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NHRC order: Dilemma on environmental hearing of top Gujarat refinery unit


By Our Representative

Does the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) appear not too keen to ensure postponement of the proposed environmental public hearings (EPH) of Gujarat’s top petroleum refinery, owned by Nayara Energy (formerly Essar-owned), seeking its unit’s expansion in two of Gujarat districts, Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka? 
It would seem so if its latest "order" to authorities in reaction to Gujarat’s environmental NGO Paryavaran Mitra's complaint to NHRC on July 14 about on the need to postpone EPH is any indication. NGO had wanted the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to postpone EPH in view of the Covid-19 crisis. First scheduled for July 28-29, but was later postponed to August 28-29.
In its "order" dated August 24 to Gujarat chief secretary Anil Mukim, NHRC has sought “necessary action” against concerned officers for the decision of GPCB to hold EPH. Ironically, the "order" says, Mukim could take “necessary action within eight weeks” – several weeks after EPH is scheduled! 
When contacted, Paryavaran Mitra director Mahesh Pandya, aghast by the NHRC reply, regretted, this suggests EPH would be held as scheduled, despite the Covid-19 threat. “We have urgently emailed to NHRC citing this discrepancy, asking it to tell Gujarat authorities to order cancellation of EPH”, he told Counterview, adding, “We have also asked the collectors of the two districts and the chief secretary to cancel EPH in view of the pandemic.”
Sources in the know of things say, the way NHRC has been functioning lately suggests it is unlikely respond to the latest email so quickly seeking urgent order to postpone EPH for August 28-29. “Despite the pandemic, EPH for different industrial units in Gujarat -- in Morbi, Padra and Jamnagar -- have been held, with officialdom caring little whether such these would lead to the spread of infection”, Pandya said.
In his complaint to NHRC chairperson Justice HL Dattu, Pandya had said that the Nayara Energy, is already operating a 20 MMTPA refinery complex at Vadinar, Devbhumi Dwarka, Gujarat, and has a strong retail network of about 4,900 fuel stations catering to different parts of the country, with plans to expand the network with about 2600 more retail stations.
Nayara refinery
“The proposed petroleum refinery expansion project will affect many villages, impacting the lives and livelihood of thousands of villagers (poor and marginalised) and will have adverse effect on human rights and environmental consequences”, the complaint said, listing villages which are likely to be affected.
These are Zankhar, Mithoi, Rasangpar, Khatiya Beraja, Lakhiya Nana, Lakhiya Mota, Rangpar, Meghpar, Jogvad, Singach, Modpar, Padana, Gagva, and Moti Khavdi, all in Jamnagar district; and Timbdi, KathiDevaliya, Kajurda, Sumra Taradhari, Nana Mandha, Nana Ambla, Mota Ambla, Vadinar, Bharana, Vadaliya Sinhan and Sakhpar in Devbhumi Dwarka district.
The complaint said, EPH would be a violation of the “ban/restrictions” that have been imposed by the Government of India and the Gujarat government in view of the pandemic situation, citing relevant notifications, stating, public gathers have been “restricted”, and EPH for such a big company as Nayara Energy would attract hundreds of people.
Calling the proposed EPH of Nayara Energy a violation of the right to life and right to health, the complaint underlined, “Public hearings are an essential features of human rights participation. The right to information and community participation for the protection of the environment and human health is based upon Article 21 of the Constitution of India, i.e. the basic human right to life.”
“The concern and fear of contracting Covid-19 at a public hearing will negate the term and purpose of public hearing thereby violating the human right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”, Pandya asserted, adding, “The Covid-19 crisis has placed a spotlight on the crucial role that protecting and promoting human rights (that includes environmental protection) is part of the urgent crisis response.”

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