Whether it is the Samata ((1997)8SCC19) case, Kudramukh case or more recently the Vedanta Mining case in Orissa, mining is always in disputes and creates a tremendous conflict of interest. For government and the mining company it is always a lucrative enterprise, but for environmentalist, tribal and other affected by mining, it is a disaster. While the mining company flaunts the benefits, concealing the real impact of its project in order to get the environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), the Ministry itself never seeks to assess the real impact through its so-called expert committees. There are numerous examples where a mining company has tried (rather successfully) to evict members of some indigenous community, projecting the dense forest as rocky and barren land. Even when there are hundreds of indigenous people affected, they are projected as few, and most of them are not even included in the list of Project Affected Persons (PAP).
Vedanta Alumina Limited, a subsidiary of M/s Strerlite Industries (India) Ltd proposed a one million tonne per annum capacity alumina refinery project together with a 75 MW coal based captive power plant. The bauxite for the refinery was to be sourced from the Niyamgiri Hills. Interestingly, the Alumina refinery was granted environmental clearance without linking the project with the Mining.
M/s Sterlite (the parent company of M/s Vedanta) applied for environmental clearance on 19.03. 2003 to the MoEF. In the application, Vedanta stated that no forestland is involved and that within the radius of 10 kms there is no reserve forest. M/s Vedanta thereafter on 16.08.2004 applied for use of 58.943 ha forestland consisting of 28.943 ha village forest and 30 ha reserve forest. However, the application for environmental clearance was not modified and the same was processed on the premise that no forestland is involved.
Further, though Mining at Lanjigarh was integral part of the Alumina refinery project, Vedanta could not have started the work on the Alumina refinery without getting the clearance for mining also. As per the guidelines of the MoEF – “for projects requiring clearance from forest as well as environment angles, separate communications of sanction will be issued, and the project would be deemed to be cleared only after clearance from both angles…”
M/s Vedanta requested the MoEF to grant environmental clearance for the Alumina Refinery Plant stating that it would take three years to construct the refinery plant whereas mines can be opened up in one year. In its application for seeking environmental clearance for the project dated 19.3.2003 it is stated that “nil” forestland is required for the alumina refinery and that within a radius of 10 km of the project site there is no reserve forest, which is contrary to the facts on record. Subsequently, on 16.8.2004 a proposal for allowing the use of 58.943 ha forestland, consisting of 28.943 acre of “Gramya Jungle Jogya” land and 30 ha of reserve forest, was moved under the FC Act through the State Government to the MoEF. Out of the above, 26.123 ha forestland was required for the refinery, 25.82 ha for the mine access road and the balance 7.0 ha was required for the construction of the conveyor belt for the transportation of the mineral from the mine site to the plant.
The MoEF gives environmental clearance for Alumina Refinery Project by delinking it with mining project. In the environmental clearance it is stated that no forestland is involved, even though the application under the Forest Conservation Act was still pending.
As per para 4.4 of the guidelines laid down by the MoEF “Some projects involve use of forest land as well as non-forest land. State Governments / Project Authorities some times start work on non-forest lands in anticipation of the approval of the Central Government for release of the forest lands required for the projects. Though the provisions of the Act may not have technically been violated by starting of work on non-forest lands, expenditure incurred on works on non-forest lands may prove to be infructuous if diversion of forest land involved is not approved. It has, therefore, been decided that if a project involves forest as well as non-forest land, work should not be started on non-forest land till approval of the Central Government for release of forest land under the Act has been given”
But Vedanta started the work on Alumina Refinery in blatant violation of this provision.
Three applications were filed before the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), constituted by the Supreme Court of India against establishment of project and the environmental clearance granted by the MoEF without considering the forest area on 22 Sept 2004 to M/S Vedanta Alumina Ltd. The CEC heard the matter and also conducted a site visit of the proposed refinery plant and mining area. The CEC filed their report on 21 Sept 2005 before the Supreme Court with the recommendation that the apex court may consider revoking the environment clearance dated 22/09/2004 granted by the MoEF for setting up of an Alumina refinery plant by M/S Vedanta and directing them to stop all further work on the project.
The Supreme Court in its order dated 03/02/2006 in I.A.NO 1474 with I.A.No.1324 in writ petition (civil) No.202 of 1995 directed the MoEF, GOI, New Delhi that various studies to assess the impact of the project may be carried out within three months. Accordingly the MoEF placed the application for forest diversion of Lanjigarh Bauxite Mine before the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), constituted under section 3 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The FAC after examining the proposal also suggested for carrying out in depth studies to assess the impact of the project. The MoEF, GOI, New Delhi directed the Central Planning and Designing Institute (CMPDI), Ranchi to carry out the above-mentioned studies.
The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) submitted their report dated 14 June 2006 to Forest Advisory Committee and it was examined by them in its meeting held on 30 Aug 2006.The WII was asked to reexamine the report in the light of facts and figures put forward by the State of Orissa. The WII prepared a supplementary report dated 25th Oct 2006. In this report WII put their point of view on wild life, likely adverse impact of mining and identification of alternate source of bauxite among others. The studies related to soil erosion, impact on ground vibration and the studies related to soil erosion, impact on ground vibration on hydrological characteristics, flow of natural water resources/ streams etc were carried out by the Central Planning and Designing Institute (CMPDI), Ranchi as per the request made by the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and after their proposal was accepted by the OMC.
The approach of the Supreme Court is perplexing, as the Central Empowered Committee clearly pointed out the illegality in the clearance granted and once the clearance is granted then post facto impact study is not provided in law.
The Niyamgiri hill is spread over in 250sq.km. of area. This hill is also known as Dongaria Kondha country. Dongaria Kondh is one of the primitive and schedule tribes of the state and fully dependent on the Niyamgiri Hill. If one claims to be Dongaria Kondh then he must reside in the Niyam Giri Hill. Niyamgiri Hill is also a source for Vamsadhra River, along with for various other perennial streams. Mining in the Niyamgiri Hill involves a blatant violation of various laws which are there for the protection of Scheduled tribes, like the Orissa Schedule Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (Regulation) 1956, the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes (prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. .
The mining company put up the point that by mining there will be a development of the area, the villagers will get employment etc. But the reality is the villagers who are self-dependent, having land of their own will become marginalized workers in the mines. As most of the villagers are unskilled for industrial or mining work, they will only get job of informal and unskilled labourers dependent on the whims of the company and the contractor. They lose everything to pass over to the next generation except the misery of working in the mine. We all know also who benefited from the mining at Dhanbad and various parts of Rajasthan for several decades.
The Supreme Court is hearing the matter in detail but has not stayed the work on this 4000-Crore-Rupees-project on the ground of large investment involved. Tendentially, the company’s argument before the Court is that, as they have spent a large amount of money, so the project should not be scrapped.
While at the same time, the Courts are quick in granting the removal of jhuggi jhopris (urban poor settlements) in Delhi and other metro cities in the country on the ground of being unauthorised. However, if the investment of the jhuggi jhopris is considered, then that is in fact an absolute investment by the poor people living there. Moreover, the same courts have allowed construction of big shopping malls and even 5-star religious temples like the Akshardham Temple in East Delhi on the same land from where the authorities removed the Jhuggi jhopries.
With all regards to Indian judiciary, we must admit that in recent years, unlike in the 1960s-70s, it is unwilling to check the reckless pace of corporate industrialisation, which is taking its toll on the environment, tribals and people in the pursuit of profit. On the other hand, the downtrodden majority has no recourse left within the coordinates of the status quo (as fixed in the constitution, interpreted by the judiciary and amended by the legislature), except queuing up for electoral rituals now and then.