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People's pressure? GPCB mining cancellation 'notice' to top cement unit in Gujarat

By Sagar Rabari*
Environmental Clearance (EC) was given to Ultratech Cement Co Ltd for limestone mining in villages Talli and Bambhor of Talaja taluka in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat on January 5, 2017. EC was issued ignoring, overriding and undermining opposition from local farmers to mining activity in the area. The mining in these two villages covers an area of 193.3268 hectares (ha), while the entire project is spread over an area of 1,715.1311 ha.
In the process of seeking EC, the company declared that there is no national park, wildlife sanctuary, biosphere reserve, tiger reserve, Ramsar site and the wildlife corridor in 10 km radius of the mining site.
In reality, the letter of the deputy forest officer, Bhavnagar, stated: “As per Ministry of Forest & Environment, Gujarat Government Notification WLP-1107-572-G1 Dated 18.05.2007, this area has been declared as Greater Gir (Bruhad Gir)”.
In response to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Bharatsinh Popatbhai Vala, the office of the Range Forest Officer, Wildlife Range, Talaja, Forest Colony, Opposite Jafari school, Gopnath Road, Talaja, stated that three lions and 8-9 leopards live in the Talaja taluka forest range. Details of the compensation amount paid to the owners of cattle killed by these animals was also attached.
The company conceded in its own hald-yearly report (Chapter 2, point 2.4.4 pp 61) that the entire mining operation in 1,715 ha would provide employment to only 30 persons. Clearly, the Gujarat government of Vijay Rupani has not cared about 30,000 persons, who would be rendered jobless as a result of the project.
Mining would have led to salinity ingress, threatening the highly fertile area and its people, who are mainly farmers. There are dehydration plants in the area which earn nearly Rs 1,000 crore in foreign exchange -- which would have to shut down. The Rupani government appears merely interested in safeguarding the interests of a corporate house.
Condition No 6 of EC clearly states:
"Transport of minerals shall be done either by dedicated road or it should be ensured that the trucks/dumpers carrying the mineral should not be allowed to pass through the villages. The Project proponent shall ensure that the road may not be damaged due to transportation of the mineral; and transport of minerals will be as per IRC Guidelines with respect to complying with traffic congestion and density."
The above condition has been brazenly flouted. An inspection report of the Bhavnagar regional office of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in July states that the company supplies limestone to the cement unit via dumper trucks through village roads -- not constructed a separate road.
In response to the representation by me via email and letter dated October 15, 2019 to the Bhavnagar regional office of the GPCB carried out another inspection on October 21, 2019 at 18:00 hours, and found that the limestone was being transported by the company via the village road, which is a breach of EC conditions. As per the condition of EC, limestone transportation has to be carried out via a dedicated road.
The responsibility to ensure that the conditions of EC are adhered to and that they are not being violated lies with GPCB. I have learned that such inspection was carried out earlier too and reports were made, and the company accepted this in its half-yearly report. If so, why EC has not been cancelled?
Now I have learned that under provisions of Section 31-A, GPCB has issued a show cause notice to the company on November 6, seeking an answer as to why mining should not be stopped in Talli and Bambhor villages.
Who is behind this? Despite people’s protest, such open flouting of norms and conditionalities cannot happen without political patronage. As widely reported, protesting people were brutally beaten up in police stations because of the political patronage enjoyed by the corporate house.
Protesting Gujarat farmers clash with police
Despite the corporate house’s acceptance of the breach of EC conditions, why is a deaf ear and a blind eye turned to it? Why is it not being probed? Is the pro-corporate government trying to make money over people’s bodies? If the heavy vehicles and dumper trucks accidentally kill an animal or a human being, will the chief minister personally take responsibility?
The chief minister is responsible for safeguarding the interests of the people. He has to answer as to what action he is contemplating against the company. He ought to and must write immediately to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to cancel EC given to the company.
Whose interests is the Rupani government safeguarding? Corporates’ or peoples’? It appears that the government is acting as a representative of the corporates at the expense of the people and their interests. It is allowing corporates to flout all laws and conditions even as peoples’ lives and occupations have been endangering.
The way in which the government is protecting the interests of the corporate house/houses raises doubts whether politicians’ own interests are somehow associated with the corporate house. Running a business is not a crime if it is done with adherence to due process.
But therhould be no conflict of interest. If the chief minister or his cronies are partners of the company or are receiving huge election funds from them, so be it, but they have no right to break laws and take lives.
This entire episode raises serious issues with regard to corruption and mineral theft. To prove that it is above board, the state government should immediately order the police stations concerned to take necessary steps against the movement of trucks through the villages, it should inform MoEFCC to initiate immediate steps to cancel EC, and a case should be registered against the company for illegally carrying out mining. The company should be made to pay penalty.
The government should institute a commission to inquire into the legalities involved – whether mining is done according to the terms and conditions of EC, whether the company has mined more minerals than was stipulated and whether royalty on the total amount of mined mineral has been paid. The inquiry commission should submit its report within a month.
If the company has mined more mineral than the royalty paid, the the government's department of mines and minerals should register a case of theft against the company.
---
President, Khedut Ekta Manch, Gujarat

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