The Supreme Court Monday rejected the central government’s plea to allow French cement giant Lafarge restart limestone mining in Meghalaya.
A special forest bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, refused to allow Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited collect limestone from Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hill district despite the government’s plea to suspend its Feb 5 order temporarily banning the mining operations.
The court also rejected a plea to consider a forest clearance certificate hurriedly-procured by the government from its ministry of environment and forests for the French firm.
Before acceding to consider the forest clearance certificate, the bench asked the government to conduct studies on four crucial aspects related to the flora and fauna and the bio-diversity of the area from where the French firm is collecting raw material to feed its cement units in Bangladesh.
The bench wanted the government to ‘conduct a periodic assessment of the flora and fauna and devise a time bound plan for conservation of the same’.
The bench also asked the government to devise a comprehensive bio-diversity conservation plan with provisions of time bound implementation. The plan is to be prepared by a state agency, detailing sources of funding.
The bench also wanted the government to conduct a study for feasibility of implementation of ‘surface minor technology’ to reduce environmental impacts and degradations.
The bench gave these directions after hearing a lawsuit by a civil society group, Shella Action Committee, of local Shella tribals of the East Khasi Hills district in the state.
They have challenged mining by Lafarge in Meghalaya’s hill districts on environmental grounds.
The bench adjourned the matter for further hearing in July.
On April 12, the government told the court that it would examine the feasibility of giving Lafarge the Forest Clearance Certificate within two weeks if it abides by certain monetary stipulations for the development of the tribal people and the region around its project area.
Appearing for the government, Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati told the court that the government is contemplating giving a forest clearance certificate to the firm in case it pays a sum of Rs.55 crore along with a 9 percent annual interest over it till its payment.
These monetary terms were suggested by a court-appointed central empowered committee’s suggestion for development in the tribal region.
Vahanvati told the court that other monetary stipulations included creation of a special institutional panel, Special Purpose Vehicle, headed by the Meghalaya chief secretary to oversee the developmental work funded by monetary compensation to be paid by the French firm.
The French firm would pay compensation at the rate of Rs.90 per tonne of limestone from the date from which it commenced mining earlier, said Vahanvati.
He also listed out other conditions that the French firm will have to abide by for development of the area in case it gets a forest clearance certificate.