The Supreme Court on Friday allowed French firm Lafarge to restore temporarily its limestone mining operations in a Meghalaya mine in order to feed its cement plant in neighbouring Bangladesh.
A special environment bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan allowed Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited to restore its mining operations subject to the outcome of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of Lafarge's proposal to set up a cement plant in Meghalaya to utilise the state's huge limestone deposits for production of cement.
The bench, which also included Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia, allowed Lafarge to continue mining operations in the state for their cement factory in Bangladesh on recommendations by senior counsel Harish Salve, who has been assisting the court in the matter.
The special environment bench is currently hearing issues concerning possible environmental degradation by various upcoming or existing industrial projects in eco-sensitive areas and forestland.
Salve recommended that the bench allow Lafarge to continue its limestone mining in the Khasi hills near village Nongtrai after the French firm's non-executive chairman and HDFC chairman Deepak S. Parekh explained to him that the deposit of the Nongtrai mines could be best utilized by the Bangladesh plant.
The Ministry of Environment and Forest had earlier permitted Lafarge to undertake mining operations in the Nongtrai village saying that there was no danger to the environment.
But later when the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee examined the issue, it questioned the environment clearance given.
The committee questioned the basis of the permission granted to Lafarge and recommended suspension of its permit saying that while mined ore was being transported to Bangladesh through a 17 km on conveyer belt, the forest in the state was bearing the burnt of the mining.
But HDFC chairman Pareakh in his explanatory note told Salve that "the limestone from the mines can be best utilized in Lafarge's Bangladesh plant as the harsh terrain of the area and the poor quality of roads makes it economically unviable to transport limestone or cement from the mining site of Nongtrai to the markets in Meghalaya".