The Human Rights Forum (HRF) takes strong exception to the manner in which the environmental public hearing was held today (i.e 17-3-2016) for the proposed 1080 MW Bhadradri Thermal Power Plant near Manuguru in Khammam district. The Telangana government has sought to, and managed to, bulldoze the public hearing by whatever means.
Both the HRF Khammam district president D Adinarayana and district general secretary K Venkatanarsaiah were taken into preventive detention by the district police this morning. The police told them that they had “instructions from above” to do this. Evidently, the government’s intention was to prevent HRF functionaries from participating in the public hearing. This is shameful and highly objectionable. Over the past few days, in several villages of Pinapaka and Manuguru mandals, the police have created an atmosphere of fear among those who might have misgivings about the desirability of the project.
On Thursday, local people were selectively allowed entry into the public hearing arena near Sitarampuram village and the whole area was teeming with police. A public hearing is part of an environmental process where people are given a chance to render suggestions, proffer opinion and raise objections about the concerned project. It must be held in a free, fair and transparent manner and not by intimidating people and preventing some of them from even participating. This defeats the very purpose of public consultation and reduces the hearing to a meaningless exercise. Clearly, the public hearing process has been vitiated in this case and cannot be construed as a genuine public consultation.
In fact, this is a project that is mired in serious illegalities. In open contempt of environmental law, the project proponents — theTelangana State Power Generation Corporation Limited (TSGENCO) — had taken up construction activity for the thermal plant last year without the mandatory statutory clearances. The HRF brought this to the notice of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which ordered that all construction activity be stopped. The project proponent, however, disregarded this order and in open contempt went ahead with the construction. Subsequently, a site inspection this January 9 by officials of the Chennai Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) confirmed the illegal works being undertaken. It stated that the project proponent was going ahead with the construction activities “without obtaining prior environmental clearance from the MoEF&CC and ‘consent for establishment’ from the State PCB”.
Commencing construction without mandatory clearances is a criminal offence under Section 15, Section 21 and Section 44 of Environmental Protection Act, Air Act and Water Act respectively. The TSGENCO has to be made liable in accordance with the above statutory norms. By not taking this mandatory criminal action against TSGENCO and allowing it to further continue with the process of obtaining the environmental clearance in actuality amounts to violation of the above laws by the MoEF itself.
Moreover, in villages of Pinapaka and Manuguru mandals that are likely to be impacted by the project, the local people have no proper access to information related to the project which is an essential pre-requisite to a public hearing. Unless and until the issues which are relevant for the environmental clearance of the project are made public in a form intelligible and accessible to the people likely to be affected one way or other by the project, a public hearing will be a mere formality, even a farce.
The Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIA report) in English which runs into 702 pages has not been made available in Telugu in a comprehensive form to the local people. A mere summary of 12 pages in Telugu cannot do full justice and will not be sufficient for the people to understand the environmental impact and take an intelligent stand in the matter. In the normal course, a Telugu translation of the full EIA report should have been made available to each village, and officials of the Revenue Department as well as the Telangana State Pollution Control Board (TSPCB) made themselves available to the people to explain matters to them and clear their doubts. Only then can a meaningful public hearing be held. None of this has happened. Even the EIA report as it stands does not reflect the full reality of the environmental impact.
We demand that the MoEF&CC intervene and stop this farce. The plant should be delisted by the Ministry and criminal proceedings must be initiated under the Environmental Protection Act against concerned officials for the brazen illegalities committed.
VS Krishna S Jeevan Kumar
(HRF general secretary, TS&AP) (HRF president, TS&AP)