Bhubaneswar, Nov. 20: Armed with a judicial commission report that “development should not be hindered in the name of so-called environment protection”, the Orissa government has decided to restart a Rs 4,500-crore alumina plant in Rayagada district to be set up by Utkal Alumina International Limited.
The proposed plant in the tribal-dominated Kashipur block had run aground after three tribals were killed in police firing in December 2000 while protesting against the project which, they believed, would displace them.
Following an international uproar, Norwegian company Hydro Aluminium, which held 45 per cent stake in the company, sold it to the Birla-owned Indian Aluminium Limited (Indal) and Alcan of Canada.
“While there should not be senseless destruction of environment, particularly the forest, we cannot afford to remain backward merely for the sake of so-called environmental protection. A balance has to be struck between the need for growth and the necessity for protection of environment,” judge P.K. Mishra has said in his report. The commission was appointed following the death of the tribals.
The project was brought out of the cold storage after Indal CEO P.K. Sen met minister of state for industry Kanak Vardhan Singhdeo yesterday evening.
Indal, which holds 55 per cent stake in Utkal Alumina, will seek the reaction of the local people before pushing the restart button.
Alcan, the largest producer of aluminium in the world, holds the remaining 45 per cent stake in the company.
Orissa industry secretary U.S. Bhatia echoed Indal. “The sentiments of the tribals, who once protested against the project, must be studied first and taken care of accordingly. We will start a public debate to create public opinion in favour of this project,” he said.
A revenue divisional commissioner will monitor the public hearings.
Bhatia said around 2,000 acres of private land would be acquired for the project and 145 families displaced. The judicial commission has recommended that land may be given in lieu of land taken from the tribals. The government has asked the two promoters to extend the best possible relief packages to the affected tribal population.
“We have received a favourable feedback from the Rayagada people, especially after Sterlite’s bid to start an alumina plant in neighbouring Kalahandi district,” Bhatia said. The Union environment ministry will carry out an environmental impact assessment of the project.
“The extraction of bauxite need not have any significant adverse impact on the environment, particularly relating to protection of water, as is evident from the mining operations undertaken by Nalco at its bauxite extraction unit at Damonjodi of Koraput district,” Mishra has said in his report.
In 1992, the state government had granted a mining lease to Utkal Alumina for extraction of 1 million tonnes of bauxite from the Baphilimali hills for their proposed export-oriented alumina plant in Kashipur.
Orissa possesses 69.7 per cent of the total bauxite deposits in India, most of which is concentrated in Koraput, Kalahandi and Bolangir districts. The Baphilimali hills are expected to contain about 19 crore tonnes of the mineral.