Mining

Dramatic twists on Vedanta plant public hearing in Odisha

Orissa HC first stays, then allows hearing to take place; decision deferred till October 5

 
By Amjad Badshah
Published: Wednesday 30 September 2020
Dramatic twists on Vedanta plant public hearing in Odisha. Photo: Amjad Badshah

Aluminium giant Vedanta Aluminium Ltd’s bid to expand its aluminium smelter plant in Odisha’s Jharsuguda district saw a number of dramatic twists and turns September 29-30, 2020. However, a final decision has been deferred till October 5, with Vedanta being allowed to participate in the hearing.

The Orissa High Court first issued a stay order on a notification issued by the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) for public hearing in Jharsuguda September 29.

Then, in another hearing done via video conferencing September 30, the High Court permitted the public hearing to take place by relaxing the stay.

The court, in its hearing via video conferencing, stated that no one appeared for the state government as well as the OSPCB, probably due to want of notice.

The previous timing of the public hearing was at 11 pm September 30. But it was finally organised at 4pm at Government UP School in the district’s Kurebaga village.

OSPCB had issued the notification September 27 to hear the grievances of people who are to be affected due to the expansion of the plant. Prior to the modification of the stay, the single Judge Bench of Justice KR Mohapatra had issued the interim order on a petition filed by Subrat Bhoi and Tejraj Kumura, both residents of Jharsuguda.

The petition had challenged the notification on the ground that it violated the order issued by the Special Relief Commissioner August 31. The order prohibited large congregations of people of any nature. Advocate Partha Sarathi Nayak had argued the case for the petitioners.

Vedanta has proposed to expand its existing smelter plant to 18 LPTA, from 16 LPTA and its captive power plant capacity to 1,215 megawatt. The proposed expansion will cost about Rs 1,240 crore. The anticipated capital expenditure for the pollution control measures is about Rs 55 crore.

GG Pal, the chief operating officer of Vedanta, has said the proposed expansion will be within the existing aluminium smelter plant complex of about 2061.41 acres or 834.22 hectares.

The proposed township expansion is planned in an area of 91 acres (36.83 ha), which is already in possession of Vedanta Ltd. Hence, no additional land would be acquired, according to Pal.

However, speculation among locals is rife that land would be acquired in Brundamal, Katikela, Purna and Kurebaga villages.

Mixed voices

There were voices of both support and opposition at the public hearing. Nruparaj Naik, a 74-year-old resident of Kurebaga, criticised Vedanta for duping locals.

The company had purchased land at cheap price and had not given any sizeable employment to unemployed youths in the locality, he said.

If Vedanta did not sign an agreement or reach an understanding with locals on employment generation and peripheral development, no land should be given to the conglomerate, he said.

Others, however, supported Vedanta. Raghumani Patel, ex-president of the Jharsuguda District Bar, asked people to not confuse development with jobs. Vedanta was doing quite a good job with regard to peripheral development in comparison to providing jobs to locals, he said.

Hemendra Nayak, regional officer of OSPCB and Jharsuguda’s Additional District Magistrate, Pradip Kr Sahoo said the administration and OSPCB were at the hearing to record the people’s and company’s perception and not to pronounce any judgement.

Both stakeholders should speak their mind without fear or favour, they added.

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