French cement giant Lafarge to resume mining in India

6th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

French cement giant Lafarge will restart mining limestone in the country's mineral rich northeast after being given the go-ahead by India's Supreme Court, a company executive said Wednesday.

The court decision earlier on Wednesday means limestone shipments now can resume for Lafarge's $255 million cement plant in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh plant is wholly dependent on limestone, a key ingredient in cement-making, mined by Lafarge in India's East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya state.

"We're delighted by the decision," Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt. Ltd (LUMPL) chairman Shivesh Sinha told AFP.

It "will not only help us put our mining quarry at Nongtrai, Meghalaya back on track but also secure the livelihood of thousands of people."

In February 2010, the court stopped Lafarge from extracting limestone for the Lafarge plant at Chhatak in Bangladesh, saying mining could not be allowed in the environmentally sensitive zone.

But India's environment ministry told the court in April it had cleared the mining project with strict conditions.

"We are satisfied with the MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) as it has taken a due diligence exercise," the Supreme Court said. It said there had to be a balance between development and the environment in the poverty-stricken region.

Lafarge's mining operation is just one of a number of big-ticket industrial projects that have run into difficulty in India over environmental and other issues.

Industrialisation has long been championed by economists as a way to create double-digit economic growth in India and pull millions out of poverty. But it has also created battles with environmentalists and locals.

Limestone is transported from the Indian state to the Bangladesh Lafarge Surma Cement plant by a 17-kilometre (10-mile) conveyor belt.

Lafarge employs around 300 people at its mining operations in the East Khasi Hills and nearly 3,000 at the Bangladesh plant, said Sinha.

Activists in India's northeast have opposed the limestone mining, saying it will hurt the area's fragile ecosystem. But Lafarge has said its "advanced technologies" would minimise any impact on the environment.

The Dhaka government had been pushing India to allow resumption of the limestone mining for the Chhatak plant which holds close to a 10 percent share of Bangladesh's cement market.

The court decision comes as India has been seeking to boost ties with Bangladesh with Premier Manmohan Singh slated to visit Dhaka in September.

The Indian government first cleared the export of limestone from Meghalaya to Bangladesh in 2000.

© 2011 AFP

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