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Gujarat lignite mining in Bhavnagar causing 'dreadful' disaster: Activists protest

Counterview Desk

In a letter, the Gujarat-based environment group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti has asked the state chief secretary, with copies to CEO,Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority, and concerned officials of the state environment and industries and mines department, demanding immediate halt to lignite mining activities in Bhavnagar district in order to stop “further irreversible damage to the environment and the villagers.”
Signed by Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, the letter states, the authorities are adopting “non-serious, casual, and unscientific approach and attitude” towards the manner in which mining is being carried out in a seismic zone.

Text:

We are writing this letter to urgently reiterate the serious and disaster in motion at the village Badi-Hoidad mining site of district Bhavnagar since November 16, 2020 so that you can take appropriate immediate interim, short-term, and long-term action to avoid further irreversible damage to the environment and the villagers.
First, an overview:
It is shocking and surprising that the concerned authorities are not taking serious note of the disaster to the Disaster at Badi-Hoidad Lignite Mining Site, Bhavnagar District, Gujarat, on Monday, 16.11.2020, that could have multiple serious consequences.
Universally accepted ‘Precautionary Principle’ for any such work is not followed. If this Principle was followed, adequate measures, checks, and balances would have been in place to avoid such a disaster and reduce its impacts. (See: http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3931-precautionary-principle.html)
There is no STP at workers camp site. It is the violation of Order, dated Febrary 22, 2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, dated August 3, 2018, August 28, 2019 in Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, dated 06.12.2019, in Original Application No. 673 of 2018. 
Exemplary action must be taken against the officials who did not duly report the disastrous incident and against GPCL for the violations of the Environment Clearance and Consent under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 
Again, requesting to direct the company to stop all mining activities and activities of the thermal power plant next to the mining till the detailed and accurate investigation report is submitted to the concerned authorities. 
Rohit Prajapati
It is utterly shocking and surprising that even after our detailed letter, dated November 25, 2020, with required basic information available at that point in time with our team, followed by site visit led by the Assistant Collector Bhavnagar, Pushp Lata, with the team members, Mamlatdar, Regional Officer of Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), Officers of the industries and mining department, Officers of the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL) with us, no action has been taken to direct the GPCL to immediately stop the mining activities till the Expert Committee submits its interim report. It is utter surprising that even fencing of the disaster affected area has not been done by the GPCL despite verbal direction was given by the Assistant Collector Ms. Pushp Lata, during her team visit on November 25, 2020 between 12.15 pm to 3.45 p.m.
As per our information, the Expert Committee, with their geologist, hydrologist and other experts’ member, is not expected to visit the area before December 2, 2020. We do not know how much time the Expert Committee will take to submit its prima-facie report for immediate action as well as for interim and final reports.
Are we waiting for a major disaster in the short or the long run by ignoring the ‘Precautionary Principle’ which directs to take measures proactively to thwart a disaster? Are the incidents of December 2019 and now recently dated November 16, 2020 not enough to act upon? We feel very sorry to state that non-serious, casual, and unscientific approach and attitude of the concerned authorities and the company will be fully responsible for the short-term and long-term consequences of the December 2019 and November 16, 2020 disasters.
The ‘Precautionary Principle’ is often used by the authorities and experts to avoid the risks of serious and irreversible damage to nature, the environment, and the villagers (project affected parties -- PAPs) living nearby in such cases. The principle has become an underlying reasoning for a large and increasing number of international treaties and declarations in the fields of sustainable development, environmental protection, health, and safety. We expect that you will not disagree with the facts that mining activities in fault line areas have resulted in number of human-induced earthquakes worldwide.
We again put on record the following information from our side for your immediate consideration and action.
On Monday, November 16, 2020 on Monday, around 9.00 am when Jaywant Singh Gohil of Hoidad village; Naranbhai Jambucha, Himatbhai Kantaria of Surka village; Narendrasinh Gohil of Badi village; Kanaksinh Gohil, Vasudevsinh Gohil, Pravinsinh Gohil from Khadsaliya village, etc. while on their way to wish their friends best wishes for the new year, suddenly witnessed a huge raising of the farm land up to 30-40 feet in the village of Hoidad, Taluka Ghogha, District Bhavnagar, on survey No. 49/1, 49/2, 47, 48, 23 (Gauchar Land), etc. 
The villagers did not know exactly what time when the land rising had happened. The villagers were shocked to see this ongoing dreadful disaster. The width of this elevated land is about 300 meters and it is about 700 meters long and today it has been seen spreading further into the farmland by few meters. Even a large mound of topsoil dumped by the GPCL was found to be descending into the ground and its descent into the ground is still going on. The contractors of Gujarat Power Corporation Limited have been doing mining in this area since 2018.
According to the villagers and the executive of the GPCL, a similar tragedy -- disaster took place in December 2019 at survey No. 119/1 near the farm of Italia Vitthalbhai Lovejibhai in Thordi village. Here, the ground is elevated across a length of more than 100 meters, which can be seen even today. The company officials also acknowledged the disaster in presence of the Assistant Collector as if it was a small, non-serious incidence.
The video of this serious disaster at village Badi-Hoidad has been viral on social media since Tuesday, November 17, 2020. Bharat Jambucha, a well-known activist working for the last many years on the issue of water recharging and organic farming of Paniyali village, of Bhavnagar district, informed us over the phone. 
We, with the representatives of the affected villagers, were able to visit the area on November 24, 2020 and also meet the Additional Collector of Bhavnagar Mr. Umesh Vyas. We appreciate that he immediately called the concerned officers of the mining department, Mamlatdar, and the Regional Officer of Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Bhavnagar and instructed them to visit the site, submit their report and do needful on the ground.
Bhavnagar district officials talk with villagers, environmentalists
 On November 25, 2020 Assistant Collector Pushpa Lata, Taluka Mamlatdar of Ghogha AR Gadhvi, Regional Officer of GPCB AG Oza, officer of mining department Gunjanbhai Sharma, officer of the GPCL, Devendra Khot, Rohit Prajapati of PSS, and Bharat Jambucha working on water and organic farming of Bhavnagar district visited (1) Village Badi - Hoidad disaster site, survey Nos 49/1, 49/2, 47, 48, 23 (gauchar land) (2) Badi-Hoidad mining cross roads, (3) Badi mining site, and (4) Thordi village disaster sites, of December 2019 at survey No. 119/1 Italia Vitthalbhai Lovejibhai's farmland. 
Jyotiben Jethwa, Talati of Hoidad village was also present during the visit. Narendrasinh Gohil, Kanaksinh Gohil, Vasudevsinh Gohil, Himatbhai Kantaria, Rekhaben Jambucha, Varshaben Lukhi, Ramaben Kantaria, Shobhaben Jambucha, Pravinsinh Gohil, Mahavirsinh Gohil, Hanubha Gohil, Dharmendrasinh Gohil and other activists of “Badi Padva 12 Gam Khedut Sangharsh Samiti', and villagers of Badi, Surka, Padva, Hoidad, Rampar, Hordi, Tagdi, Alapar, Bhadbhidiya, Khadsaliya, Thalsar, and Hathab were also present and expressed their concerns about the long pending problem because of the mining. 
The villagers have made it clear that they have been facing many other serious issues like land acquisition, damage to farmland, damage to agriculture, air and ground water pollution resulting in ongoing impacts on their health and livelihood options for years. In the context of the present disaster, they verbally elaborated in detail their problems and concerns to the team led by the Assistant Collector.
As far as compliance of the condition mentioned in the Environment Clearance of the GPCL is concerned, Gujarat Pollution Control Board has failed in their duties to verify, scrutinize, and monitor the implementation of the Compliance Report submitted by the GPCL every six months. For example, we are only citing the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) at workers camp site which was expected as per EC condition, Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), and National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, dated 06.12.2019, in Original Application No. 673 of 2018, but is not constructed. This is admittedly contempt of the Supreme Court Order.
Given the above facts, we demand:
  • Immediately halt all the mining activities till the reason for this unusual occurrence is ascertained in the region. This entire region falls in an active seismic fault line zone where the Earthquake of 2 Richter Scale, near Bhavnagar was registered at 4.00 - 4.02 AM on Wednesday, November 25, 2020.
  • Immediately inform and make the concerned villagers of the seismic activity and what are the official preparedness plans owing to mining activity in the region. This must be done both by the power and mining company officials and the concerned government agencies. There are more than 12 villages with around 33,000 population, barely 18 kms away from Bhavnagar city.
  • Conduct a detailed investigation into the incident due to the negligence of erring officials. 
  • Take strict action against the GPCL officials for their negligence and failure to inform the district and appropriate government agencies of these two disasters. 
  • Take exemplary action against the officials who did not duly report the disastrous incident despite it being in the news that went viral locally in social media, since 17.11.2020. Why did the senior district officials remained unaware and uninformed for such a grave and criminal negligence? 
  • Initiate action against GPCL for the violations of the Environment Clearance and Consent granted by the GPCB under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 
  • Take action against the GPCL for the contempt of the Order, dated February 22, 2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors). 
  • Fence off the affected area and bar entry with public warning notices to the effect that it is a disaster-prone zone. 
  • Conduct the following surveys under independent expert guidance to find the causes for the disaster and also assess the possibility of sea water ingress due to raising of farmland: (a) GPR - Ground Penetrating Radar – to ascertain neotectonics activities in the area to get an idea of activity due to mining activities in the area beneath land surface, and (b) Resistivity, Profiling Survey, and Seismological Surveys to recognise and demarcate faults in the area and to ascertain tectonic activity and the impact of unusual geological phenomenon. 
  • Conduct all other relevant and detail geological and hydrological studies of the area.  
  • Prepare detailed status report for the water quantity and quality of the wells, borewells, lakes, ponds, streams, wetlands, and Malesari and Ramdasia river for the whole area to assess the adverse impacts of the ongoing mining activities, December 2019 and recent November 16, 2020 ongoing disaster. The GPCB must prepare and make this report public at the earliest possible. 
  • Clarify and explain publicly why such a disaster was not thought of in the Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) Report and Environment Management Plant (EMP). 
  • Scrutinize the non-serious and factually incorrect compliance report from 2018 onwards, uploaded on the GPCL website by the GPCB by conducting thorough site visit with us and the affected villagers. 
  • Establish an empowered committee of experts to devise, guide, help execute, and monitor a comprehensive restoration plan of the raised land areas so that the villagers can begin to use their land for their regular livelihood activities and natural assets are enhanced. 
We expect your prompt and positive response in the interest of life, livelihoods, and environment in the affected areas. If you fail in your duties, you will, as authority and as individuals, will be collectively liable for present conditions and future consequences.

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