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People not given necessary documents, environmental hearing for Vadodara-Mumbai expressway "illegal"

By Our Representative
Raising strong objection to the Environmental Public Hearing (EPH) proposed by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) in five Gujarat districts -- Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Bharuch and Vadodara -- to be held between February 18 and 28 for constructing the Express Highway between Vadodara and Mumbai, senior Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) activist Krishnakant has said in a letter to M Veeerappa Moily, Union minister for forests and environment, that it is being carried out in violation of the basic norms of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.
The letter, whose copy has been sent to senior Indian and Gujarat government officials and district collectors, who happen to be chairmen of the proposed EPH, says, the EPH will not be held transparently and should therefore be suspended. Currently, the dedicated Express Highway runs between Ahmedabad and Vadodara, and its construction up to Mumbai has been delayed because of failure to acquire land for it.
The letter says, “As per the EIA notification of 2006 the authorities conducting the EPH have to make available along with hard copies of the EIA report soft copy of the EIA report on the website. However, the soft copies, put up on the website of Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) are scanned copies of badly photocopied EIA report.”
It points out, “The summarised copy of the EIA translated into vernacular language has many characters missing in the electronic copy. This effectively makes the summary the only document provided in vernacular language that most of the people understand, unreadable. The authorities seem to have taken the process of law very casually, encouraging contempt of the due processes to be followed.”
It further says, “The EIA consultants for the said project M/s Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Pvt. Ltd. (ICTPL) deemed to have overlooked the EIA notification 2006 and the guidelines for the same, which prescribe that under the ‘Disclosure by the Consultant’ a copy of the certificate awarded by QCI-NABET has to be duly annexed. Hence it is not clear whether the said consultant was awarded the certification for which period and with what terms and conditions.”
It underlines, “We are really shocked that how come this casual approach of NHAI towards the procedure mandated under the Law is being entertained and under what circumstances. concerned authority has given go ahead for conducting EPH with such basic norms being overlooked and violated in such a matter of grave concern.”
Based on this, the senior environmentalist demands:
· The concerned authority should immediately reject the EIA of NHAI for Vadodara- Mumbai Expressway prepared by ICTPL.
· The concerned authority should immediately cancel the EPH.
· A colour copy of the EIA be provided in print, and also a soft copy.
· The soft copy uploaded on the website of the GPCB be immediately corrected and an original soft copy be uploaded.
· Investigative process be initiated against the responsible for entertaining such casual approach of NHAI and violation of the environmental law and its due process.
· Reschedule the EPH accordingly.

Paryavaran Mitra writes to Gujarat Pollution Control Board against hearing

Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra in a separate letter to Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) member-secretary Hardik Shah, has said that the upcoming project of National Highway Authority of India (Vadodara - Mumbai Expressway) public hearing of which is scheduled in last week of February 2014 is being held without necessary copies of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the expressway project being made available to the people the six districts where it is proposed.
"I would like to draw your attention to an important aspect of public hearing which is demonstrated in Appendix IV, Procedure for Conduct of Public Hearing, 2.2 of EIA Notification 2006, which says the applicant shall arrange to forward copies, one hard and one soft, of the draft EIA Report along with the Summary EIA report to District Magistrate/s, Zila Parishad or Municipal Corporation, District Industries Office, concerned Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests", the letter says.
It adds, "The public notice was published by the GPCB for public hearing of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for Surat district dated January 20, 2014, in which it was mentioned that the draft EIA reports of the NHAI project has been sent to the offices of district collector, district development office, district industry centre, taluka development office, regional office of GPCB of Surat district and will be available for inspection during office hours."
However, he pointed out, "on January 28 and 29, 2014, i.e. after more than a week of the publication of the public notice, we sent our representative to all these offices to know the availability of the report." The representatives found that  in the Bharuch district collector's office, the copy of the report "was not  available" and the "representative was directed to other offices like the record department, the registry department etc, but in all of them they were told that they did not keep these reports." 
Then the representative went to the district industries centre (DIC), Bharuch, where he was again told that the "copy" of the report was not available, and that since it was a "a big project and people could make misuse of it, they did not keep it." The representative was directed to approach the project proponent for the report. As for the district development office (DDO), again, the copy was not available, and the representative was told that "the report would be made available only one or two weeks before public hearing." In fact, the DDO's office was "reluctant to accept written application for the copy."
In Surat, the report was, again, available in the district collector's office and the DDO's office, and the representative was told to approach the "revenue branch or take it from the project proponent." Only the DIC had a copy of the report. Pandya demanded, "Since the villagers do not have access to the draft EIA report based on which they can obtain information about the project and ask questions in the public hearing, appropriate action should be taken." Pandya also raised objection to the poor, unreadable quality of the EIA report put on the GPCB website.
(Also see Falguni Joshi's letter to the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) on the EIA report. Click HERE)

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