NEW DELHI, ET, 18TH April: Environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan nixed yet another attempt by Vedanta to get Niyamgiri bauxite mines in Odisha that Rahul Gandhi had stood up against, saving the Congress and its scion some blushes.

On Tuesday, she ordered that the preliminary nod given by her ministry to the expansion of Vedanta’s aluminium refinery, which the company had claimed would source 150 million tonnes of bauxite from Niyamgiri mines in Lanjigarh, be held in abeyance which effectively puts the project on hold.

The environment ministry had earlier cancelled the forest clearance to Vedanta for mining Niyamgiri hills for violation of green norms and hauled up the company for expanding the linked aluminium refinery without mandatory environmental clearance. It asked the company to file an application afresh for the expansion of the refinery. Vedanta went to the Supreme Court against the ban on mining.

Alongside, the company filed a fresh application for expansion of the aluminium refinery. But without a word on the existing rigmarole over Niyamgiri mines, the company said it would source 150 million tonnes of bauxite from the Lanjigarh mines.

Disregarding the fact that the ministry had rejected Vedanta’s bid for Lanjigarh mines, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) division of the ministry gave preliminary nod to the project asking it to go ahead and hold a public hearing on the project based on the EIA report. The report of the company too did not mention, as required, that the claimed source of raw material was bound in legal disputes.

Sources said Natarajan stepped in when informed and put the preliminary nod given by her officers to Vedanta on hold. The public hearing now stands cancelled till the ministry takes a final view on the case.

The EIA report of Vedanta accessed by TOI reads, “Orissa Mining Corporation will ensure supply of bauxite, which is main raw material for the alumina refinery, to the tune of 150 million tonnes from Lanjigarh bauxite deposit located in Niyamgiri hill ranges and other deposits around the plant.”

Interestingly, the company, as per its own documents, had got the scientific and environmental data generated for the assessment report even before the terms for gathering such data had been set by the government. The studies normally are carried out only after the environment ministry informs the project developer about the scope of such research.

The assessment report is put before the affected people in public hearings as per green laws. Approval in the public hearings and addressing concerns raised is essential for all projects. The Orissa government had put out the date for Vedanta’s public hearing based on these flawed reports.