Who is eligible to raise questions in public hearings?

Sintex power says only those who reside in the region or belong to a non-profit can do so

 
By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Pravinbhai Sheth, a resident of Ankleshwar city in Gujarat is agitated. He was held ineligible to ask questions during public consultations for a power project. “The people of Sintex Power Ltd told me that I am not eligible to raise questions concerning the proposed 1,720 MW thermal power project in Amreli as I neither belong to a non-profit nor am I one of those who will be affected by it.”  They added “I am also ineligible to raise any questions as I reside more than 10 km away from the proposed project site. This is wrong.” 

Sheth has been waiting for a clarification for over four months now but in vain. “I have also raised the issue with Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) as recently as November 23. But what I have got are mere assurances that they will look into the matter.”

His concern is justified and raises questions over the democratic face of public hearings in the country.  Paragraph 7 of section 3 of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 outlines that “public consultation refers to the process by which the concerns of local affected persons and others who have plausible stake in the environmental impacts of the project or activity are ascertained with a view to taking into account all the material concerns in the project or activity design as appropriate”. 

Nowhere does the EIA Notification state that an individual needs to be the resident of an area or live within a specific distance of the project site to be eligible for attending a public hearing or voice concerns about an upcoming project. According to environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta, “any concerned citizen has the right to express his/her concern about the EIA of an upcoming project and also ask questions about the same during the public hearing. Environment is a matter of public good that concerns everyone.”

Sheth has been working independently on the issues of public hearing in the region for many years. The EIA was made available for public review, as mandated by law, prior to the hearing held on August 1. He reviewed the EIA and sent his questions in writing to GPCB a week prior to the hearing. GPCB directed his questions to the company, which responded by saying that Sheth is not eligible.

According to Hardik Shah, member secretary of GPCB, the complaint has been received and officials will review the issue and ask Sintex Power for a clarification of their argument. He adds that as per the EIA Notification, “views of any person should be taken into consideration, but typically that will involve people who stay in or near the project area as they will be affected by the project.”


 

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.