Green tribunal cancels clearance to Sompeta power plant

Nagarjuna construction company asked to apply for fresh environmental clearance

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Wednesday 23 May 2012

The National Green Tribunal has suspended the environmental clearance for the upcoming 2,640 MW power plant in Sompeta town in Srikakkulam district of Andhra Pradesh. The green bench has asked the project proponent, Nagarjuna Construction Company, to apply for fresh environmental clearance with Ministry of Environment and Forests.

In its order on May 23, the tribunal said that the public hearing of the power plant was not done in the appropriate manner. It asked for the public hearing to be held again. Sompeta was in national focus two years ago when two people were killed and many others injured when police opened fired on the protesting crowd. The people were protesting against the Andhra Pradesh government for allotting 394 hectare of their fertile wetlands for the power project, showing it as wasteland.

The green bench also noted that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report was inadequate. The scrutiny of EIA report revealed that the Terms of Reference (TOR) were issued on May 14, 2009 based on the minutes of discussions of the environmental assessment committee meeting held between April 15 and 16, 2009. The meeting was based upon environmental data collected much earlier tp prescribing TOR—March 1, 2009. The EIA consultant did not mention in the report that necessary permission was obtained from Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to commence baseline data collection prior to award of TOR.

The environment baseline data are to be collected only after the grant of TOR. The minutes of the meeting in April also do not mention any grant of permission for prior collection of environmental data. The EIA also does not mention details and dates of soil sampling and noise survey. The special studies conducted at the behest of the project proponent were not made a part of EIA report and were not shared at the time of public consultation. As a result the errors in the report could not be pointed out. The public was given the copies of the EIA only at the time of public hearing, reads the order of the tribunal.

“The EIA process has been undertaken on the basis of wrong data furnished by the project proponent who had concealed information,” said Ritwick Datta, counsel representing the project-affected. The main concern of the affected people is that the project area is a wetland and caters to vital community needs. It is a source of ground water recharge, has lift irrigation points and provides for grazing and agriculture.

The bench also ordered MoEF to make revisions in the guidelines for setting up thermal power plants. It found that the guidelines are not exhaustive and do not take care of many factors affecting environment and ecology. The guidelines were framed way back in 1987 and do not even mention impact on wetlands. The bench has asked the MoEF to revise the site selection criteria in the guidelines. The tribunal also asked the ministry to finalise and notify important wetlands in the country as soon as possible. It will help in finalising the location of such developmental projects in future.  

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