On May 22, some 20 villages in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand called a maha-panchayat and resolved not to let Reliance Power mine coal from Kerendari B and C blocks for its 4,000 MW power plant being set up at Barhi village. The maha-panchayat was convened a week after the police lathi-charged people who would be affected by the mining project and arrested 200 of them during a public hearing. The residents were peacefully protesting against the hearing organised in Hazaribagh town, 44 km from Kerendari village which will fully displaced by the project.
Reliance Power aims to mine 40 million tonnes of coal per year from the Kerendari coal blocks, spread over 4,500 hectares, for its Jharkhand Integrated Power Ltd. The mining project will uproot more than 8,500 households from Kerendari.
Residents contend that the Jharkhand Pollution Control Board organised the hearing at a distant place so that people affected by the project would not be able to participate in it. Their core concern was rehabilitation of people who will get displaced. Though Reliance Power has proposed a package of Rs 10 lakh per acre (0.4 ha), it is not willing to make a written commitment, they allege.
Earlier, residents of the area had approached the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit in Delhi, apprising it about their difficulty in participating in the public hearing held at a far-off place. Following this, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE, wrote letters to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) stating that public hearing for the project is in violation of paragraph 7 of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006. As per the notification, public hearing should be conducted at or in close proximity to the project site.
In response, MoEF sent an urgent mail to the member secretary of the state pollution control board, directing him to look into the matter and make sure that the public hearing took place as close to the project site as possible.
Despite MoEF’s direction, the board did not change the venue of the public hearing. This irked the village residents who staged protests during the public hearing.
Talking to Down To Earth, S K Sinha, member secretary of the state pollution control board, said that Hazaribagh was chosen as the venue for the public hearing because the project proponents requested it, and also considering the law and order situation in Kerendari where Naxalites are active. Earlier, we had conducted public hearings for NTPC’s thermal power plant and Tenughat Emta Coal Mines Ltd at Hazaribagh town due to such law and order concerns. In fact, the public hearing venue for Reliance Power’s mining project was finalised by the district collector. We had forwarded the letter from the project proponent and the letter from the director of MoEF to the district collector.”
“If the company is confident that it can operate a coal mine in the so-called Naxalite-affected area, why can it not hold a public hearing there?” asks Gowtham Rana of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, a non-profit. The coal mine will not only displace an entire village, it will also affect the fertile agricultural land in the nearby villages. But neither the company nor the authorities are willing to hear the residents’ plea, he adds.
The participants of the maha-panchayat have written a letter to MoEF urging it to take necessary action against the public hearing that was conducted in violation of the EIA Notification.