Apex court questions environment ministry on Niyamgiri (Lead)

August 1st, 2011 - 8:58 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday asked the ministry of environment and forests to respond to a plea of the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) challenging the withdrawal of environmental clearance for its bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri hills in the state.

The apex court bench of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra asked the ministry to file its reply in two weeks after the Orissa government-run OMC told the court that the clearances were withdrawn without giving them an opportunity to be heard.

The court also permitted environmentalist Prafulla Samanta to move an application seeking to be included as a party in the case.

Samanta is opposing bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills for the project between the OMC and the Vedanta Resources’s Indian arm, Sterlite Industries, for their aluminium plant in the state.

Appearing for the OMC, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal told the court that the union ministry by its July 11 order withdrew the earlier environmental clearance, without affording the petitioner an opportunity to be heard.

The court was told that by the said order the environmental clearance given April 28, 2009 was declared to be inoperable.

The court is already seized of a petition by the OMC challenging the ministry’s order of Aug 30, 2010, rejecting the stage II forest clearance for the diversion of 660.74 hectares of forest land for bauxite mining in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in Orissa.

While seeking the quashing of the July 11 order withdrawing the environmental clearance, the OMC sought an interim stay on it. The court, however, did not pass any order giving interim relief.

Vedanta signed a deal with the Orissa government in 2003 for the construction of an aluminium refinery and proposed to extract three million tonnes of bauxite per year from Niyamgiri hills.

There was opposition to the mining-cum-refinery project by the locals. A central government panel in August 2010 found Vedanta guilty of expanding its refinery without clearance and shot down its mining plans.

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