Vedanta flouted forest conservation norms, says report
Vedanta Aluminium has violated forest conservation guidelines and has failed to follow the Forest Rights Act in letter and spirit at a proposed bauxite mine project in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa, according to a report submitted by a three-member team to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
After receiving allegations about the project earlier this year, the Ministry constituted the team – with a forestry official, a former government wildlife official and an independent sociology expert - to inspect the site and speak to all stakeholders. The team's report was considered by the Forest Advisory Committee of the Ministry on Friday, and the Orissa government was asked to provide an explanation for the violations, according to Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests.
The company has built an incomplete mine access road passing through both forest and non-forest areas and has constructed 47 pillars for a conveyor corridor before receiving clearances, in violation of the Forest Conservation Act guidelines, according to a site inspection by J.K. Tewari, Chief Conservator of Forests. So far as wildlife was concerned, Vinod Rishi, former Additional Director General of the Wildlife Institute of India, has said that if no further diversion of forest land for mining is allowed, the Niyamgiri ecosystem would be able to recover.
It is the report of Usha Ramanathan from the Centre for Study of Developing Society, which is the most damning. She says that the Forest Rights Act has yet to be implemented in the area. The local Dongria Kond tribals have not been made fully aware of their land rights, nor have they been consulted about the mining project, because under the strict definition, they are not displaced people.
However, Dr. Ramanathan notes that “the disruption of their habitat and way of life…may lead to the destruction of the Dongria Konds as a Primitive Tribal Group.” She also documents cases of repression of public opinion and dissent by both the company and local authorities and reports of pollution by Vedanta's nearby refinery. In fact, she says that Vedanta Aluminium's involvement in the project may itself violate a Supreme Court order.