Will Andhra governor cancel mining leases?
Following requests from people residing in tribal-dominated Schedule V areas of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh, the Union ministry of mines has decided to return mining proposals to the state government for further consideration. This was announced by minister of mines with independent charge, Dinsha Patel, in the Lok Sabha on May 18. “This (the move) would enable the governor of Andhra Pradesh to use his discretionary powers on the issue of the proposals,” the mines ministry said in a statement.
The Constitution of India gives governor special powers to take measures to safeguard interests of people in schedule V areas. If E S L Narsimhan decides to take his cue from the mines ministry, it would be the first time in the executive history of the country that a governor would use his discretionary powers to cancel mining leases.
The ministry has decided to return 13 proposals in Sapparla areas of Vishakapatnam seeking approval for grant of mining leases covering 1,757 hectares for 30 years. Patel, in a written note to the Lok Sabha stated that the Union government has received representations from local organisations complaining about involvement of non-tribal private individuals and companies in the mining leases granted to Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) for extracting minerals that include laterite, dolomite, china clay and bauxite in tribal areas of Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram, Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, Khammam, Warangal and Adilabad districts.
“Taking into account the concerns expressed by the local people relating to environment and ecology in the Araku valley in Visakhapatnam district, the government has held that the said region is inhabited by primitive tribes and mining may adversely impact their livelihood, and decided that the matter would be referred to a Committee in the Ministry of Environment and Forests to look into the issues regarding impact of bauxite mining on the environment, including water table, catchments, reservoir, forest cover etc. Further, it has been decided to return back to the state government of Andhra Pradesh 13 proposals for mining,” stated the minister.
APMDC bagged the mining leases for bauxite in forest areas of Araku valley as well east Godavari in 2005 during the tenure of former chief minister late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. Meanwhile, APMDC also entered into various contracts with private aluminum company, Jindal Steel Works (JSW), to supply bauxite from the areas of Sapparla for an aluminum smelter owned by the private company. State-owned National Aluminum Company was also given prior approvals for bauxite mining in Chintapalli Reserve Forest areas in Visakhapatnam district. Environmentalists and tribal welfare organizations, in a writ petition filed in Andhra Pradesh High Court in June 2006, alleged that APMDC is a conduit for the JSW to obtain raw material for its proposed refinery and smelter for manufacture of alumina and aluminum. “It is further submitted that the valuable bauxite reserves are not only meant for the tribals living in those areas, but is a gift of nature given for the benefit of the people of Andhra Pradesh,” the petition further stated.
The people of the area, including indigenous tribes, have also been opposing the mines, saying these would displace them and cause extensive environmental degradation. Earlier, Union tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo, had also written a letter to the governor urging him to use his discretionary powers to cancel the bauxite leases in the area.
Meanwhile, local non-profits such as Sakti are banking on the Union environment ministry and mines ministry to dispose of the proposals. “Andhra Pradesh High Court in July 2006 had asked us that since proposals were still pending with environment ministry, we should wait for the decision before filing a fresh petition against the mining company,” says P Sivaramakrishna, director of the non-profit Sakti.