Bihar Pollution Control Board's fact-finding team corroborates activists’ allegations of land purchase under false pretext
The Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) has cancelled the no-objection certificate (NOC) issued to Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) for its under-construction asbestos manufacturing unit in Hajipur, Bihar.
While doing so, the pollution control board nullified its earlier report and accepted that “a few errors” were made by the fact-finding team that went to verify the terms and condition for issuing NOC for UAL. The prime reasons cited for the cancellation of NOC includes the proximity of human settlement, a school, and a community hall within a radius of 150 metres from the plant.
Activists have been protesting that the pollution control board had wrongly calculated distance of the village, school and community hall from the plant. They also alleged that the land had been declared barren so that it could be sold to UAL. “Our land sold to UAL is extremely fertile,” says activist Ram Pukar Singh from Chak Sultanpur village in a letter to the pollution control board.
Too close to habitats
Rakesh Kumar, member secretary of the pollution control board, said that in the light of the protests and concerns raised regarding human settlements near the plant site, the board had decided to review details of its earlier reports. The fact-finding team instituted by the pollution control board found the claim of anti-asbestos activists to be true.
“Based on the report, we have cancelled the NOC and UAL won’t be allowed to set up the plant,” Kumar told Down To Earth.
“Cancellation of NOC to UAL has come as a huge relief to villagers. The entire village is in celebratory mood,” said Ajit Kumar, convener of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee. Land was bought by UAL from farmers on the pretext of setting up an agro-medicine plant in the area, he says. Villagers were excited by the prospect of employment and development of villages and had sold their land to the company.
The proposed 250,000 mega tonne asbestos plant in Vaishali district of Bihar had been the focus of protests for over two years. The most recent was the violent agitation of villagers, mainly from the Chak Sultanpur and Rampur Rajdhari villages of the region in December last year. Activists led by Ajit Kumar met chief minister Nitish Kumar and expressed their concerns regarding the lethal diseases related to exposure to asbestos. The chief minister had personally directed the chairman of the pollution control board to review the NOC issued to UAL.
Earlier this month, the issue took a political turn when state environment minister, Sushil Modi, in a reply in the state Assembly, claimed that no study in the country had established the health hazards of asbestos manufacture. More than 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos due to diseases related to asbestos manufacturing. Modi’s dubious answer had angered the anti-asbestos activists of Hajipur.
The fate of the proposed asbestos unit is sub judice in the Patna High Court. The pollution control board, which is also a party in the case, has reportedly apprised the court of the cancellation of the NOC with immediate effect.