.
5.Terms of Reference for allowing six fold expansion to refinery suspended as work started without seeking environment clearance.