Green light for French cement giant in India

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India's Supreme Court on Tuesday gave French cement giant Lafarge permission to resume mining limestone in the country's mineral-rich northeast, rejecting environmental opposition.

The court decision comes as good news for Lafarge's $255-million cement plant in neighbouring Bangladesh that is wholly dependent on limestone mined by the French company in the East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya state.

In February 2010, the court halted Lafarge from extracting limestone for the Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd 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 on Tuesday.

Limestone is transported from Meghalaya to the Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd in Bangladesh by a 17-kilometre (10-mile) conveyor belt.

Lafarge has said it is bringing "advanced technologies for scientific mining and sustainable development" to the poverty-hit region that will minimise any impact on the environment.

Activists in India's northeast have opposed the limestone mining, saying it will hurt the area's fragile ecosystem.

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 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slated to visit Dhaka in September.

Lafarge has a long-term agreement to extract limestone from the East Khasi Hills and supply it to its Bangladesh plant for cement production.

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

© 2011 AFP

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