New Delhi: Mining conglomerate Vedanta Group has approached Prime Minister's Project Monitoring Group, which was established to fast track stalled large investment projects, seeking environment clearance for expansion of its Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Odisha to 6 million tonnes.
The Project Monitoring Group (PMG), which has resolved issues in over 90 such stalled projects entailing investments of over Rs 3.76 lakh crore, is expected to take up the Vedanta project soon, sources said.
The Lanjigarh alumina refinery and its proposed long-term bauxite source -- mining in the Niyamgiri hills -- have been in the midst of controversies even since the beginning as the local tribals are opposed to the projects. The Lanjigarh alumina refinery is operated by Vedanta's Group firm Vedanta Aluminium.
Earlier, 12 gram sabhas, selected by the state government following a Supreme Court order, had rejected the proposal of mining bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills. The tribal villages, located on the hill slopes and part of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts, consider the hills as their sacred place.
Vedanta and its partner Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) have been fighting court battles to keep the two projects alive in the last few years.
The refinery is staring at an uncertain future as it does not have any permanent source of bauxite.
At present, it is running only at about 50 percent capacity of its present 1 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity by securing bauxite from the other states, including Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
Its expansion plan was stopped in August, 2010 when the Environment Ministry cancelled stage-II forest clearance for mining at the Niyamgiri hills to a joint venture of OMC and Sterlite Industries, a Vedanta subsidiary.
The expansion plan was stopped on the grounds that the area is a sacred place for the local tribals. The Ministry had also hauled up Vedanta for going for expansion of the refinery without securing the environment clearance.
Vedanta Aluminium has made several applications since then for securing environment clearance for the expansion, which is expected to cost Rs 4,840 crore. It includes raising captive power generation capacity to 285 MW from existing 75 MW as well.
Late last month, Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal had indicated that his firm was now looking beyond Niyamgiri hills to source raw material for the refinery and was hopeful of securing an alternate mine soon.
"Niyamgiri was a very small deposit and they (the Odisha government) have promised us that they will give this and work on other deposits. They are working on other deposits... It does not matter, absolutely does not matter. We need to move forward," he had said.
First Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013, 15:43