Debate on Orissa's Vedanta mining project sidelines animals

Published: Friday 15 June 2007

vendata's proposed mining project in Orissa was a matter of intense legal debate in the Supreme Court (sc) from May 16 to 18. Initially, the company, and its lawyers, seemed to have answers to every conceivable hindrance that the opposition, in this case the Central Empowered Committee (cec), might throw in their way. Everything could be "compensated". Forests? No problem.

The company has agreed to pay the net present value (npv) for the forest as well as regenerate the mined patches before moving on to the next patch. Local people and tribals? Again, they have been planned for. They will be adequately compensated and a certain percentage of the company's annual profits or Rs 10 crore, whichever is higher, will be earmarked for them. So far so good. But what about animals?

This group is one client which cannot hire lawyers and send them to the court with a brief. They are not covered under the definition of a "stakeholder" by the industry, or "permitted" to attend a "public hearing" by the government. But they are the ones who stand to lose the most as they lose their habitat once mining begins. The honourable judges also made it very clear that their supreme concern was the adverse impact on wildlife that the project would have.

They noted that perhaps the animals drawn out from other areas where similar projects were implemented had sought refuge in this particular area. Where would they go if they were driven out of here? The lawyers representing cec put it succinctly, it is impossible to mitigate the impacts the project would have on the wildlife.

The forest cover once lost cannot, by any means, be regenerated to its original status. And survival of numerous wildlife species is critically linked to the protection of this area. Local tribals have managed to do this till now. cec has noted in its report that the tribals "have all along been zealously protective of the area". By disturbing these links, we will not only stand to lose the pristine area and alienate the people but also the entire gamut of wildlife that depends on the forest. In cec's words, "allowing mining would be a sacrilege".

Uncannily, as this battle over wildlife was being fought out in the sc, exactly at the same time a leopard decided to give audience in the heart of the proposed mining area. As if to stand witness and be heard. But will we understand?

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