New Delhi: Less than a month after India’s environment ministry rescinded a clearance given to Vedanta Resources Plc for a bauxite mining project in Orissa, India’s environment appellate authority withdrew one given to Lafarge India Pvt. Ltd’s cement project in Himachal Pradesh—an indication that the decision on the Vedanta project could indeed act as the precedent that many environmental analysts saw it as.
Lafarge’s integrated cement complex comprises a cement plant with a capacity of 3 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) and 2 mtpa of clinker, and a captive limestone extraction mine with a capacity of 3 mtpa.
The Monday order of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), an appeals body created by an Act of Parliament, said: “Taking into consideration all the relevant aspects, the authority is convinced that on environmental and social considerations, it is neither desirable to mine the Talehan village nor put up the cement plant in Ghanger.”
The appeals body’s order went on to criticize the ministry of environment and forests, and the expert appraisal committee (which analyses the environment impact assessment, or EIA, and forwards it recommendations for a final decision) for not having correctly assessed the impact of the project on land, water and air, and failing to appreciate its effects on the livelihood of the people in the area.
Lafarge received its clearance on 8 June 2009 following an inspection by the ministry on 5 May the same year. NEAA inspected?the sites for the mine and the plant in June this year.
A Lafarge statement released on Monday said that NEAA has set aside the clearance, based on certain observations of the sole member of the tribunal and that the appellate authority has not found any irregularities or violations committed by the company.
“The company is in the process of examining the order and will decide on the future course of action soon,” it added.
A Lafarge executive added that the company has already tried to minimize its environmental footprint. “We have tried to reduce the actual mining area considerably. We have been awarded 800ha, of which about 325ha will be mined. So relocation is only for one village and there is some cultivation in the mining area. The projected capital cost is Rs 1,000 crore,” said Anurag Kak, senior vice-president at Lafarge, who is in charge of the Himachal project.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh couldn’t be reached for comment.
In March 2007, Lafarge India had signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Himachal Pradesh to set up the cement manufacturing facility in Karsog and undertake mining of 3 mtpa of limestone.
Refuting allegations on violation of environment norms that surfaced almost immediately, the company said that it had undertaken a detailed impact study with respect to air, water, soil, noise and socio-economic components within 10km radius of the proposed project site and provided necessary safeguards.
According to the appellate body, on its site visit, it observed that there was total opposition to the mine from villagers of Talehan village. Its order said that the villagers’ dependence is on agriculture and livestock, and that Lafarge’s claim that the mining area is not cultivable is untrue. NEAA also said that while the company claimed it would secure the consent of at least 70% of the households in the area, Lafarge has admitted that it has, as of date, acquired the consent of only 16 of 381 landowners.
Lafarge’s statement reiterated several points made in EIA: that a majority of the people living within a 10km radius of the project do not depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and that the plant and mine are to come up on uncultivable land.