New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday sought to ascertain the central government’s stand on a plea by Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) challenging the revocation of the environment clearance for a Sterlite bauxite mining project in the state.
Seeking the government’s response, a bench of justices R V Raveendran and Gyan Sudha Misra issued a notice to the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) and directed it to file its reply within a week.
Senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for OMC, said the minister of state for MoEF passed an order withdrawing the environmental clearance just a day before demitting his office.
Venugopal submitted that no mandatory notice was given for this withdrawal.
In this regard, it is pertinent to note that prior to the withdrawal, OMC had approached the apex court three months earlier when the ministry had revoked its forest clearance, which is different from environment clearance and is aimed at ensuring that the project does not lead to depletion of green cover in the area.
Venugopal submitted that the minister withdrew the environment clearance for the project despite knowing that the matter is subjudice and before the Supreme Court.
The court, meanwhile, also allowed Prafful Samanta, on whose plea the MoEF had taken the action, to file an application to be a party in the matter.
Earlier, on 21 April, the apex court issued notices to the Orissa government, the environment ministry and Sterlite Industries on a petition challenging the cancellation of forest clearance for the Niyamgiri bauxite mining project in the state on OMC’s plea.
OMC had said as per the agreement, Sterlite had to pay Rs 55 crore in the wildlife fund and Rs 10 crore annually, or 5% of its annual profits, whichever was higher, for development of the area.
“Sterlite has to make the payment. They have already paid Rs 55 crore for the wildlife fund and have to pay Rs 10 crore annually for the development of the area,” it had said.
Sterlite is the Indian arm of UK-based Vedanta Resources.
Earlier, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) had given in-principle approval to the project in 2007.
Contesting the MoEF order of 24 August, OMC had submitted that the Centre’s order was illegal, arbitrary and in violation of the apex court’s earlier directions that gave a green signal to the project.
The MoEF had on 24 August rejected the forest clearance granted to Sterlite’s $1.7 billion bauxite mining project, citing the violation of various forest and environmental laws.
The ministry had refused next stage forest clearance for OMC and the Sterlite bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills area in the Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and Rayagadha districts of Orissa, accepting the Forest Advisory Committee recommendation for withdrawal of the clearance.