While the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment may have ensured the protection of environment by withdrawing its clearance to Vedanta's plan to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s upcoming visit to Lanjigarh to address a tribal rally immediately after this path breaking decision has raised apprehensions that ruling Congress party may have electoral purpose behind its environmental concerns.
Two days ago, Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh had announced that the bauxite mining clearance given to Vedanta Resources and the Orissa Mining Corporation in Orissa had been withdrawn. An initial approval for a six-fold expansion to Vedanta’s aluminium refinery in the state was also suspended.
The action was taken on the recommendations of two committees: one headed by National Advisory Council member N C Saxena and the other a Forest Advisory Committee. Both committees concluded in their reports that Orissa Mining Corporation and Vedanta had violated three central laws – the Forest Rights Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act.
The environment ministry also barred the Vedanta refinery from buying bauxite from 11 other mines in Jharkhand, saying that these mines were illegal as there was no environment clearance for bauxite mining in Jharkhand.
Environmentalists and tribal rights activists all over the world have welcomed this landmark decision to safeguard the environment and to protect the rights of poor tribals. They have been agitating against the proposed mining project in Niyamgiri for the last four years.
Rahul had visited Lanjigarh in March 2008 and met the primitive Dongaria Kondhs and Kutia Kondhs of Niyamgiri. Though the agitation by the tribals and environmentalists continue against the Vedanta project, he or his party leaders preferred to keep themselves away from the movement.
Now, political observers link the environment ministry’s decision to his rally in the Niyamgiri region. Around 22% of Orissa's population is comprised of tribals and every political party would like to win over this substantial vote chunk. Whatever be the objective of politicians, the end result is good for the tribals, the forests and the Niyamgiri hills.