Apex court stops French firm’s mining in Meghalaya

February 5th, 2010 - 9:03 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 5 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday ordered French firm Lafarge, involved in mining limestone in Meghalaya for its cement plants in Bangladesh, to immediately stop its mining operations in the state.
The bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Aftab Alam ordered Lafarge to stop mining following allegations that the firm has raised funds from various international banks after mortgaging the state’s land it had fraudulently transferred to itself.

The bench ordered Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd to stop its mining operations in Meghalaya on a lawsuit by a civil society group, Shella Action Committee, of the East Khasi Hills district in state.

The lawsuit alleged that by violating the country’s constitutional provisions, the French firm has transferred the land belonging to tribals to itself in collusion with some local groups.

The lawsuit alleged that the firm later “mortgaged the tribal land to foreign banks like the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Deutsche Investitutions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft, the European Investment Bank, the Arab Bangladesh Bank and the Standard Chartered Bank”.

“The firm mortgaged the land to raise loan of 153 million US dollars,” said the lawsuit of the tribal society.

Asking Lafarge to stop its mining operations, the bench told the firm to apprise it within three days about its mined limestone that is lying at a site.

The bench earlier on Nov 23, 2007, had allowed the firm to continue its mining operations in the state. The mining had been stopped in April 2007 by the union ministry of environment and forests on the ground that it had fraudulently obtained environment clearance for the project.

A special environment bench, headed by Chief Justice Balakrishnan, said Lafarge would be allowed to restart its mining - subject to the outcome of a cost-benefit analysis of the firm’s proposal to set up a cement plant in Meghalaya.

The bench, which also included erstwhile Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia, allowed Lafarge to continue mining for its cement factory in Bangladesh on the recommendations of senior counsel Harish Salve, who has been assisting the court in the matter.

Salve had made the recommendation to allow Lafarge to continue its limestone mining in the Khasi Hills near village Nongtrai after the French firm’s non-executive chairman and former HDFC chairman Deepak S. Parekh explained to him that the deposit of the Nongtrai mines could be best utilized by the Bangladesh plant.

Parekh in his explanatory note had told Salve that “the limestone from the mines can be best utilized in Lafarge’s Bangladesh plant as the harsh terrain of the area and the poor quality of roads makes it economically unviable to transport limestone or cement from the mining site of Nongtrai to the markets in Meghalaya”.

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