A special forest bench headed by the Chief Justice S H Kapadia of the Supreme Court has on July 6, 2011 allowed French cement giant Lafarge to mine 116-hectare limestone in the forests in the East Khasi hills in Meghalaya
Photo Courtesy: NewsofAP.com
. The apex court also upheld the revised environmental clearances given to Lafarge by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and invoking the principles of sustainable development, inter-generational equity and the doctrine of proportionality the Bench stated “The word “development” is a relative term. One cannot assume that the tribals are not aware of principles of conservation of forest. In the present case, we are satisfied that limestone mining has been going on for centuries in the area and that it is an activity which is intertwined with the culture and the unique land holding and tenure system of the Nongtrai village. On the facts of this case, we are satisfied with the diligence exercise undertaken by MoEF in the matter of forest diversion.”
The $255 million Lafarge Surma Cement project at Chhatak, in Bangladesh, is wholly dependent on limestone extracted from the Meghalaya. Limestone is transported from the Meghalaya project to Bangladesh via a 17 km-long conveyor belt. The apex court had on February 5, 2010, stopped Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd, a sister concern of the French major, from carrying out limestone mining in Meghalaya for its cement plant, with strict riders saying mining in the environmentally-sensitive zone could not be allowed. The MoEF had given revised environmental clearance to Lafarge in April 2010 on the directions of the Supreme Court after finding the mining project fell in forest land.
People of Shella village, which is within the radius of the mines, were opposing the revised clearance given by the MOEF. Lafarge was defending its case on the basis of the DFO's report on the project dated June 30, 2000, that stated that the land was wasteland devoid of forest. The court had on May 10, 2011 reserved its judgement after hearing all the parties over the revised environmental clearance given to Lafarge for mining in the forest.
The MoEF’s note dated July 7, 2011 particularly welcomes three specific features of the judgement –
- Greater role of National Forest Policy, 1988, which has been the guiding principle for forest administration in the last two decades.
- The intention of the MoEF to establish an independent regulator to bring about greater professionalism in the appraisal of projects vis-à-vis environment and forestry clearances. The MoEF has already of its own accord initiated this process and a draft note on the establishment of an independent National Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA) has been circulated for inter-ministerial consultations and will be moved for Cabinet approval thereafter.
- The Bench has also accepted certain recommendations made by the MoEF in its affidavit dated 29th April 2011 and has incorporated them as part of its final order.
The MoEF concludes by stating that the Lafarge Judgement puts in place a structure that will make the process of environmental governance more effective. It is of the view that the judiciary has played a pivotal role in environmental and forest management.
The MoEF’s note can be downloaded below -