Odisha Sun Times Bureau
New Delhi, Mar 4:
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India today recommended the Chief Justice to constitute a three-judge bench to conduct hearing on Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC)’s interlocutory application seeking reconvening of gram sabhas for bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills.
The bench ruled that the next hearing in the matter will be taken up after formation of a three-judge bench.
The Odisha government through the state owned OMC on February 25 had moved the apex court wanting reconvening of gram sabhas so as to take another look into whether bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills will be tantamount to an infringement of the religious, community and individual rights of local forest-dwellers.
Senior counsel C A Sundaram had appeared for the state government, mentioned the matter before a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur, which had posted the interlocutory application for hearing today.
Sundaram had contended that the sabhas have failed to take into account the Supreme Court’s directive to consider the cultural and religious rights of the tribals and forest-dwellers in Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, but have gone beyond their mandate by deciding against mining in the hills.
The interlocutory application sought gram sabhas to take a fresh look into the issue on the ground that they had rejected the mining proposal of the joint venture project between Odisha Mining Corporation and Vedanta.
While the Supreme Court had ruled in April 2013 that the Vedanta Group’s bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills will have to get clearance from the gram sabhas, it had banned mining in Niyamgiri till local gram sabhas conducted a study and filed a report on whether it could be allowed to mine in the area.
The state government had then identified 12 villages from among more than 100 in the Niyamgiri hills to prepare the report.
Ministry of Environment and Forests had refused Stage II forest clearance in 2010 to Vedanta for diversion of 660 hectares of forest land for bauxite mining in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, based on the Forest Advisory Committee’s (FAC) adverse views on violation of rights of the tribal groups and impact on the ecology and biodiversity of the area.
The state government had scrapped the mining project in 2014 pouring cold water on Vedanta Group’s alumina refinery at Lanjigarh after all 12 gram sabhas had voted unanimously against mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.
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.