Brasilia – A Brazilian federal court has ordered a halt to work on a controversial hydroelectric dam project in the Amazon region, citing irregularities in the approval process.
The Brasilia-based court identified irregularities in two stages of the process of authorizing the massive Belo Monte project: one in the Supreme Court and another in Congress, the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported.
Construction of the dam - which, if completed, will be the world's third largest - began in March 2011 in the northern state of Para despite staunch opposition from environmentalists concerned about its impact on the Amazon and from local Indians, farmers and fishermen worried about its effect on their livelihoods.
In its ruling, the court granted a request for an injunction filed by the Attorney General's Office of the northern state of Para, which argued that a single Supreme Court justice, Ellen Gracie, made a "unilateral" decision in declaring the project constitutional without taking into account the opinions of the other high court judges.
The federal court also ruled that Congress acted illegally in giving the green light for the project and then failing to consult with indigenous communities about the environmental impact report.
Judge Antonio de Souza Prudente, a member of the federal court's panel and defender of the Indians' right to be heard in the case of Belo Monte, said the ruling is not a rejection of the government's development programs but of "dictatorial processes" such as the one that led to the approval of the hydroelectric dam.
Non-compliance with the court's ruling by the Norte Energia consortium building the dam will result in a daily fine of 500,000 reais ($250,000).
Norte Energia said it is awaiting official notification of the ruling before taking its next steps.
The hydroelectric complex, which is to require total investment of $10.6 billion and is not scheduled to begin operating before 2014, will flood a 503-sq.-kilometer (195-sq.-mile) area and directly and indirectly affect 66 communities.
President Dilma Rousseff's government, however, says the project will not directly affect any indigenous land.
Due to oscillations in the flow of the Xingu River, guaranteed minimum capacity generation from the Belo Monte Dam will be 4,571 MW, or roughly 40 percent of its maximum capacity of 11,233 MW, according to government estimates.