SC clears $13 Billion Plants

In an unprecedented hearing by the Supreme Court on Friday, its specially constituted green bench headed by chief justice K G Balakrishnan lifted all legal hurdles to the setting up of two major steel plants estimated to cost $12.80 billion in Orissa, India’s mineral bowl.After giving its nod to South Korea based Posco steel company to start its $12 billion plant on sprawling 4,000 acres of forest land, the court signed another ruling giving its nod to the London-based Vedanta Resources’ controversial bauxite mining project in the state.Sterlite Industries, Vedanta’s subsidiary in India, which will erect the plant, will have to pay for the development of the ecologically fragile Niyamgiri hill region in the Kalahandi district, home to a large number of tribals, out of its profits.The region is considered sacred by the Dongria Kondh tribes who live here and enjoy special status under the Constitution.The Supreme Court said Sterlite will have to pay 5% of its profit before tax and interest, or Rs 10 crore —- whichever is more —- every year to the Lanjigarh Foundation for the development of the region.The Anil Agarwal-promoted Sterlite has an agreement with Orissa government to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri hills for its aluminium project.Sterlite had sought clearance for diversion of 660.749 hectare of forest land for mining purposes to feed its alumina plant.The special forest bench comprising C J Balakrishnan, justices Arijit Pasayat and S H Kapadia allowed Sterlite to go ahead with bauxite mining.The Niyamgiri mine belt is projected to have reserves of 77 million tonnes and will be used to feed the company’s alumina plant in Lanjigarh in Orissa.The Dongria Kondh tribe fears the mine will destroy the sacred hills, forcing them from their homes and destroying their forest-dependent livelihoods.Faced with stiff resistance, the court barred Vedanta in November last year from conducting open cast mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.Environmentalists also apprehend that the open-cast mine would wreck the rich biodiversity of the remote hills and hamper key water sources that supply fresh water to the area and feed two rivers that irrigate large areas of farmland. Vedanta is already running its refinery with bauxite brought from other Indian states.Apex court’s central empowered committee that deals with environment issues maintained that mining should not be allowed in Niyamgiri, as it would be detrimental to the ecosystem as well as the lives of the Dongria Kondh adivasi community.But with the court effectively rejected CEC view.However, CEC offered suggestions to ensure that if mining operations were to proceed, then broad public interests shouldn’t be ignored.CEC’s report says, “The permission for mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hill area, which is indisputably an eco sensitive area, calls for a delicate balance between conservation and development.”“...The balance between these two would lie in permitting conservation not merely for private profit but in am manner that maximises the public interest component in the activity...” CEC added.

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