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Procedural lapses prevailed supreme at environmental public hearing for N-plant, says authoritative letter to GoI

At the public hearing site
By Our Representative
Fresh information is now available on how procedural norms were violated while conducting the environmental public hearing (EPH) on March 5, 2013, for the proposed 6000 MW Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant, to be built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) in Gujarat. Senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati has said, the EPH, in the light of this information, "violates" the Union ministry of environment and forests’ (MoEF’s) own Office Memorandum dated December 2, 2009 which  states that “that no environmental impact assessment (IEA)/ environmental management plan (IMP) reports prepared by Consultants who are not registered with NABET (National Accreditation Board for Education and Training)/ QCI (Quality Council of India) shall be considered by the Ministry after June 30, 2010.”
In a letter to PB Rastogi, EAC, Nuclear Power Projects, Paryavaran Bhawan, New Delhi, and V. Rajagopalan, secretary,. Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi, Prajapati, who heads Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, quotes a Supreme Court order dated July 6, 2011 in in T N Godavarman Thriumulpad v/s Union of India & Ors on a real estate project in Okhla area of UP that “a regulatory mechanism should be put in place and till the time such mechanism is put in place, the MoEF should prepare a Panel of Accredited Institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the Rapid EIA, and that too on the Terms of Reference to be formulated by the MoEF.”
The top environmentalist states, the letter dated February 18, 2013 of NABET, allowing EIA a public hearing for the nuclear project “is a simple letter to the EIL and not an Office Memorandum.” He adds, “That means it is very clear from the Office Memorandum of MoEF dated December 2, 2009 and Supreme Court order dated July 6, 2011 that the EIA reports that have been prepared by consultants who are not registered with NABET/QCI should not be considered. In contrast, the procedure followed for the Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant, both during the preparation of the EIA report as well as later during the EPH, was erroneous with serious anomalies.”
Prajapati lists following other anomalies:
· The Terms of Reference (ToR) for the MoEF at point No 7 clearly mention that “the study area should cover an area of 10 km radius around the proposed site for conventional pollutants and 30 km radius for radiological parameters.” Instead the EIA report categorically mentions that 30 km for radiological areas of the study will be undertaken in future, the radiological survey is yet to be carried out for 30 Km area and have not been carried out as stipulated by MoEF in the ToR. But this has been clearly violated.
· No villager/village panchayat in the 10-30 km radius was informed or served notice for the public hearing as the rules stipulate by the concerned authorities.
· The EIA report clearly mentions that the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) plan for the project affected families is under making and the details of the same have not been mentioned in the EIA report as per the ToR No 29 of MoEF (detailed R&R plan/ compensation package in consonance with the national/ state R&R policy for the project affected people, taking into account the socio economic status of the area, homestead oustees, land oustees, landless labourers etc.). No details are available on such a crucial point. Hence the exercise of preparation of EIA report and further that of the public hearing is rendered as a meaningless exercise. Neither there are any details of the ongoing discussions being held with district collector/ commissioner of the concerned area for compensation for land and landed properties, as mentioned in EIA at page number IX.
· The forest clearance required for the forest land acquired for the process has not yet been obtained as per ToR No 10 of EIA (forestry clearance for the forestland involved in the project should be obtained and a copy furnished).
· The ToR No 1 states that “a note on site selection should be given in the EIA.” But the EIA only states that “the site selection committee appointed by the Government of India comprising members from MoEF, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), Central Electricity Authority (CEA), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), DAE, and NPCIL have recommended Mithi Virdi as the suitable site for establishing the nuclear power plant (6 X 1000 MWe) capacity Light Water Reactor. The site selection committee has considered various site selection criteria as specified by AERB/MoEF such as location, land availability, transportation accessibility, source of cooling water, meteorology, population, seismic zones, flood analysis, sustainability of the project, other environmental aspects etc. before recommending the suitability of the site for establishing NPP.” But a copy of this report is not annexed with the EIA.
· The proposed plant site is falling under irrigation command area identified by the Gujarat State irrigation department. An application for seeking no objection certificate for development of the proposed project is submitted to irrigation department, Government of Gujarat. Yet again a copy of the no-objection certificate to develop the project in an irrigation command area application is not there in the EIA report, as required by ToR of MoEF.
· The ToR states that “all documents to be properly referenced with index, page numbers and continuous page numbering” and “where data are presented in the report, especially in tables, the period in which the data were collected and the sources should be indicated.” But the EIA violates both at many places.
· The ToR No 34 states that “detailed risk assessment and disaster management plan should be given.” However, in Chapter 7, there is only a discussion on what needs to be included in the disaster management plan, but no real plan has been offered. There is also a reference to a manual on off-site emergency response plans, to be issued by the State Level Emergency Response Committee. However, no such plans are available.
The letter by Prajapati says that AV Shah, regional officer of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board had reassured Rohit Prajapati and Swati Desai, who were representing on behalf of the villagers just before the EPH proceedings that sarpanches of ten villages (Jaspara, Mithi Virdi, Paniyali, Khadarpar, Mandva, Sosiya, Navagam (Nana), Goriyali, Rampar (Garibpura), Bharapara) would be allowed to raise procedural issues after the opening remarks by the collector who chaired the EPH proceedings and the GPCB’s opening remarks on the issue.”The sarpanches had already prepared the written submission for the procedural lapses in the EPH as directed by the authorities. However, when the EPH proceedings started, the first violation of the norms happened, when authorities reneged on their assurances to Rohit Prajapati and Swati Desai”, it adds.
The letter further says, “Jaspara village Sarpanch Shaktisinh Gohil started making the point on procedural lapses soon after the opening remarks, but was prevented by the district collector, who said that Gohil could hold the floor on the lapses only after the NPCIL presentation. This was the second violation, as the collector should have first read the written submission on the procedural lapse and opined on it before going ahead with the hearing.”
The third violation happened with the collectors’ complete disregard for the Delhi High Court judgment dated May 2010, which he was informed through AV Shah in oral discussions. The judgment in the case of Samarth Trust and Other vs Union of India & Others said that “so far as a public hearing is concerned, its scope is limited and confined to those locally affected persons residing in the close proximity of the project site.” At the same time, It should “not preclude or prohibit persons not living in the close proximity of the project site from participating in the public hearing – they too are permitted to participate and express their views for or against the project.”
The fourth violation happened when the collector did not again read the sarpanches’ written submission on procedural lapses, which included the Delhi High Court judgement during the entire EPH, even after the villagers’ walkout, and neither did he express any opinion on it. The collector thus ignored the Delhi High Court judgment, which was a vital point in sarpanches’ representation during the entire EPH.
In fact, the environmentalist says that coercive and terror filled the atmosphere when the EPH was held “to prevent the villagers from making free and fair representation. Not only heavy posse of police force but also private security guards were hired at the EPH site, frisking and checking every entrant, and at places questioning villagers and participants about their antecedents.”
Also, “unnecessary barricades and iron wire fencing between the collector’s dais and the participants area” were put up, “a first ever arrangement during the EPH in recent times in Gujarat. The barricades and iron wire-fencing might have been put for the safety and security of the collector and officials, but they created an atmosphere of coercive tactics that invoked state control and fear over the proceedings of grave public concern.
Also, the collector allowed songs and recordings in favour of the NPCIL to be broadcast from the public address system arranged by the collectorate. “These recordings continued to be played till the EPH proceedings began formally. This is a clear violation of the neutral approach that the collector should have taken on the issue and instead made clear his predisposition on behalf of the NPCIL. On the contrary, the villagers were not only prevented from making free and fair representation; their representations on procedural issues were also ignored during the EPH”, Prajapati said.

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