New Delhi: The government has ordered a new panel to investigate if Vedanta Resources Plc’s plans to mine bauxite could impact local tribes and wildlife, possibly further delaying a project already running about two years late.
An environment ministry statement said the four-member committee would investigate the “specific impact on the livelihood, culture and material welfare” of a local tribal group in Orissa. It will submit its findings in 30 days.
The committee is the latest roadblock to London-listed Vedanta’s years-long wait to obtain clearance to draw bauxite for its alumina refinery in the face of protests from indigenous people who fear losing their homes and livelihood.
The mine has become a cause celebre for rights groups and underscores the tightrope walk for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to balance economic development with protecting hundreds of millions of poor from the fallout.
The environment minister Jairam Ramesh has scrapped or delayed approval for some 100 mining projects, to the frustration of some of his Cabinet colleagues.
Vedanta says the mine in the Niyamgiri mountain forests, beneath which lie 78 million tonnes of bauxite, will not violate the rights of local tribes and the company is also funding schools, clinics and income-generation projects in the area.
Its subsidiary company Sterlite Industries, co-owned by the Orissa state government, plans to start mining once clearance is given.
“We believe that the outcome of this review would expedite the clearance of the project and bring socio-economic development of Kalahandi (district),” a Vedanta spokesperson said on Wednesday.
A report on Vedanta submitted to the environment ministry in March said company was violating environmental guidelines and had not taken adequate consideration of the impact on the Dongria Kondh people.
But despite that report, Prime Minister Singh’s office has written to the ministry to clear the project, the Economic Times newspaper reported on Tuesday citing an unnamed government official.
India needs to plug a shortage of power and raw materials to help motor industrial growth which rose an annual 17.6% in April, as Asia’s third-largest economy rebounds from the global slowdown.