National Aluminium Company (Nalco) has stopped production at its Panchpatmali North-Central block bauxite mines after its lease deed for the area expired on Saturday.
The company, which is awaiting renewal of the lease, said it is expecting a temporary working permit to operate the mine by December.
"We have applied for a temporary working permit (TWP) for a period of one year. The status of the application will be clear by the end of this month," said a senior official of Nalco.
The grant of TWP depends upon the approval of the company's application for forest clearance by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).
The next meeting of FAC is scheduled for 26th of this month. Sources said, though Nalco matter does not figure in the agenda of the meeting posted in the MoEF website, it may be listed for discussion at the last minute.
"We hope to get the FAC clearance as we have not violated any rules", added the official.
Meanwhile, the company has asserted that alumina production at its Damanjodi refinery, located at the foot of Panchpatmali hills, will not be affected due to halt of mining operation.
"We knew that there will be delay in getting the forest clearance and temporary working permit. Hence, we had enhanced our rate of production from the mine and have enough stock of bauxite to run the refinery at least for two weeks", the Nalco official said.
According to sources, the company has built up a stock of about 2,50,000 tonne of bauxite. It needs about 12,000 tonne bauxite per day to run the refinery at the present rate of alumina output (about 4,000 tonne per day), which is 70 percent of the full capacity.
The North-Central block of the Panchpatmali mine in Koraput district is spread over an area of 1,315 ha, out of which 1,294 ha come under forest land. Nalco needs the nod of MoEF before the mining lease can be renewed. The approval of forest department was delayed because of non-fulfillment of a key criteria regarding holding of public hearing for forest diversion proposal.
The mandatory public hearing could not take place as the area was situated in the Naxal corridor and the locals did not participate in the public hearing fearing Red rebels.
Besides, there was an apprehension that the TWP, too, is likely to be delayed due to the alleged illegal constructions of Nalco within the mine lease area, built after the Naxalite attack on the mines in April 2009.
The Nalco official said, being a government-run enterprise, the MoEF may take a favourable view to regularise the construction and grant TWP for Panchpatmali mines, which has 300 million tonne of bauxite deposits.