Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Oct 27:
The state government is proposing to hold fresh gram sabhas in its renewed efforts for mining bauxite in Niyamgiri hills through the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) to provide long term ore linkage to the aluminium industry in the state.
After fetching legal opinion from experts, the state government will make formal applications to the Supreme Court and the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) in this regard.
Since it requires Supreme Court’s permission to do so, the state government’s Mines department has sought legal advice in the matter, revealed Steel and Mines Minister Prafulla Mallick here today.
“We intend to hold gram sabhas again. Since the earlier gram sabhas were held on the directions of the Supreme Court, we have sought legal opinion on whether we shall go for holding of these gram sabhas with the apex court’s permission or with the permission of the MoEF. We will go for holding of the gram sabhas after getting the legal opinion,” said Mallick.
On the other hand, questions have been raised on the state government move to hold gram sabhas for the second time when the proposal for mining bauxite in the Niyamagiri hills has been rejected in the earlier held gram sabhas. Doubts have been expressed on Supreme Court giving a green signal for holding of gram sabhas for the second time.
“To hold gram sabhas Supreme Court’s clearance is needed. After getting apex court’s clearance, the approval of MoEF is required only then mining can be undertaken. What is the revised context? It will be too difficult,” said former director of Mines B K Mohanty commenting on the state government’s move.
The mining plan for Niyamgiri was scrapped two years earlier, after all 12 gram sabhas held in and around this hill range voted unanimously against the project. The referendum was conducted between July 19 and August 20, 2013, complying with a Supreme Court directive to ascertain whether mining in Niyamgiri would affect the religious, community and individual rights of local forest dwellers.
Scrapping of the project had dealt a blow to the alumina refinery of Vedanta at Lanjigarh on the foothills of Niyamgiri; this was dependent on the 75 million tonnes of bauxite deposit for raw material.
Meanwhile, in the absence of local bauxite supply, Vedanta is trying to keep the refinery afloat by procuring raw material from other states and abroad. With the operations becoming costlier due to added transport cost and the falling prices of aluminium/alumina in the international market, Vedanta has decided to curtail production at the refinery and started laying off work force.