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Nityanand Jayaraman

6 October 2005

The Supreme Court's Central Empowered Committee on Forests issued a report on 21 September 2005 recommending the revocation of environmental clearances given to Vedanta Alumina Ltd's 1 million tonne aluminium refinery in the Niyamgiri forests in Lanjigarh, Orissa. The CEC found that Vedanta had falsified information to obtain clearances (received one year ago, on 22 September 2004) from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The CEC also found that the firm had destroyed more than 10 hectares of forest land and begun construction work onsite without obtaining separate and necessary clearances under the Forest Conservation Act. Vedanta is a UK-based mining company owned by NRI billionaire Anil Agarwal.

The refinery project is integrally dependent on the availability of 3 million tonnes of bauxite ore from the densely forested Niyamgiri hills. Referring to the Niyamgiri forests as "an ecologically sensitive area," the CEC recommended to the Supreme Court to consider revoking the environmental clearance granted to M/s Vedanta, and directing them to stop further work on the project.

Hinting at complicity of the Union Ministry of Environment and the Orissa Government in the violations, the CEC has written that "The casual approach, the lackadaisical manner and the haste with which the entire issue of forests and environmental clearance for the alumina refinery project has been dealt with smacks of undue favour/leniency and does not inspire confidence with regard to the willingness and resolve of both the State Government and the MoEF to deal with such matters keeping in view the ultimate goal of national and public interest."

Environmentalists, tribal activists and human rights proponents have welcomed the CEC report and expressed the hope that the Rs. 4000 crore project in the adivasi-dominated Niyamgiri region will be abandoned.

Tamilnadu groups in the meantime have said they will petition the Supreme Court and other appropriate authorities to order investigations into collusion by the State Pollution Control Boards and the Union Environment Ministry to favour Vedanta group companies, including Sterlite and MALCO, despite violation of environmental regulations.

Vedanta also operates a controversial copper smelter in Tuticorin through its subsidiary Sterlite Industries India Ltd. Till date, the Tuticorin complex operates without requisite clearances and consent. As against a permitted annual production of 40,000 tonnes of blister copper, the company was openly manufacturing more than 1,70,000 tonnes of copper anodes. Further, it has constructed a new smelter, refinery, cathode rod plant and captive power plant - all without clearances from the MoEF or consent from the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board. The Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes visited Tuticorin on 21 September, 2004 and observed the violations. The SCMC had recommended that the TNPCB stop construction work and close the Sterlite operation in Tuticorin. The TNPCB has not acted on those directions.

MALCO - another Vedanta subsidiary - operates an aluminium smelter and refinery in the Mettur dam area. In July 2003, a report by Justice (Retd) Akbar Kadri, chairman of the Indian People's Tribunal investigating human rights violations by the company, found the company guilty of endangering the environment and public health. The company dumps "Red Mud" - a toxic by-product of bauxite processing - on the banks of the Mettur reservoir that supplies drinking and irrigation water to seven districts of Tamilnadu.

Chennai-based Human Rights Tamilnadu Initiative and Tuticorin-based Veeranganai women's movement have said that the CEC's report demonstrates clearly the modus operandi of Vedanta/Sterlite, and the company's reach within state and central governments. They feel that the Tuticorin smelter is an even more blatant violation that reveals the extent to which corruption has set in amongst our environmental regulators. "We demand that the illegal Tuticorin smelter be shut down immediately and a CBI enquiry initiated to investigate the complicity of the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and the Union Ministry of Environment in condoning the illegal expansion and endangering environment and public health," they said.

Nityanand Jayaraman
6 Oct 2005

Nityanand Jayaraman is Chennai-based independent journalist covering issues of corporate crime. Working through a voluntary collective called Corporate Accountability Desk, he volunteers support for a number of campaigns against pollution and corporate crime.

Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

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