Friday, July 27, 2007
Cement giant mortgages Indian land to foreigners....
Shillong, Meghalaya: Lafarge, the world’s largest cement manufacturer, has mortgaged to Bangladesh banks land it was given in Meghalaya to set up a $225 million limestone plant.
Nongtrai, a Khasi tribal village near the India-Bangladesh border, leased 100 hectares of community forest to Lafarge to extract limestone. Village headman Binlinda Lyngdoh says the village allowed the company into its forest because it wanted economic development. That faith may have been broken though.
A CNN-IBN report has proved that Lafarge got permission to enter the forest based on a misleading environment impact assessment report, which was describes the plant site as rocky and barren.
The company has also told the Supreme Court that its plant is on a wasteland—a claim challenged by the Environment and Forests Ministry. B N Jha, Chief Conservator of Forests with the Ministry, insists the company’s mining site is on a forest and not on a wasteland. “If you ask me this area has one of the richest forests—no topsoil, thick canopy cover—and even a layman can see that this is a forest and not wasteland,” says Jha.
Local activists allege that Lafarge has mortgaged to seven banks, including two in Bangladesh, the 100 acres forestland it got from Nongtrai villagers on lease. The Bangladeshi banks are called Standard Chartered Bank Bangladesh and Arab Bangla Bank. They have mortgaged the land to a bank in Bangladesh. Tomorrow, if they cannot pay the loans does it mean Bangladesh can take over the land in India?” asks human rights activist Dino Dinpep.
The company, in an e-mailed statement to CNN-IBN, said it had the Reserve Bank of India and the Meghalaya Government’s approval to mortgage the land. But does that mean if Lafarge defaults on its bank loans then will land under India's sovereign control be transferred to Bangladesh?
People in Meghalaya are debating if Lafarge is bringing them economic development or taking away their land and mortgaging it to banks in Bangladesh