The Supreme Court today refrained from granting Lafarge’s plea to allow transporting limestone from its mines in Meghalaya to the company’s plant in Bangladesh.
A special bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan asked the multinational to make a representation to the court-appointed amicus curie Harish Salve, who will examine the issue and submit his opinion on November 16, the next date of hearing.
Lafarge had challenged the order of Ministry of Environment and Forests issued in May this year asking the company to stop work at quarries on the ground that mining was not permitted in forest areas. Lafarge wanted to transport six lakh tonne of limestone, a key input for making cement.
Lafarge counsel Mukul Rohtagi said the Meghalaya government had given no objection for setting up a new Rs 800-crore cement factory in the state and its mining activities were less than five percent of the total deposites.
"It’s not that we are sending everything to Bangaladesh. We will have such activity in the state and will contribute to overall development, including employment generation, in the state," he added.
According to the company, the Ministry had earlier allowed taking limestone to Bangladesh by a 17-km-long conveyor belt, and the sudden reversal of stand had rendered its plant non-operational. He stated that Central Empowered Committee had asked the company to pay a penalty of Rs 35 crore for mining activities.
According to the multinational, the Ministry’s order amounted to putting an end to supply of raw material to its 255 million-dollar Lafarge Surma Cement project at Chhatak, Sunamganj, in Bangladesh, as it was fully dependent on limestone extracted from East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya. While Lafarge has filed an application under the Forest Protection Act seeking permission for non-forest activity in the forest area, it wants the already extracted limestone to be allowed to be transported to its plant in Bangladesh.
"The company has stopped its work at the quarries but it should be permitted to transport around 6Mt of already extracted limestone as the same would get spoiled due to rain," Rohtagi said.
Earlier, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) had sought permission to file an ’environment cost benefit analysis’ on degradation of environment and forests by mining companies, including Lafarge. However, it didn’t file the report suggesting imposition of penalty on companies for destroying India’s forest cover.