Vedanta Aluminium is in the thick of allegations of having violated Forests Act by carrying out construction near its alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Orissa. However, in an interview with FE’s Rajat Guha and Rishi Raj, the company’s chief operating officer Mukesh Kumar denied all charges and maintained that Vedanta Aluminium had not committed any impropriety. Excerpts:
There are allegations that Vedanta has violated the Forests Act. What is your response?
Let me clarify that Vedanta Aluminium is not involved in any mining activities. As per the Supreme Court Order, mining activities are to be undertaken by Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and Vedanta has a sale purchase agreement with OMC. Since the stage II clearance from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for mining in Niyamgiri hills is pending, no activities have started in the proposed mining area by OMC. Given these facts, allegations of violating various laws are completely baseless. Even the report by Vinod Rishi, part of the three-member committee that submitted its report to MoEF clearly states that there has been no violation of Forest Rights Act and laws related to wildlife conservation.
There are also allegations that Vedanta carried out activities like construction of pillars on non-forest land without getting clearances.
The company was allotted 2,018 acres in Lanjigarh by the Orissa government in 2002 for an alumina refinery. We have set up 1 MT refinery along with a rehabilitation colony and staff quarters on that land. The company has constructed 47 pillars in the same complex, which does not need any approval from any authority. Even the report submitted by JK Tewari, another member of the three-member committee substantiates this fact. We have never carried out any construction activity outside this 2,018 acres earmarked for the refinery project.
Is there any discharge of pollutants from the Lanjigarh plant impacting water bodies?
We are the first alumina refinery in the country to adopt the zero-discharge system; that is, no effluent is discharged to outside water bodies from the plant. The effluent is recycled within the plant which helps us to reduce external water requirement by over 60%. Further, the State Pollution Control Board is continuously monitoring the impact on the surroundings.
What will be the impact of mining on Dongria Kondh tribe who reside on Niyamgiri Hills?
The Niyamgiri Hill ranges are spread across 250 sq km. Of this, only around 4-5 sq km of area on one particular hill top, where there is no habitation or cultivation, will be utilised for mining. The Dongria Kondh resides around 25 km away from this hill. Hence, there will not be even a single displacement of Dongia Kondhs in the mining area.
It is held that Niyamgiri Hill ranges are going to be devastated by the mining operations. Let me clarify few facts about bauxite mining. Bauxite reserves are found only on hill tops in a plateau formation. The very nature of bauxite reserves does not allow vegetation to grow because the soil is laterite which forms a hard surface and does not allow the water to seep in. Therefore, rain water hardly charges ground water table, as it flushes off. During mining, the top hard laterite surface is broken and refilled in mined-out area, thus allowing recharging of water table. There have been cases world over including Panchpatmali Bauxite deposits of Nalco in Orissa where forest cover has improved after bauxite mining due to reclamation and compensatory afforestation. Given these facts, no damage to the Niyamgiri hill ranges will be there except some barren pockets where plantation shall be undertaken as per the approved mining plan after mining operation to make the entire area green. Even the study carried out by Central Mine Planning & Design Institute,
How many families were displaced for the refinery project and what was your R&R policy?
Only 119 families were displaced for setting up the refinery and all were rehabilitated. As per the R&R policy, employment to one member from each displaced family has been given in the plant except a few cases where no eligible member was available. In such cases, one-time cash compensation has been paid. Here, I would like to mention that UNDP has recommended Vedanta’s R&R policy as a model R&R policy for Orissa.
Why then have there been protests by activists groups against Vedanta in Orissa?
All the activists groups who have been camping in Orissa for the last 25 years and protesting against industrial development are feeling the heat because of our on-ground execution of the Lanjigarh project, which has resulted in the development of Kalahandi, one of the most backward areas in the country.
How does the Indian aluminium industry compare globally?
With world’s fourth-largest bauxite reserves estimated at 3 billion tonne,
Source: Financial Express