New Delhi: In a rare instance, the Union government has asked Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) to reconvene a meeting with locals and activist groups to discuss the proposal to develop a coal mine in Chhattisgarh.
Such meetings are part of the process of granting environmental clearance to projects and require the company developing a particular project to conduct a study, called an Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, and then discuss the findings with locals in a so-called public hearing.
Facing protests: A file photo of workers in a coal mine. Jindal wants to develop the Chhattisgarh coal mine to feed its steel plant in the state. Noah Seelam/AFP
JSPL wants to develop a coal mine to feed its steel plant, also in Chhattisgarh.
The company was allowed by the ministry of environment and forests, or MoEF, to conduct an EIA on 28 March 2007. On 5 January, JSPL held a public hearing but this soon turned violent because some locals were opposing the project. The company, activists allege, reconvened the hearing on the same day after most people had left and showed in its records that the process had been completed.
After receiving several complaints to this effect, MoEF decided to investigate the issue. An end-July meeting of the ministry’s expert appraisal committee that signs off on the environmental clearance for coal projects noted that the “hearing subsequently resumed, with no prior intimation to the people who had dispersed, with the people who continued to remain in the venue and continued the hearing”.
Environmental laws require all people affected by a project to be intimated in advance about a public hearing. They also require the EIA report to be circulated before the meeting.
The protests at the January meeting had to do with the lack of information about the hearing and the non-availability of the EIA report.
“The activists and villagers present there strongly opposed resumption of the hearing but it was concluded at about 4pm among demands of cancellation by locals,” said Ramesh Agarwal, a local activist in Raigarh, the capital of Chhattisgarh.
“We have applied for clearance and we will be producing coal soon from the mine abiding by all government regulations,” said an executive at JSPL, who did not want to be named.
Activists and environmental lawyers, however, say reconvening public hearings isn’t as important as doing something with the feedback received at such meetings.
“It is not about how many times these meetings with affected people are held,” said Ritwick Dutta, a Supreme Court lawyer. “It is whether their concerns are noted.”