Wildlife Society of Orissa Refutes Vedanta’s Environment Claim

Prasanta Patnaik

The Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO) has strongly refuted the claim of Vedanta that there “has been no regulatory violations of any kind at the Lanjigarh Alumina Refinery.” The Company obviously believes in the Goebbelesian theory that if it always falsely claims that it is not guilty, people will swallow the lie.

In a statement, its Secretary Biswajit Mohanty, alleged on 25th August,2010 that the company is a habitual offender in Orissa and is guilty of violating the environmental laws since construction started much before environmental clearance was obtained by the company in September,2004.

The Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik had inaugurated the Refinery much before the company procured environmental clearance. This reveals the deep support being extended to Vedanta by the highest functionary of the state.

WSO had filed the first PIL before the CEC on 6.11.2004 pointing out the violations by the Lanjigarh refinery unit. The first fact finding committee (Chaddha and Sharma committee ) sent by the CEC in December, 2004 noticed several violations of forest laws by the Lanjigarh plant. Gramya jungle was illegally enclosed by the factory for which the company had not even filed any application for forest clearance.

Though the Niyamgiri mine has not been opened up, the fact remains that they have widened a narrow forest track leading from Lanjigarh to Niyamgiri hill top and made it vehicle worthy though they did not have the MOEF’s clearance to fell trees and widen such a road. They also built the conveyor belt over a patch of forest land and hav illegally enclosed a village forest rights over which has been claimed by local villagers under FRA . These violations are well documented by Saxena report.

Though the guidelines issued under the Forest Conservation Act,1980 clearly specify that a project has be applied for in entirety and not split into parts, they deliberately broke up the project into the refinery and mines separately and first got the refinery cleared. This was done and construction started so that the MOEF would be presented with a fait accompli that the mines have to be cleared since the Company ha already spent Rs.5,000 crores on the refinery.

Though the MOU signed with the Orissa govt. mandated supply of 150 million tones of bauxite, how could they start the refinery without being assured of a single tonne of bauxite from any mine in Orissa? It was disastrous to run a huge refinery of 1 million tonne capacity ferrying bauxite from far off mines in Chattisgarh which has already destroyed the roads of Kalahandi district. Conniving district or pollution control board officials never stopped them from doing so.

The state government connived with the company to propose diversion of forest land in a Schedule V area which can only be done if all tribal inhabitants fully agree in a Gram sabha. Besides, no forest land can be diverted in a Schedule V area for industry or mines as per guidelines of the Forest Conservation Act,1980. This provision was made to protect the livelihoods of tribals who are heavily dependent upon forests.

There was nothing in the Supreme Court orders to prevent the MOEF or its expert bodies like the FAC or expert committees from exercising their lawful powers and discharge their responsibility to examine the impact of mining on the Niyamgiri forests. The Solicitor General of India had also given his clear go ahead to a specific query by the Ministry about this

It is indeed wise that no new refinery to be set up in Orissa since the last 25 years. Almost the entire aluminum to be produced by Vedanta would be exported as the country is self sufficient in aluminum.

Orissa does not have to rush to finish our meager bauxite reserves of 1,600 million tones within 20 – 25 years and leave nothing for the future. Vedanta by expanding to 6 million tones per annum alumina would now need almost 450 million tones or almost 1/3rd of the Orissa deposits over the next 25 years.

Though the company claims to have employed 10,000 people, the project report says that less than 500 people would find employment. Most people might be employed in the construction of the expansion project, which will finish in 2-3 years time after which they will be jobless.

The local police and district administration have become tools of he company and have unleashed repression on the innocent tribals of Niyamgiri who have been protesting this project in a lawful and democratic manner. The Company has subverted the state’s administration and even persuaded the officials to issue false certificates and file wrong information with the central government in order to obtain clearances. These are the startling findings of the Saxena report.

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