NEW DELHI, March 27 – In a significant development, the Supreme Court is taking up a petition filed by villagers of Meghalaya challenging allotment of forest land for mining to French cement manufacturing company Lafarge in the State.
A bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal transferred the petition filed by Shella Action Committee, formed by the tribals of Shella village, to the Forest bench, which would hear the case on Monday.
Shella Action Committee’s legal counsel senior advocate P S Narasimha urged the Apex Court to transfer the PIL filed before the Gauhati High Court in 2007, as well as the apex court, to hear it along with the main petition filed by the French cement giant. The matter was posted for hearing yesterday.
On March 24, the Centre had approached the Supreme Court requesting that it vacate its stay on mining activities carried out by Lafarge contending that it would affect diplomatic relations with Bangladesh.
Earlier, on February 5, a Special Forest Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan had stayed the mining activities on the basis of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) report which said the company was extracting minerals from the land in the forest area.
Prior to the stay, Lafarge was mining limestone at its mines in Meghalaya for transporting the same to its cement plant in Bangladesh.
The MoEF came to the conclusion that the permission for extracting limestone, a key input for making cement, from the region of Shella village in East Khasi Hills districts in Meghalaya was obtained allegedly fraudulently by showing the Forest land as barren land.
On the basis of the MoEF’s finding, the apex court had stayed all mining activities saying it cannot be permitted in an eco-fragile area. The 255-million dollar Lafarge Surma Cement project at Chhatak, Sunamganj, in Bangladesh is wholly dependent on limestone extracted from East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya.
Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited (LUMPL) is a wholly owned subsidiary company of Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd (LSC). LSC is a joint venture company between Lafarge SA of France and Cementos Molins of Spain. LSC has set up a cement plant at Chhatak in Bangladesh having captive mines in Nongtrai-Shella in Meghalaya.
The mining, crushing and export operations in Meghalaya, India are fully integrated with the cement plant operations by way of a 17 km long cross-border fully covered belt conveyor system of which 7 km is in India and the rest is in Bangladesh.