Public taken for a ride

By Nivit Kumar Yadav
Published: Saturday 31 July 2010

People in eight villages in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar have been protesting the construction of an asbestos fibre-cement roofing plant nearby since January when work began at the site without the mandatory environmental clearance.

But they did not get a chance to voice their concerns at the public hearing held for the project on June 28.

“We were told to ask only one question. Company officials said they would answer our queries later during personal discussions which never happened,” said Rajesh Kumar, an activist. It was only after the meeting concluded the villagers realised they had been tricked; they had never attended such a meeting before.

Those who attended the meeting said it was managed by the officials of Balmukund Cement and Roofing Materials Ltd, the company constructing the factory in Chainpur village. The company officials allowed only people working at the factory site to speak, said the residents of Chainpur.

The proceeding was concluded without reading out the minutes of the meeting. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006 specifies the proceedings have to be read out in the language understood by the people, after which the agreed minutes are signed by the district magistrate.

The Bihar State Pollution Control Board that organised the event refused to comment on the proceedings. Its member secretary M K Singh said the recording of the event, along with the minutes, would be sent to the Union environment ministry for a decision. Earlier, protests had led to the district magistrate changing the date and venue of the public hearing (see ‘Asbestos unit disturbs Chainpur’s peace’, Down To Earth, June 30, 2010).

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