Public hearing for coal-fired unit in Trombay power station ends in fracas

Chembur residents and non-profits go unheard as politicians outshout each other

By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Wednesday 16 January 2013

The public hearing for replacing an oil-based power plant unit with a coal-fired one at Tata's Trombay thermal power station was marred by political squabbling, sidelining any significant consultations on environmental concerns of residents.
Trombay power station has an installed generation capacity of 1,580 MW, with five operating units, two of which are coal-based. The public hearing held on January 16 in Chembur concerned the company’s proposal to modernise Unit 6 with a capacity of 500 MW, by change of fuel from low-suphur fuel oil to low sulphur imported coal. The proposed change has raised pollution concerns in Chembur, which with a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) of 69.19, is a severely polluted area as categorized by the Central Pollution Control Board.

Attended by nearly 1,200 people, the hearing was largely dominated by members of political parties, including BHP, Shiv Sena and Congress, said regional officer of Maharashtra Pollution Control Board J B Sangewar, who was present at the venue.  “The hearing became discordant with various political parties shouting against the project, each trying to gain prominence. They loosely argued about the fuel type being used and pollution issues but without much substance. As a result, people from various non-profit groups who seriously work on such issues could not voice their opinions,” he added.

Citizens present at the hearing were angered by political parties hijacking the public forum. “No environmental concerns related to the project could be brought out scientifically or technically, nor could people present at the hearing voice their concerns,” said Debi Goenka of Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai.

Debi who critically reviewed the Environmental Impact Assessment report of the project could barely speak as the mike was snatched from him by politicians. Mani Pillay, a resident of Chembur said before he could clearly comprehend what was going on, the hearing ended abruptly after three hours of pandemonium. When asked whether the public hearing would he rescheduled, pollution control board officials said no.

The project now awaits clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.


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