Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, July 29:
Although there is no official word on it as of now, there are reports that the Vedanta Aluminium company ( Sesa Sterlite group) may have got definite assurances from the Odisha government for the grant of mining lease for at least three laterite deposits in Koraput district to help it solve the problems of accessing raw material for its alumina refinery at Lanjigarh.
This explains why the company has now stepped up its efforts for a six-fold expansion of its controversial Lanjigarh alumina refinery which faced an uncertain future after its Niyamgiri bauxite mining project was summarily rejected by the local tribal people in the referendum ordered by the Supreme Court last August.
The Economic Times (ET) in a report today has revealed that “the government has zeroed in on three (laterite) deposits, covering an area of 140 hectares near Jeypore in Koraput district. Laterite, with some beneficiation and combined with the bauxite the company has been forced to import or source from Gujarat, can be used input to make alumina, the report said.
It quoted an unnamed senior official as saying that although Vedanta had put in 5-6 applications, the government has “approved’ prospecting licences for 3 deposits” and that the prospecting licences can then progress to mining lease.
The catch is, unlike bauxite, laterite is categorised as a minor industrial mineral and its exploitation will, therefore, not require the approval of the Central government. The company has already successfully experimented with laterite from Andhra Pradesh, sources said.
Experts say there is no principal difference between laterites and bauxites since ” bauxites are nothing other than highly aluminous varieties of laterite showing continuous transitions.” In geosciences, lateritic bauxites (silicate bauxites) are distinguished from karst bauxites (carbonate bauxites).
There is no clarity, however, over the nature and quality of the laterite deposits that Vedanta ( Sesa Sterlite) group is eyeing in Odisha.
The ET report says, “Naveen Patnaik’s government is pushing for the Odisha Mining Coropration (OMC) to develop the 224 million ton Karlapat deposit, and the smaller 22 million ton deposit at Majingamali that can then supply raw material to Sesa Sterlite’s alumina refinery project. The state has recommended to the Centre that these two deposits be reserved for its PSU but the centre is yet to approve these allocations to OMC.
Sources said the BJD government, which was unwilling to extend support to its projects to avoid public criticism before the general elections, does not have to worry much about it now.
Sesa Sterlite group is hopeful that the state-owned OMC gets hold of the two bauxite deposits, it can always renew its joint venture, formed earlier for the proposed mining in Niaymgiri, and reap the benefits, the sources added..