Problems have been compounded for the Anil Aggarwal-promoted Vedanta mining project in Orissa with the environment ministry asking a panel to probe its likely impact on the primitive Dongria Kondhs tribe.
This comes on the heels of Attorney General GE Vahanvati’s opinion that the ministry has the full right to decide on the final approval for the bauxite mining project in tribal-dominated Nyamgiri hills in backward Lanjigarh district.
Before this, ministry officials had said the Supreme Court had already given approval for the project in 2008.
After receiving the opinion, the ministry widened the scope of the NC Saxena committee, constituted on June 29, by including five new stringent terms of reference in addition to the existing two.
The committee has been constituted to study the ground impact of mining in Nyamgiri before the ministry decides on final approval for the project.
One of the new clauses is to investigate whether the Forest Rights Act, which provides for seeking approval of locals before implementing a project, has been implemented. This has been a long-standing demand of activists protesting against the Vedanta project.
The ministry also wants details about the “economic and physical displacement” due to the project and whether the locals are being provided adequate rehabilitation.
Tribals under the Forest Rights Act have a right to minor forest produce, but in most project areas it has not been allowed. The Dongria Kondhs tribe is said to have been adversely impacted by the project.
The panel has also been given discretion to investigate any issue related to the project.
The ministry has asked the panel to submit its report by the end of August. Saxena and other members have already visited the area twice.
“We have asked them to submit a concrete report on the project, on basis of which the ministry will decide on the final approval,” said Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.