India scraps approval for Lafarge cement project

14th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Indian authorities have overturned environmental approval given to a 200-million-dollar cement plant project planned by French industrial giant Lafarge in northern India.

The National Environment Appellate Authority on Monday ruled against the proposed plant in the state of Himachal Pradesh, citing a threat to the local economy and wildlife.

The Lafarge project was to be built in Mandi district, 100 kilometres (65 miles) north of the state capital Shimla.

The panel said just 16 of 381 landowners had given their consent and that it would create "dispossession, impoverishment and trauma" to locals.

In 2006, the Himachal Pradesh cabinet approved the proposal by Lafarge, which would have involved construction of a cement plant with annual capacity of three million tonnes and attached limestone mines.

The environmental panel said it believed "that on environmental and social considerations it is neither desirable to mine the Telehan village nor put up a cement plant at Ghanger."

Output from the plant was expected to feed nearby dam projects.

Mountainous Himachal Pradesh has extensive and rich limestone quarries, a key ingredient in cement production.

The rebuff to the French cement giant was the second time in less than a month that Indian environmental authorities have denied clearance to an industrial project.

The move comes amid a growing debate about India's industrialisation drive in which critics accuse authorities of forcing landowners to give up their holdings for a pittance to make room for factories.

India's environment ministry in August struck down plans by Britain-based resources giant Vedanta to start a giant open-caste mine on a hill in the eastern state of Orissa considered sacred by the local Dongria Kondh tribe.

The National Environment Appellate Authority also criticised India's environment ministry for clearing the Lafarge project without making a "sound assessment of the adverse impacts."

Lafarge, the world's biggest cement maker, in a statement denied the panel's allegations that its project would violate environmental norms and disturb the ecological balance.

© 2010 AFP

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