To maintain the balance in the sensitive bilateral relations with Bangladesh, the ministry of forest and environment on Friday did a U-turn on its objection to limestone quarrying in forest areas of Meghalaya and its transportation to the plant across the border through a conveyor belt.
Based on MoEF’s no-objection, the Supreme Court in an interim order allowed operation of the quarrying and supply of raw material to French cement giant Lafarge’s $255-million cement plant in Bangladesh.
With this, operations at the Lafarge Surma Cement Project at Chhatak in Sunamganj, Bangladesh, which were stopped in May this year, can begin. Lafarge had moved the court challenging MoEF’s unilateral decision to stop limestone mining in the quarry area spread over 100 hectares near the Indo-Bangladesh border in the north-eastern state.
MoEF, however, wished that the limestone from the N-E state should be utilised in India for the benefit of the country and proposed that Lafarge should set up a similar plant in the state.
Appearing for the French multinational, senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi said that Lafarge had already moved a proposal for setting up a cement plant in Meghalaya, but at a location away from the present quarry area because of its inaccessibility.
Amicus curiae Harish Salve said that employment and contribution to the Indian exchequer could be best served if the limestone quarried from Meghalaya was utilised in the state.
A Bench comprising CJI K G Balakrishnan and Justices Arijit Pasayat and S H Kapadia also took objection to the small number of Indians employed at the quarrying site. "You have employed only 175 persons in India, though you claim to be a multinational. A small tea stall in India employs five persons."