The country's senior-most law officer has said the power to decide the fate of multi-national company Vedanta's bauxite mining project in Nyamgiri distrcict in Orissa rests with the Environment and Forest ministry.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati to give his opinion on a 2008 Supreme Court order in the case.
Ministry officials were of the opinion the SC in August 2008 had decided the fate of the project by allowing diversion of over 6,000 hectares of forestland towards bauxite mining in Nyamgiri Hills in Lanjigarh, Orissa. Legal officers of the ministry also said the court had directed the ministry to give approval to the project.
But Ramesh was not convinced as the order also said the approval should be given "in accordance with the law". So he asked Vahanvati to give his opinion on the Supreme Courts order in the case.
In his opinion given to the ministry this week, the attorney general has categorically said that "in accordance with law" means that the ministry is free to apply its own mind and decide on merit.
The one-page opinion also gave ministry the powers to review the earlier in-principle approval if there were "cogent and valid reasons" for the same. According to ministry officials, the attorney general had made it clear the SC allowing diversion of the land does not mean that the government has to give approval to the project.
The legal opinion had suddenly given impetus to the ministry's four-member committee, headed by National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena, to examine whether provisions of the Forest Rights Act have been complied with. Another aspect the committee is to look whether the provisions of the in-principle approval had been fully met.
The committee is slated to submit its report by August-end, after which the ministry will decide on the final approval for the project. "The MoEF now has every right to exercise its own mind and decide. The committee's report will form basis for the ministry's final decision," said a senior government functionary.