India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has extended for three months a one-year temporary working permit (TWP) of National Aluminum Co (NALCO), which it had granted on December 17, 2012. The permit covers the central and north block of Panchpatmali mines at Damanjodi in the Koraput district.

Last year, NALCO halted its 2.1 million tonne/annum bauxite refinery at Damajodi for more than 30 days after its 30-year lease expired on November 16. On December 17 it obtained the temporary permit to raise mineral for a year and renew its mining lease. Koraput mining officer Sailaja Prasad Nanda says the company was initially granted 4692.05 hectares of which it surrendered 1288 hectares in 2002 and another 2089 hectares in 2010.

Presently, NALCO has 1315 hectares, including a south block of 582 hectares where mining has yet to begin. “Nalco needs 14,000 tonnes of bauxite daily to run its 2.1 million tonne/annum refinery,” Sailaja Prasad Nanda said. On November 14, it was allowed to mine 45,000 tonnes of bauxite until midnight, prior to the permit expiration.

The company lease was not renewable on time because of delays in holding statutory palli sabhas for forest land diversion. The north-central block of the Panchpatmali mine is spread over 1315 hectares, including 1294 hectares of forest land.

On October 4, 2012, however, district officials conducted a public hearing at Panchpatmali to assess local opinions on renewing NALCO’s lease. The hearing was cancelled midway, however, by the arrival of a larger group of villagers opposed to the development. In all, 3000 villagers from more than 15 peripheral villages attended.

Meantime, NALCO has pledged Rs33,000 crore in diversification and expansion investments in sectors including energy, non-ferrous metal, backward integration, mergers and acquisition, according to the company’s CMD Ansuman Das.

The expansions, both brownfield and greenfield, focus on productivity and profitability, according to company officials. In particular, NALCO is establishing an Rs5500 crore refinery in Gujarat with annual capacity of 1 million tonnes. A detailed project report is under way, according to company officials.

The company is also planning a Rs16,450 crore smelter of 0.5 million tonne capacity and power plant of 1260MW capacity in Odisha’s Sundargarh for which high-level state government approval has been obtained. A site selection study and preliminary land surveys for the proposed project are ongoing and NALCO is actively pursuing coal block allocation.