Multi-billion dollar mining giant Vedanata Resources has violated environment regulations at its Rs 50,000-crore project in Orissa giving a go-by to tribal rights, the government has said.
"I can say that they have violated Forest Rights Act, without taking consideration of the tribal rights," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Friday, adding the violation was both on the tribal front and also of the forest regulations.
Commenting on a ministerial expert committee that had gone into various mining projects in Orissa, he said Niyamgiri mining activities of Anil Agarwal led Vedanta had been found in violation of different regulations.
At the same time, he hit at campaigns launched by human right groups like Amnesty against the project as also its counter by the company through full page advertisements in national and local dailies.
A three-member team of the Union Environment Ministry submitted its report to the government yesterday, saying it has found evidence of violations of green norms at the company's bauxite project in the Kalahandi district of Orissa.
"I would not subscribe to the high-profile campaign in the case by various groups... I am looking at the case on merit basis," he said, adding the company had started construction work on land that belongs to the revenue department without necessary clearances.
The minister added he had been receiving a large number of representations with regard to bauxite mining by Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) through Vedanta. After site inspection, the team while giving various instances of violation said "this is a case of violation of the F(C) Act and also of the environment guidelines."
Vedanta Resources, part of the $ 6.6 billion metals and mining giant, Vedanta, is implementing various mining projects in the country.
However, its Rs 4,500-crore alumina refinery in Orissa has become a rallying point for environmentalists as they allege the company is in violation of environment laws.
The hard-hitting report has been prepared by two forest officials and a legal expert Usha Ramanathan after visiting the locals and talking to them about the project.
"The process of determination and settlement of individuals, community and traditional rights has not been completed yet.
"In none of the villages that we visited was there any understanding about how to delineate, and claim, community and traditional rights," the report said, pointing gross negligence of tribal rights by the mining company.
Also, "the locals of the two villages situated close to the plant have approached the state rights commission complaining of increased morbidity and mortality, cattle death, irritation in the eyes and noise population," the report adds.
The report has found fault with the way the public hearing was conducted and said only one out of the 27 locals who spoke welcomed the project.
"There have also been instances where a government department has received material assistance from Vedanta and that this could detract from the neutrality of the government department," the report said.
Government expert Vinod Rishi, who inspected the mining impact on wildlife, said that the area had exhausted its capacity.
"It will be in the overall interest of development and conservation of human society, natural environment and wildlife to not allow further diversion of forest land in the Niyamgiri ecosystem," he said.
When contacted Vedanta Aluminium Limited, Lanjigarh, COO Mukesh Kumar said, "The Orissa government on March 11, 2010, sent two letters to the Environment and Forest Ministry submitting that there is no violation of Forest Conservation Act in the 660.749 hectare of land at Niyamgiri Hill where bauxite mining is proposed by Vedanta in JV with the Orissa Mining Corporation.
"The Orissa government further said there is no violation of the Forest Dwellings Rights Act in the region and all the norms have been complied with by Vedanata."
While the Forest Conservation Act prevents any construction or mining activity in a reserved area, the Forest Dwellings Rights Act to protect the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the forest area, he added.
When asked if the company has commenced construction on land belonging to the Revenue Department, Kumar said, "The land lease was transferred to us from the Revenue Department in 2004-05."
Vedanta Resources has proposed to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills in a joint venture with OMC to feed its 1-million tonne per annum aluminium refinery, which is being expanded to about 5-MTPA at an estimated investment of Rs 6,000 crore.
The mining major's aluminium project in Orissa is operated through Vedanta Aluminium Ltd, which also runs a 0.5-MTPA smelter at Jharsuguda in the state. PTI