The Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice has stated that the government only intends to utilise 1.9 per cent of the Atewa Forest Range and not the entire range.
It said the actual mining area would cover 14.05 kilometre square and therefore, prospecting bauxite in the area would not be hazardous to the forest and any specie that lives within it.
The Attorney-General was responding to a group of environmentalists, climate change activists, individuals, civil society and non-governmental organisations who sued the government few months ago, over the decision to allow the Chinese to prospect bauxite in the forest.
In the writ filed by their counsel, Martin L. Kpebu of Global Trotters Legal, the plaintiffs stated that the government had already signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the People’s Republic of China to develop a bauxite industry in Ghana with the Atewa Range Forest as one of the sources of bauxite.
They said the government, acting through the Ghana Integrated Aluminum Development Cooperation (GIADEC), entered the forest in May 2019, to explore for bauxite by drilling deep holes causing damage to the forest which protects the watershed for three major rivers and several streams, serving water to more than five million Ghanaians.
However, the Attorney-General in its defence signed by Dorothy Afriyie-Ansah, a Chief State Attorney, denied all the allegations in the plaintiffs statement of claim.
The plaintiffs had alleged that they initiated the present action after several unsuccessful attempts to engage the government on why it should not touch the forest, as it was classified as Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA) and a protected forest.
It is their case that Ghana does not need to exploit the Atewa Range Forest bauxite reserves because there are far richer bauxite reserves, according to information available to government, which government has made publicly available.
The plaintiffs contend that strip mining, the only way to mine Ghana’s bauxite could result in loss of forest cover, loss of biodiversity, loss of access to clean water, build-up of green house gases, loss of climate amelioration services, loss of emission reduction services, loss of medicinal/economic valuable plants and change in tourism potential of the area.
The plaintiffs said the government is undertaking mining activities in the forest without mineral right, and urged the court to compel the government to restore or pay the cost of damages that had been caused as a result of recognisance, prospecting and clearing of roads in the Forest.
But the Attorney-General stated that the plaintiffs are merely crying wolf, as many countries, such as Brazil and Australia had successfully conducted mining activities in the forest reserves, like the Amazon Rain Forest and Jarrah Forest under well supervised sustainable mining practices.
The defendant said that the government in ensuring the protection of the environment and species had set up a standing committee which comprises various mining and environmental regulatory agencies and commissions to ensure optimum adherence to responsible and sustainable mining practices to protect the water bodies and species within the mining area.
Among the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs were a declaration that mining of bauxite in the Atewa Range Forest violates the right to life and dignity as enshrined under articles 13 and 15 of the 1992 Constitution.
They further want the court to declare that the defendant breached plaintiffs’ right to life and dignity by exploring and driving deep holes into the ground at 53 different points in the Atewa Range Forest which activities started in May 2019.
A declaration that the defendant breached the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) by exploring and creating deep holes in the Forest.
The plaintiffs want the court to compel the government and its agents to declare Atewa Range Forest as a protected zone and take the necessary steps to protect the forest, in accordance with its constitutional obligations as contained under article 36(9) of the 1992 Constitution.
An order to restrain the government, its assigns and agents, servants, workmen, allotees and guarantees whatsoever and howsoever described from undertaking mining and its related activities in the Atewa Range Forest.
They urged the court to award damages for breach of articles 13 and 15 of the 1992 Constitution and cost including plaintiffs’ solicitor’s fees against the government.
BY MALIK SULLEMANA