The Supreme Court on Thursday stalled Vedanta Group's bauxite mining project
in Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha till gram sabhas of districts Rayagada and Kalahandi in the state give clearance to it.
The apex court directed the gram sabhas of the two districts to decide in three months the issues arising out of the mining project, including that of the tribals residing in the area.
A bench of justices Aftab Alam, K S Radhakrishnan and Ranjan Gogoi also directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to take action in two months after a report from the gram sabhas is received.
The bench gave the directions on the petition moved by state-owned Orissa Mining Corporations (OMC) challenging MoEF's decision to cancel the environmental clearance granted to the Niyamgiri Bauxite Mining Project of Sterlite Industries Ltd
, the Indian arm of UK-based Vedanta Group.
The ministry had refused the next stage forest clearance to OMC and Sterlite's mining project in Niyamgiri Hills area in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, accepting the Forest Advisory Committee's (FAC) recommendation for withdrawal of the clearance.
During the proceedings, OMC and Sterlite Industries had claimed that no ecological damage has been caused due to the mining activities in Niyamgiri Hills.
This contention had been opposed by the MoEF and various tribal rights groups which had alleged that the project has violated environmental norms.
The ministry had submitted before the court that the forest dwellers cannot be evicted from proposed mining sites in Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha till the "community and individual" rights of residents are decided under the law.
Earlier in 2007, the MoEF had given in-principle approval to Sterlite's $1.7 billion bauxite mining project. However, in August 2010, the ministry had rejected the clearance citing various violation of forest and environmental laws.
In 2003, Vedanta Resources had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Odisha government for construction of one-million-tonne-per-annum capacity refinery for aluminium production in Kalahandi district.
Vedanta had later sought to expanded the refinery's capacity to six million tonne per annum.
As part of project, the South West Bauxite Mining Company Pvt Ltd, a joint venture of Vedanta and OMC had proposed to extract 73 million tonne of bauxite from around 721 hectares land over a period of 23 years.