Public hearing that gave its consent stage-managed, say residents
The go-ahead granted to the expansion of a coal washery in Bilaspur by a public hearing on February 28 has initiated a controversy in Chhattisgarh. The public hearing has given its consent to the expansion plan in Hingadih village, owned by Hind Energy & Coal Beneficiation (India) Pvt Ltd, to increase its capacity by 1.2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). Its existing production capacity is 2.4 MTPA.
Environment activists say the public hearing was “stage-managed” and a mockery of democratic participation. Its venue was Kamiadih village, about five km from the washery site. People were informed about the hearing only about four days in advance. Had the hearing been conducted at Hingadih village, which will be affected most by the project, people may have raised objections, says Pravin Patel of Tribal Welfare Society, a Chhattisgarh-based non-profit. “Most of the people present at the meeting were congregated by the project proponents and are suspected to have a skewed representation,” he adds.
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.
Concerns have also been raised about environmental impact assessment (EIA) granted to the proposed expansion. The assessment circumvents important issues, says Akshar Welfare Society, a Bilaspur-based non-profit, and Tribal Welfare Society. It claims absence of any place of historical importance or tourist interest within 10 km of the washery. However, there are two very old temples near the place—the 300-year-old Chandidevi Temple and the Bhagwati temple of the 15th century. Lutra Sharif, a religious site and tourist attraction, is within 10 km of the plant site. In fact, Lutra Sharif has been recognised a place of tourist interest by the ministry of tourism. Among the ecologically important regions that the EIA eludes is the Tharakpur forest, situated close to the plant.
The expansion will also increase the washery's water consumption capacity. Two more borewells will have to be dug, creating pressure on the already low water table.
People not only oppose the expansion, but also demand closure of the existing washery because of deteriorating air quality and discharge of polluted water into agro-fields, says Mahesh Patel of Akshar Welfare Society.