Orissa bats for Vedanta even as govt panel finds violations

NEW DELHI: Orissa government has come out in favour of the controversial Vedanta group with the BJD government in the state opposing the views of a central committee that bauxite mining in Lanjigarh were being carried out in violation of SC orders, the Forest Rights Act and the Forest Conservation Act.

But with central government mandated to enforce these legislations, the environment ministry has decided to pursue the case on basis of its committee's report and not the state government's representations, sources told TOI. The Orissa government on March 11 wrote two letters to the Centre claiming that as per its assessment, the rights of tribals had been settled under the Forest Rights Act and that no violations of Forest Conservation Act had been found.

Sterlite Industries Limited, which was allowed by the Supreme Court to start an aluminium refinery in place of Vedanta Aluminium Limited (both founded by Anil Agarwal), had earlier written to the Centre opposing the terms and composition of the committee.
But the environment ministry backed the independent member of the three-member panel, Usha Ramanathan, who had came under attack from Sterlite. While the two forest officials on the committee reported on infringements of forest laws as well as possible impact on wildlife of the mining to be carried out by Orissa Mining Corporation to provide bauxite to the Sterlite refinery, Ramanathan studied the impact on primitive tribal groups in the region and other people. She also dwelt on infringement of SC orders as well as issues of displacement and dislocation. Ramanathan's report was scathing on several counts while the forest officials too pointed out violations. The panel's report was considered by the Forest Advisory Committee of the environment ministry.

While the final minutes of the meeting are yet to be written, sources said FAC had accepted the report and advised the government to act on the evidence provided by the report. Ministry sources said Orissa government's defence of Vedanta, Sterlite and OMC in the face of the report had led to an awkward situation but the environment ministry would pursue action based on its report and not the state's representations. The ministry was also contemplating referring the issues pertaining to tribal rights and infringement of Forest Rights Act to the Union ministry of tribal affairs, sources said.