Shimla: In a significant shot in the arm of the enviornment activists in the state, the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) revoked the environment clearance granted to cement maker Lafarge India for its greenfield project in Alsindi in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh.
The NEAA judgment came after a one-man team, comprising NEAA Cairman J.C. Kala, visited the Lafarge’ plant site on June 23 and heard grievances of the local people facing displacement.
The NEAA judgment noted that the environment and forests ministry while granting environment clearance June 8, 2009, ignored the fact that the project would affect the wildlife of the Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary that is located less than five km from the project site.
The Monday order of the NEAA, an appeals body created by an Act of Parliament, said: ‘The authority is convinced that on environmental and social considerations it is neither desirable to mine Telehan village nor put up cement plant at 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.
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.
Lafarge received its clearance on June 8, 2009 following an inspection by the ministry on May 5 the same 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. Anurag Kak, senior vice-president at Lafarge who is in charge of the Himachal project said, ‘We have tried to reduce the actual mining area considerably. We have been awarded 800 ha, of which about 325 ha 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.’
Environmentalists Manshi Asher and Prakash Bhandari, who are fighting for the rights of the people to be affected by the project, told reporters that the NEAA judgment showed that ‘the dispossession, impoverishment and trauma attached to displacement have neither been captured by the environment impact assessment nor appreciated by the expert appraisal committee or the state government.
In March 2007, Lafarge India had signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Himachal Pradesh to set up the cement manufacturing facility at Alsindi near Karsog and undertake mining of 3 million tons per annum of limestone.