‘Company built power plant illegally; managed clearance’
VILLAGES on the border of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab are protesting an under-construction thermal power plant in Solan district.
The villagers had rejected the project promoted by Jaiprakash Associates Ltd (JAL) at two public hearings held in June 2007 and in September 2009. But the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) cleared the project in Tikri village in Himachal in February.
At least 15 villages in the two states would be affected by pollution from the captive power plant fired by coal and rice husk. Villagers said the plant would use 1.1 million litres of groundwater daily which would dry wells and lakes within a 3 km radius. It would also release 300,000 litres of wastewater into Lohund Khud drain and the Satluj river downstream, affecting drinking water supply of 12 villages in Punjab.
Jagjit Singh Dukhia of non-profit Him Pravesh said villagers are already suffering the brunt of pollution caused by JAL’s cement plant in Tikri that became operational in January; the power plant will cater to the cement plant. The cement grinding unit runs 24 hours a day, causing dust and noise pollution. “This has made our life hell,” said Guman Singh of the non-profit Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.
Activists said there are several illegalities in the power plant: construction work was started in 2006 without waiting for environmental clearance from the MoEF and the land leased to the plant is common pool (shamlat) land which cannot be allotted under the law.
Following appeals from residents alleging misrepresentation of facts by JAL, the ministry’s expert appraisal committee issued showcause notice to the company. Villagers alleged the company managed the notice and got the clearance. “We are shocked that MoEF has accorded environmental clearance to the project despite our opposition. It makes the ministry’s role suspicious,” said Dukhia. An SPCB official said the ministry had sent the expert committee for site inspection last year. The committee reduced the proposed capa - city of the plant from 30 MW to 10 MW and cleared it. He added JAL is yet to apply for permission to commence operations.
JAL’s president, corporate affairs, V S Bajaj said the company has asked the ministry to reconsider its decision and approve 30 MW capacity as a 10 MW plant would be of no use. He said clearances were obtained, not managed.