New Delhi, Oct 10: The Green Bench of the Supreme Court resumes hearing Friday on the high-profile case involving mining of bauxite ore in the the Niyamgiri hills of the impoverished Kalahandi district of Odisha.
In a writ petition, the state-run Orissa Mining Corp challenged the orders of the union ministry of environment and forests that cancelled the approvals, even though they were granted via two judgments and 32 strict conditions that, they said, were being complied with.
In the previous hearing last Friday, counsel for Orissa Mining Corp, K.K. Venugopal, even charged former minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh with contempt of court for undermining the powers of the judiciary.
Industry circles are watching the case closely, since it could have a bearing not just on similar cases of environmental concerns versus development, but also impact on the domestic prices of a key metal — aluminium.
The apex court’s verdict could in many ways decide the fate of the six million tonnes per annum aluminium unit of Vedanta at Lanjigarh, also in Kalahandi district, which depends on the bauxite mined from Niyamgiri hills. Nearly $3 billion has been invested there.
Counsel for Orissa Mining Corp. have said that even when they were granted approvals and the conditions were being complied with, Ramesh set up a three-member review panel. When that panel ruled favourably, he appointed another with four members.
Subsequently, after taking into account the report of the four-member review panel, the minister, before being shifted out to the rural development ministry, reversed all the approvals, the petitioner told the three-judge bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam.
Counsel for the ministry of environment and forests, however, said the permissions were withdrawn after the review committees found various new violations of environment laws — a charge denied by the petitioners.
Those opposed to the project say mining operations in Niyamgiri hills will not only destroy its sacred habitat but also spoil the livelihood and social wellbeing of the tribespeople there.
But those in support argue that these aspects have been thoroughly looked into by the apex court through specialised agencies that feel the mining project does not involve any physical displacement of people, as no habitation stands on the lease area.
The supporters also rubbish claims that Vedanta would have made super profits due to the cheap availability of bauxite. To the contrary, they say, it is the global producers who were worried since aluminium prices in India could have come down sharply.
They also state that for the first time in India a special funding arm, called Lanjigarh Project Area Development Foundation, was set up with a contribution of 5 percent of the profits before tax of the project to develop the local area.
The result of that has been an English medium school with 500 children, the bulk of whom are first-generation school-goers, a modern hospital, piped water to the villages, all-weather roads, electricity, centralised kitchen and agro-based small units.
Late last month, the Odisha government promised the employees of Vedanta Aluminium steps to ensure regular supply of bauxite, so that thousands of jobs are saved and the factory does not close down.
“I’ll follow it up and take the matter forward in consultation with the chief secretary. All necessary steps will be taken,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik then told a delegation of the “Save Vedanta Movement”, an association of employees.
“If the company closes down, lives of more than 20,000 people will be affected. We want the government to take immediate measures for supply of bauxite to the company so that we and our region will prosper,” said Srikant Bohidar of Lanjigarh.