Orissa slams panel allegations

New Delhi, Aug 20 : An incenced Orissa government has protested “derogatory” remarks made by an expert committee that accused it of collusion with India’s third-largest conglomerate, Vedanta, in recommending the denial of mining leases in that state’s Niyamgiri Hills.

The protest, sent a day after the report written by four-member team led by N.C. Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council (of which Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is chairperson), was conveyed through a letter written on Tuesday to the secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

“It is shocking to note that the Saxena Committee has preferred to discuss in a derogatory manner the issues that have already been considered and adjudicated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court (in 2008),” said N. Behera, Principal secretary, Orissa government, in the letter, a copy of which is with HT.

The Orissa government has requested it be “given an opportunity” to present its views before the fate of the Vedanta project for an aluminium refinery is decided by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. Orissa, the letter said is “the second-best performing state in the coutry” in implementing forest rights, “finalising claims of more than two lakh tribals”.

The panel report accused both Vedanta and the state of submitting fake documentation and violations of forest, environmental and tribal-rights laws.

“It (Orissa government) has gone to the extent of forwarding false certificates and may do so again in future,” the report, submitted on Tuesday said. “The MoEF is advised not to believe the Orissa government’s contentions without independent verification.”

Vedanta Chief Operating Officer Mukesh Kumar said his firm denied all the violations. “Look at all the reports and documents the committee didn’t consider,” he said, referring to clearances submitted to SC and MoEF.