IN APRIL this year, the Supreme Court directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to conduct a probe into French cement giant Lafarge’s limestone mines in Meghalaya. Lafarge was alleged to have been operating on forest land without proper clearance. Now it turns out the allegations against the Paris-headquartered multinational are graver.
Bangladesh-based Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd — a joint venture between Lafarge Group and Spanish cement company Cementos Morlins — raised $153 million as mortgage against its assets from six international banks. While Lafarge claims that the mining operations in Meghalaya only guarantee $3 million, it agrees the limestone mines in Nongtrai, Meghalaya, are the only source of raw material for the firm’s cement factory in Chhatak, Bangladesh. “Thus, a prime asset,” says BM Doloi of Shella Joint Action Committee, a group of locals who have filed a PIL in the Gauhati High Court demanding a probe.
In fact, the villagers of Shella, on which the conveyor belt that carries Rs 90 crore worth limestone each year to Bangladesh was built, did not mind leasing out their land for a reasonable rent when the project first started, sometime in 2004. The company leasing their land, after all, was Lum Mawshun Minerals Pvt Ltd (LMMPL) set up by their own former MLA Galmender Singh Lyngdoh.by