Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vedanta finds itself in deep end of both FCA and FRA

Vedanta is apparently violating both the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 - as found by a Ministry of Environment & Forest Team. This officially substantiates what many of us have been trying to tell the state and central government for quite some time. It also shows the contempt with which Vedanta holds the rule of law in India - that in fact the infamous Supreme Court order which allowed Vedanta's proxy Sterlite to carry out mining of Niyamgiri was premised on the assumption that Vedanta hadn't violated the forest laws; and that Sterlite - its sister company, would be responsible enough to carry of "good mining" without violating laws on Niyamgiri. That Vedanta has merrily flouted this premise of the Court shows how confident it was to be able to buy out all regulatory authorities. Unfortunately, like the CEC before this- it seems to have found that certain forest officials and experts can't be bought. Now we need to see if the MoEF, i.e. the Indian Government has the guts to say no to this lawbreaker in its quest to mine the sacred Niyamgiri.

Vedanta flouted forest conservation norms, says report

The Hindu, New Delhi, March 13 2010

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.

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