CSE volunteer barred from filming public hearing for Ultratech cement plant

He was detained and his cassette was snatched away at company's behest

By Soundaram Ramanathan
Published: Thursday 23 May 2013

The public hearing for the first phase of Ultratech's proposed cement plant in Tamil Nadu on Thursday appeared to be a stage-managed event. Officials and police at the event did not allow a volunteer from Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Senthil, to film the proceedings. He was detained at the venue and his cassette was snatched away.  

The public hearing was for the proposed integrated greenfield cement project of UltraTech Cement. The project will include a facility for the production of clinker, cement (of 5.5 million tonnes per annum production capacity) and a captive power plant capable of producing 75MW power. The project is planned in two phases at Vellianai in Karur district and D Gudalur in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu.

Site of the proposed cement plant

Explanations ignored

Members of the press present at the venue of the public hearing were permitted to take photographs. However, the CSE volunteer was stopped from filming by an officer of the state pollution control board (SPCB), who refused to disclose his name. The volunteer was asked for his credentials and was told that permission from higher officials was required before he could film the hearing.

The volunteer explained that the video was being made as part of the project of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The project, Green Clearance Watch http://www.greenclearancewatch.org/, is a public information system to track environmental and forest clearances given to industrial and development projects in key sectors from April 2007 onwards. Part of its work involves the documenting public hearings.

The volunteer’s explanations were completely ignored, and the assistant engineer of the SPCB called in the police. Company officials instructed the state government officials at the venue not to allow him to leave until he surrendered the recorded cassette, says the volunteer. The cassette was then snatched away. 

A public hearing is usually organised by the respective SPCB, and includes representatives of the company pursuing the project, residents of the affected areas and others who may wish to attend. The hearing takes place in the presence of the district collector.

Law allows video-recording

According to the EIA notification, a public hearing needs to be recorded by an SPCB and the video has to be sent to MoEF. Activists and communities allege that these videos are often tampered with. There is nothing in the EIA notification that bars a person from video recording during the public hearing as it is a public event.
Pravin Patel, an activist from Chhattisgarh says, “The friend who has been threatened and obstructed in his work should report the matter to the MoEF as well as to the member secretary of the SPCB and file his objections for not granting the environmental clearance. The public hearing that was conducted is unfair where voices of the people have not been heard in a stage-managed show in the name of public hearing.”

Show of power

According to the CSE volunteer, several MLAs and local goons were assembled at the venue. People were made to register themselves before the hearing, and were called by name to state their concerns regarding the project, he says.
“The company served people biryani at the public hearing venue,” says the CSE volunteer. “People were asked  about potential issues with water, air and rehabilitation because of the plant. Officials just kept replying: “The project is good. The project will not cause any issues and the environment would improve,” he says.

The volunteer was on his way out, but was then detained by police and made to sit through the proceedings of the hearing. He was assured that he would be allowed to leave in a while. After the hearing was over, he was further detained by officials who noted his details, as well as those of the CSE researchers who had sent him to the venue.

S Kowsalya, resident of Dindigul, rues the lack of documentation of the company’s assurances. “Industries are not willing to be accountable.  The area is already water starved. We get water only once in 15 days and rivers in the area have dried. We don’t get labourers for agricultural land as there are several polluting spinning mills and leather industries around the district which give people a higher salary. Now this upcoming plant will add to the list of struggles in our daily life,” she says.

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