To revive the beleaguered Niyamgiri bauxite mining project in south Odisha, the state government has written to the Union ministry of environment and forests, proposing that gram sabhas in the area be again polled for approval.
The mining plan was scrapped two years earlier, after all 12 gram sabhas held in and around this hill range voted unanimously against the project. The referendum was conducted between July 19 and August 20, 2013, complying with a Supreme Court directive to ascertain whether mining in Niyamgiri would affect the religious, community and individual rights of local forest dwellers.
Scrapping of the project had dealt a blow to the alumina refinery of Vedanta at Lanjigarh on the foothills of Niyamgiri; this was dependent on the 75 million tonnes of bauxite deposit for raw material.
|A RAY OF HOPE|
The state government has argued that when the gram sabhas rejected the earlier proposal, it was a joint venture project between Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) and Vedanta. As the state has since cancelled the JV agreement and decided that mining will be done by only OMC, the original lessee of the deposit, it should be treated as a new proposal, requiring conduct of fresh gram sabhas for forest and environment clearances.
Besides, officials feel, there is scope to overturn the decision on Niyamgiri based on the resolutions at gram sabhas on technical grounds.
The sabhas had turned out to be a referendum on setting up of the Vedanta project, whereas the Supreme Court mandate on holding of the sabhas was meant to protect religious rights of the tribals over the Niyam Raja shrine located 10 km from the mining site, and ensure implementation of the tribal rights Act in the area, they argue.
Meanwhile, in the absence of local bauxite supply, Vedanta is trying to keep the refinery afloat by procuring raw material from other states and abroad. With the operations becoming costlier due to added transport cost and the falling prices of aluminium/alumina in the international market, Vedanta has decided to curtail production at the refinery and started laying off work force.