French cement major Lafarge on Friday pleaded before the Supreme Court that it did not breach any rules while mining in Khasi hill region in Meghalaya without getting proper approvals as the land was not identified as forest land at the time of allotment.
Senior advocate Fali S Nariman, who was appearing for Lafarge, submitted before a special three-judge forest bench headed by the Chief Justice S H Kapadia that the land alloted to them for the lime stone mines was not identified as forest land and forest clearance was not mandatory.
"We have not identified this land as forest land, prior to approval. How can it be (forest), when there was no prior determination," said Nariman in his defence of Lafarge.
He further stated that even if there was forest, "at no stage, the Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) and the Government of India tried to check it".
Nariman, also rejected the argument for the existence of a forest based on number of trees in the mining site and said that there were "conflicting reports" over it.
"At the most, the case can be a change of opinion by MoEF for holding an area which was earlier held to be a non-forest area," he said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati appearing for the government and MoEF submitted that the government had given clearance to Lafarge, based on reports sent by the Meghalaya state government and Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council that said there was no forest on the site.
"At every stage we were asking question from them about the land and they sent us the bogus certificate (about the land)," said Vahanvati.
He further said that the environmental clearance given to Lafarge in August 9, 2001 was based on a report submitted by the Khashi Hill Autonomous District Council that there was no forest and plantation in the area.
On this the bench, which included Justice Aftab Alam, said, "Do not go on the blame game. We just want to know whether you have taken precautions and consideration in this case or not."
The apex court was hearing the plea over the revised environmental clearance given to Lafarge.
MoEF had given revised environmental clearance to Lafarge last April on the directions of the Supreme Court after finding the mining project in the forest land.
People of Shella village, which is near the mining site, are opposing the revised clearance given by the MoEF.
Lafarge is defending its case on the basis of a report by the Divisional Forest Officer, given on June 30, 2000, stating that it was a waste land and there was no forest there.
On April 24, the ministry told the Supreme Court that it had cleared the mining project of Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd, a sister concern of the French major, with strict riders.