Lafarge stole our limestone mines: NE Village

Residents of Shella Village in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya today alleged that French cement firm Lafarge "clandestinely acquired" their land for mining limestone.

Updated: Oct 26, 2010, 22:28 PM IST

New Delhi: Residents of Shella Village in
the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya today alleged that French cement
firm Lafarge "clandestinely acquired" their land for mining
limestone by colluding with a neighbouring village.

In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the Shella
Village Action Committee (SVAC) dismissed the claims of the
adjoining Nongtrai village that the controversial mine falls
in its territory.

The SVAC alleged that there were no land records for the
area where the mine is situated and taking advantage, Lafarge
had taken a lease for the mines from the local dorbar
(panchayat) of Nongtarai, which is situated further away.

"Taking advantage of the fact that there is no
transparency of land ownership owing to the absence of the
land rights, Lafarge through its subsidiary companies have
clandestinely acquired lands by colluding with... certain
office bearers... who have no authority to enter into a lease
agreement and issue a certificate of land ownership," the SVAC
said in its affidavit.

It further alleged that based on the certificates,
Lafarge mortgaged these tribal lands to international banks in
return for a loan of USD 175 million.

The SVAC affidavit came in response to the recent
submission made by the villagers of Nongtrai, who have
supported Lafarge`s mining project.

The two villages falling in East Khasi district have
locked horns with each other on the issue, with residents of
Nongtrai supporting the mining of limestone and villagers of
Shella opposing the revised environmental clearance given by
the Centre.

The Nongtrai dorbar (panchayat) has opposed SVAC`s demand
for cancellation of the environmental clearance given by the
Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoEF) to Lafarge.

The Nongtrai Panchayat has alleged the SVAC, which claims
to represent the Shella villagers, has no rights over the 100
-acre mine area, as it falls under the Nongtrai dorbar`s
jurisdiction.

They further submitted that Lafarge has improved the
livelihood of 238 agrarian households by granting employment
opportunities and brought prosperity. They also claimed that
their village had received about Rs 3.15 crore from Lafarge
and it was distributed equally among all the residents.

Rejecting the submission of the Nongtrai residents, the
SVAC said that Shella village is located in the foothills
within half a kilometre from the actual mining area. On the
other hand, Nongtrai is situated at an aerial distance of 2.5
km from the mines and the distance by road is 35 km.

"SVAC emphatically denies that Nongtrai is the owner of
the mining lease area and that the mining lease area is a
community land," the committee said.

They further submitted that the Meghalaya government was
"deliberately maintaining a silence over the issue in its
recommendation for the final approval of granting forest
clearance".

Earlier, the SVAC had challenged the revised
environmental clearance given to Lafarge`s mining project,
contending that the MOEF has flouted norms in favour of the
French firm.

The villagers alleged that the MoEF violated Environment
Impact Assessment (EIA) rules, as there was no scope for
revised clearance for the project when the company had
concealed information earlier.

"There is no scope of granting a revised environmental
clearance under the scheme of EIA notification once the
project is found to have obtained environmental clearance by
concealing information or submitting false information," the
Shella Action Committee said in the application.

The committee has sought a direction from the apex court
scrapping the revised environmental clearance given to Lafarge
on April 19, 2010, and April 22, 2010.

The Supreme Court will conduct a hearing on Friday this
week on the issue of allowing Lafarge to carry out mining
activities in the hills of Meghalaya for its plant in
Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, Lafarge said in a statement that it has
complied with all the stipulations put by the Supreme Court
and the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

"The company reaffirms that all acquisitions of land were
made following the due process of law and requisite
permissions from all competent authorities. There is no
mortgage or outstanding loan against the land," said Lafarge.

However, on SVAC`s allegation, the French cement firm
said the matter was sub-judice and would not comment on
disputes regarding land holdings or any matters pertaining to
the dorbars of Nongtrai and Shella.

"The company is convinced that it has full support of the
local communities for the project and we are committed to
working in close collaboration with them for sustainable
development of the region," the company said.

-PTI