Atha-Africa in tus­sle with en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion

The In­dian-head­quar­tered miner’s pro­posed ven­ture, Yz­ermyn, is sit­u­ated in a pro­tected area in Mpumalanga. The Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights has taken Atha-Africa to court in or­der to halt con­struc­tion of the mine.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK IN THE NEWS - By David McKay editorial@fin­week.co.za

theCen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights (CER), which rep­re­sents group­ings such as Earth­life Africa, has been rat­tling some cages in South Africa’s coal min­ing sec­tor lately. In March, it won an im­por­tant case in the High Court by hav­ing Exxaro Re­sources’ Thabaz­imbi ther­mal coal project sus­pended un­til it had pro­vided ev­i­dence that the cli­mate change im­pacts of the ven­ture had been fully ex­plored.

It also swung into ac­tion fol­low­ing An­glo Amer­i­can’s de­ci­sion to sell its do­mes­tic ther­mal coal mines, those that sup­ply Eskom, to a newly formed black-owned con­sor­tium, Ser­iti Re­sources.

The CER called on the UK-listed group to make pub­lic doc­u­ments in­clud­ing its mine re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion as well as so­cial and labour plans for the mines it in­tended to sell so that it could hold Ser­iti Re­sources to ac­count. The fear is a smaller, less cap­i­talised com­pany may find it too ex­pen­sive to hon­our its en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mit­ments.

The lat­est coal min­ing firm to have re­ceived a dig in the ribs is Atha-Africa Ven­tures, a com­pany con­trolled by Atha Group, a pri­vately held com­pany with its head­quar­ters in Kolkata, In­dia.

In a re­but­tal to an ar­ti­cle ti­tled Atha-Africa op­ti­mistic de­spite le­gal chal­lenges pub­lished in the 6 April edi­tion of fin­week, CER spokesper­son An­nette Gibbs ar­gued that AthaAfrica’s pro­posed Yz­ermyn coal mine didn’t have the author­ity to pro­ceed.

Yz­ermyn is to be built in Mabola, an area near Wakker­stroom in Mpumalanga. The area was de­clared pro­tected as it’s where the Pon­gola, Vaal and Tugela rivers con­verge, and there­fore has strate­gic im­por­tance for wa­ter sup­ply.

Gibbs con­tends that be­cause Atha-Africa had its ini­tial min­ing per­mit with­drawn in 2014 and then re-granted a year later, it falls foul of reg­u­la­tions as Mabola was de­clared a pro­tected area in the time be­tween the per­mit with­drawal and re-grant.

“A bla­tant lie,” shot back Praveer Triphati, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of Atha-Africa, in an e-mailed re­sponse to fin­week. “The ap­peal against the EA [en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion] has been made un­der the 2010 ap­peal reg­u­la­tions, which does not au­to­mat­i­cally sus­pend the EA,” he said.

Triphati also dis­puted the CER’s claim that it had lost its ini­tial min­ing right.

“The min­ing right for which the ap­pli­ca­tion was ac­cepted in April 2013 was granted in September 2014,” said Triphati.

“The grant let­ter was with­drawn by the minister [of min­eral re­sources] in April 2015 due to en­croach­ment of cer­tain con­di­tions with other de­part­ments and a grant let­ter was is­sued in April 2015. “This was not a new grant,” he said. Triphati added that a prospect­ing right, a le­gal right giv­ing ex­clu­sive right to the holder to ap­ply for a min­ing right, was ac­cepted by the de­part­ment of min­eral re­sources (DMR) al­most a year prior to the dec­la­ra­tion of the Mabola Pro­tected En­vi­ron­ment.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the mat­ter pans out be­cause Triphati added the com­pany in­tended to break first ground on the project in June and is this month award­ing con­tracts for mine con­struc­tion, which is ex­pected to take nine months to com­plete.

There is a High Court ac­tion that could de­rail Atha-Africa’s plans, how­ever. As with its in­ter­cep­tion of Exxaro’s Thabaz­imbi coal project, the CER is hop­ing the court will send Yz­ermyn back to the draw­ing board on the ba­sis that it set aside the min­ing right.

Atha-Africa, which re­futes al­le­ga­tions it is re­lated to the Gupta fam­ily de­spite the pres­ence of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s nephew Sizwe in its em­pow­er­ment struc­ture, is pre­par­ing an an­swer­ing af­fi­davit but be­lieves it can con­tinue with the project in the in­terim.

It also had the sus­pen­sion lifted over another per­mit re­quired be­fore build­ing a min­ing project, the In­te­grated Wa­ter Use Li­cence (IWUL). “The au­to­matic sus­pen­sion has been lifted by the minister of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, Nomvula Mokonyane, in March 2017 act­ing on the strong mo­ti­va­tion given to her by Atha-Africa Ven­tures and ex­er­cis­ing her pow­ers for the same in a just and fair man­ner,” said Triphati.

The Wakker­stroom wet­lands in Mpumalanga

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