Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mithi Virdi N-plant environment impact assessment report ignores plight of project affect: scientist-activist

By Ashok Shrimali* 
In an authoritative move, top environmentalist-scientist R Sreedhari, managing trustee of the Environics Trust, Mines, Minerals and People (MM&P), has asked Union environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan to urgently cancel the environmental public hearing due to be held on March 5 for the proposed nuclear power plant off Mithi Virdi in Gujarat. Sreedhar believes, the hearing is being held against the backdrop of “non-compliance of key aspects of the terms of reference (TOR) prepared by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) meeting, held on February 14, 2011 for the proposed Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant.” The TOR was handed over to the Engineers India Limited (EIL), who have prepared by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the proposed plant.
Sreedhar says, the public hearing has been announced by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in direct contrast to the policies of your government and the TOR specified by your industry – that prime agricultural land should not be used for industrial purpose. “The location of the site with 78 per cent of double cropped land for the plant not only indicates the lack of sensitivity in the choice of area for acquisition but also that the state and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), which has undertaken the project”, he points out, adding, “This would put more people to risk, as settlements would be too close to the nuclear plant.”
The senior activist-scientist says, ”Your Government has repeatedly emphasized the need to identify non-agricultural lands for industrial development and this exercise is more like a fait-accompli. The EIA report does not talk about the impacts of taking away such a huge proportion of prime agricultural land, but on the contrary presents a denigrating attitude towards the farming activities and the farming communities.”
Sreedhar quotes the EIA report on the impact on land to prove his point: “The impact on land environment during construction phase shall be due to generation of debris/ construction material, which shall be properly collected and disposed of. There will be no accumulation of drainage on the higher elevation side as the site will be graded. A garland drain network is developed to collect and route the drain water towards sea. No impact is envisaged due to the same.” 
The EIA report goes on to add, “All wastes generated are segregated as solid and hazardous wastes and collected together for disposal. All such wastes will be transported to authorized disposal agency. Accordingly, there shall be no additional load on land environment during operation phase of the project." 
Further: “For establishing soil characteristics within the study area, soil samples from 10 locations were collected and analysed for relevant parameters. The soil of the proposed site is silty loam type. At present, most of the land is under cultivated and sparse scrub vegetation also exists in the study area. However, with the introduction of the project, the land use pattern of the area will improve with neat and clean project buildings, lawns and gardens. The area in the exclusion zone around the project will be developed into a green belt as per the requirements of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and GPCB. This will further improve the aesthetic and land use environment at the proposed project site.” 
Pointing out that he does not go into “the gross inadequacies of the entire EIA report and such flimsy statements that are being made in the name of scientific and technical studies and defended by none other than NPCIL”, Sreedhar emphasizes, “If there were specific issues we would have offered it as our submission during the public hearing, but to conduct a public hearing without even adhering to the minimum TOR fixed by the government is a mockery of the process, and hence we seek your intervention to cancel this public hearing and issue strictures to the GPCB for its lack of oversight. The reality is the EIA has not even identified who will be impacted and what will be impacted and to what extent and is a generic document will some data which has neither any use to local understanding or implications.”
Sreedhar says, “One of the issues clearly pointed out in the TOR and is fundamental to any dialogue with public is to know the project affected people (PAP) and the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) plan. The point number (xiv) in the TOR states,‘Application of R&R policy may be described. Project affected persons should be identified and rehabilitation and resettlement plan should be prepared.’ The section on R&R in the EIA report is totally hypothetical and does not even say how many households would be affected.”
Sreedhar further quotes from the EIA will to suggest how it is “very obvious” that “a fraud is being played on the public in the name of public hearing”.
The EIA report states: “Preparation of a detailed R&R plan is taken up for compensation to the PAP in line with the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy – 2007 and in consultation with Gujarat State Government for the PAP. Discussions are being held with district collector /commissioner of the concerned area for compensation for land and landed properties.
“The NPCIL policy envisages a special focus on the creation and up-gradation of skill sets of landless persons and other PAPs, who are dependent upon agricultural operations over the acquired land, and for the rural artisans e.g. blacksmiths, carpenters, potters, masons etc., who contribute to the society together, to improve their employability. With the help of district administration, the essential inputs containing lists of land losers and PAPs are being prepared. NPCIL is committed to establish requisite system for organizing vocational and formal training and education for all such identified persons and extend full assistance to them to become eligible for seeking employment with the project proponent or any other organized sector. NPCIL is committed to implement the R&R package as per the mutual agreement with the State Government.” 

Comments Sreedhar: “Given the fact that these have yet to be accomplished, why are the NPCIL and GPCB in such a hurry to conduct the public hearing without providing the necessary basic information for a meaningful public hearing? We sincerely hope that you will be seized of this, as you have done in issues of environmental importance and natural justice and order the cancellation of this public hearing and instruct the proponent to furnish at least the basic information relevant to the people.”
Sreedhar further quotes a judgment of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, in CWP No 586 of 2010 along with CWPIL No. 15 of 2009, which pronounced certain guidelines, which should not be violated. These are:
“a) The HP State Pollution Control Board shall ensure that consent to establish is not granted just for the asking. Even at the time when consent to establish is granted the HP State Pollution Control Board, MoEF/EAC shall verify the facts stated in the project report and they shall also indicate to the project proponent what are the para-meters and the laws which the project proponent will have to comply with keeping in view the nature of the project.
“b) The statement made by the project proponent shall not be accepted without verification. It shall also be made clear that if any statement made by the project proponent is found to be false the permissions granted shall automatically stand cancelled.
“c) The Pollution Control Board shall ensure that whenever any public hearing is held, the people of the area are well informed about the public hearing and they are also informed about the benefits and the illeffects of the project. The Pollution Control Board must have its own machinery and own scientists who should give an independent opinion on the pros and cons of the project. These shall also be placed on the website of the PCB.
“d) In future whenever any studies are being carried out by any project proponent while preparing the EIA reports, the study shall be carried out only after notice to the State Pollution Control Board, MoEF/EAC in case the project requires clearance at the central level and also to the inhabitants of the area where such studies are to be carried out and project has to be established. Notice to the public shall be given in the same manner notice of public hearing is given."

Based on this, Sreedhar, who has sent copies of the letter to all concerned officials of the Gujarat government and the Government of India, concludes, “The NPCIL and GPCB must go back to the drawing board and conduct authentic studies, inform people and then become eligible to conduct the public hearing, until which time no permission should be granted to them including the 21 ha of forest land being sought by the agency.”

*Ashok Shrimali is Ahmedabad-based social activist working with NGOs Setu and Samata, and is executive member, Mines Minerals and People (MM&P)

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