Ramesh champions environmental laws, corks Niyamgiri mining

Environment minister upholds the rule of law in Vedanta mining controversy

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | August 25, 2010




Environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh has upheld the rule by law by rejecting the proposal to mine the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa for bauxite.

As the NC Saxena committee pointed out, which was subsequently accepted by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), the Vedanta Alumina Ltd and the Orissa government flouted every law of the land in the way an aluminum refinery was set up in Lanjigarh and also the way the mining right was proposed to be granted.

The report has meticulously pointed out how the Forest Rights Act, the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, Forest (Conservation) Act, the Environment Protection Act and the Orissa Forest Act were violated. Worse, it says the state government misrepresented facts to get the project clearance and the Vedanta Alumina started expanding its capacity without the environment clearance.

The report didn’t spare the MoEF either. It points out how MoEF didn’t take a complete view of the project but gave piecemeal clearances, like it okayed refinery without the mining clearance. And that 11 of 14 mines from which the Vedanta gets its bauxite don’t have environment clearance!

The MoEF has also contributed to the mess by its strange practice of giving clearances in stages. In fact, the Vedanta’s project has MoEF’s environment and forest clearance --it is called “in-principle” clearance. What it has now withheld is the “final” clearance. The gap between “in-principle” clearance and “final” clearance has given opportunity to many companies to flout all the environment and forest laws.

The state government is now trying to mislead the public and the MoEF saying that it has Supreme Court’s clearance for the mining of the Niyamgiri hills. This is nothing sort of perjury because the apex court only dealt with rehabilitation and conservation of environment.

The last line of the apex court’s final judgment, given on August 8, 2008 read: “The next step would be for MoEF to grant its approval in accordance with law.” There is no ambiguity.

Sure, Ramesh would now come under pressure. The Orissa government is planning to approach the apex court on the plea that substantial amount of money has been spent in setting up and expanding the refinery in Lanjigarh and that for the sake of development of a poor state like Orissa, mining be allowed. It will of course assure that the interest of the affected people would be taken care of and that atmost care would be taken to minimize damage to the environment.

The issue is not of development. It is nobody’s case that mining activities should not be allowed. The issue is that of governance, the rule of law. No development can take place by flouting laws of the land. If that is the idea, then we should scrap all the laws that govern our environment and forests.

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