Mumbai: A private arm of the World Bank is reassessing its funding proposal for waste management company Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd after villagers from Gummidipoondi in Tamil Nadu, where the company is setting up a facility to treat hazardous waste, said the Hyderabad-based firm had violated guidelines.
The International Finance Corp. (IFC) had in June 2005 approved $14 million (Rs56.7 crore) to Ramky Enviro, the waste management arm of Hyderabad-based infrastructure company Ramky Group, to set up waste management projects across the country.
Rallying point: A file photo of villagers protesting against Ramky’s plan to build a facility to treat hazardous waste in Gummidipoondi.
Following complaints that the project in Tamil Nadu was approved without proper public hearing or the requisite clearance from government authorities, a compliance adviser ombudsman (CAO)—an independent recourse mechanism for IFC and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)—is reassessing IFC’s proposed funding.
The local community fears that the project, which involves burying large quantities of hazardous waste in a land fill, would contaminate ground water and it has alleged that the facility was approved without proper public hearing or the requisite clearance from government authorities.
“We have received a complaint from local community representatives of Gummidipoondi village and based on our eligibility screen, we are currently assessing the matter,” said Amar Inamdar, principal specialist, CAO, IFC, in an emailed response to Mint.
IFC’s guidelines mandate borrowers to comply with local legislation before starting a project. As per Indian law, projects such as Ramky’s should conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to determine the environmental and social impact and then hold a public hearing.
“Ramky’s EIA is dated August 2005, while the public hearing was conducted in March 2005 on the basis of a preliminary environmental appraisal report, even when the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri) had asked the company to come out with a rapid EIA,” said Nityanand Jayraman, an environmentalist who filed the complaint with IFC on behalf of the Gummidipoondi community. Ramky Enviro denied the allegations and said it had followed procedures and not violated the rules.
“The EIA was prepared, however, it was named preliminary environment impact assessment (instead of Rapid Environment Impact Assessment). The report and executive summary was duly circulated and public hearing was conducted as per rules after advertisements in newspapers and one-month notice. The preliminary report and the EIA were the same,” the company said in an emailed response to Mint.
Neeri, a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) which conducts research and development programmes in environmental science and technology, had said in a preliminary environmental appraisal in January 2005 that the high groundwater level in the region and the proximity of the facility to drinking water and irrigation sources made Gummidipoondi unsuitable for a hazardous landfill project.
Ramky’s hazardous waste project in Tamil Nadu has been controversial.
In June 2004, villagers of Melakottaiyur in Kanchipuram district rejected the project in a public hearing conducted by the firm. They argued that the landfill in the village would contaminate the high-quality groundwater resources, affect agriculture and harm human and livestock health. The site was later shifted to Gummidipoondi. Other hazardous waste treatment projects in the country have met similar resistance from local communities. One example is of a proposed treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Ghoomanghera village, bordering Delhi.
“After extensive talks with the National Productivity Council (NMP) we identified 42 acres of land in that village but before we could start the project, villagers went to the Delhi high court to contest it. Their view is that since there is no industry in their area, waste from other industries should not be dumped there,” said J.K. Dadoo, chairman, Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
The case was dismissed by the high court as it was already being heard by the Supreme Court, the country’s apex legal body, where it is still pending.
Similarly, another proposed waste treatment project at Dobbespet, 40km from Bangalore, has been held up because of protests by local villagers.
The Supreme Court, in an October 2003 order, had mandated that each state must have a TSDF, but many of them, including Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, are yet to build their facilities.
At Gummidipoondi, the villagers had opposed the Ramky project at the March 2005 public hearing and the local panchayat issued a resolution against the project highlighting the unsuitability of the location, Jayraman said.
On the basis of the Neeri report, the Gummidipoondi panchayat president filed a case in the Madras high court in December 2005 and obtained a stay. The injunction was vacated in December 2006 as the Supreme Court, the country’s apex legal body, had directed that no lower court or authority should entertain any challenge connected with hazardous waste landfills. Subsequently, the company started construction at the site in March 2007.
The panchayat later filed a petition with the apex court in 2007 and both the village panchayat and the panchayat union have issued resolutions against the project. “The firm never approached the panchayat union for permission to construct. We have verified with the block development officer and he denied receiving any application from Ramky for approval,” said T. Sudhakar, a resident of the village and a member of the Gummidipoondi environmental protection committee.
Ramky Enviro said it had approached the panchayat seeking approval for the construction of the facility, but after it was denied, the company sought and got permission from the district collector.
Padmaparna Ghosh in New Delhi contributed to this story.