Nalco’s bauxite mine renewal under cloud of Naxal threat

The threat of Red rebels has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the renewal of National Aluminium Company’s (Nalco) Panchpatmalli bauxite mines even as the company has intensified efforts to obtain temporary work permit (TWP) for running the lease. The boycotting of public hearing for renewal by the affected locals is believed to have thrown the company authorities into a tizzy who suspect Naxal hand behind the public not showing up. Forest clearance for the Panchpatmalli mine in Naxal infested Koraput district with deposits of around 300 million tonne is expiring on November 16. Nalco, till date, has mined only one third of the deposit to meet its requirement in the last 30 years. “ People are under the threat of the Naxalites. This explains why they are not turning up for the public hearing despite 45-day notice served by the district collector. The non-participation of the public is only going to make things tough for us as far as obtaining forest clearance is concerned. We feel our clearance may be delayed”, said a senior Nalco official. Obtaining TWP, indispensable for running the mine under deemed extension also seems hard to come by.

Some illegal constructions by Nalco within the mine lease area post Naxalite raid on the mines in April 2009 have apparently thrown a spanner in the works. “ As per provisions of Forest Conservation Act, a TWP can be issued if forest clearance has expired for a mining lease. We have forwarded Nalco’s plea for TWP to the Union ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) but have not made any recommendation in favour of the company as it is the ministry to decide. There is the case of alleged illegal constructions which we feel should be regularized. We have also suggested that a penalty may be imposed”, said a senior official of state forest & environment department. The state steel & mines department said it is ready to allow Nalco’s mine to operate under deemed extension provided the company obtains TWP. “ Nalco authorities are trying hard to get temporary permit. Once the temporary permit is available, we can allow the company to operate on deemed extension since they have applied for renewal in advance.

With Nalco on top of disinvestment agenda, I believe the Centre will act swiftly to issue a temporary permit to the company”, said Rajesh Verma, secretary (steel & mines)-Odisha. However, already suspecting delay in getting TWP, Nalco has prepared a contingency plan to build up bauxite stock of nearly 300,000 tonne, sufficient to run its alumina refinery for over a month in case the Panchpatmalli mining operation comes to a halt on November 16. It needs 260,000 tonne of bauxite a month for operating the refinery at full steam.

Presently, Nalco is consuming 240,000 tonne of bauxite a month. On Nalco’s bid to get hold of another bauxite mine at Patangi in Koraput district with 75 million tonne deposit, Verma said, there are no issues for the state government recommending reservation of bauxite mine in favour of Nalco under Section 17 A-1A of the existing MMDR (Mines and Minerals- Development & Regulation) Act-1957. “ We are waiting for the company’s board resolutions on its commitment to CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities and periphery development. The steel & mines department has laid down certain conditions for the company to comply”, he added.

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