Unclear Voices: Another Controversial Public Hearing in Chhattisgarh

Photograph courtesy: Sri Alok Putul (Senior Journalist)  

In the hot-seat of Chhattisgarh, another controversial public hearing took place in the process of granting environmental clearance to the proposed expansion of a coal washing facility.

The proposal has been put forth by  Hind Energy & Coal Beneficiation (India) Pvt. Ltd. in Hingadih village, Chhattisgarh. Proposal is to expand the production capacity  by 1.2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) that has an existing production capacity of 2.4 MTPA. The expfacilityplant. Public hearing for the proposed expansion was held on February 28. According to Pravin Patel of Tribal Welfare Society, a Chhattisgarh based NGO, the public hearing for the project was a foul play and a mockery in the name of democratic participation. “Villagers were not informed timely about the public hearing” he adds. The public was only informed 3-4 days prior to the hearing. The venue for the public hearing was settled at Kamiadih, about five kilometers away from the site. The hearing as Pravin mentions was actually “stage-managed” to avoid conflicts and controversial issues which might have surfaced if the hearing was carried out in Hingadih or Bhadrapara village (about 200 meters from the site), the ones most likely to be affected by the project. 

T K Verma, additional collector of Bilaspur district, said people from 7-8 villages were present, but admitted that not more than seven persons could voice their opinion. The event largely turned out to be a platform for contention among political parties with little discussion about the project and only six or seven villagers got a chance to voice their opinions.

Besides the inappropriateness of the public hearing, concerns have been raised about the EIA itself by organizations such as the Akshar Welfare Society, a Bilaspur based NGO and the Tribal Welfare Society. The document circumvents a number of important issues that should have been given deference to as per the EIA guidelines. For example the report claims that there are no places of historical interest or tourist attraction within 10 kilometers of the plant site, where there are two very old temples (the Chandidevi temple 300 years old and the Bhagwati temple from the 15th century), and Lutra Sharif, a site of religious and tourist attraction within 10 kilometers of the premises. As Pravin emphasized, “Lutra Sharif” has also been recognized as a place of tourism interest by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Chhattisgarh. Among ecologically important regions that the EIA elude is the Tharakpur forest close to the boundary of the factory, the Lilagarh River. Moreover such expansion will increase the water consumption that in turn will require digging of two additional bores creating pressure on the already low water table.

  Photograph courtesy:  Alok Putul (Senior Journalist)

According to Akshar Welfare Society, the villagers are not only vocal in opposing the expansion of the facility, rather are demanding the closure of the one already in operation due to serious worsening of air quality, discharge of polluted water into agro-fields damaging crops, and the possibility of increasing water scarcity. But the authority and the industry have turned a deaf ear to such concerns until now.