A day after a public hearing to give environmental clearance to a 1,200 megawatt power project in Chhattisgarh ended in 20 minutes, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said the process was fixed in most cases.
“Either project proponents or influential NGOs fix the public hearing process,” Ramesh said while launching revamped websites of environment and forest clearances for the project.
On June 30, the public hearing for a project was conducted 35 km away from the project site though the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) rules state it should be held at the project site.
“Even before 1,000 people could raise their voices, the district collector declared the hearing closed,” said Himanshu Thakkar of Delhi-based NGO South Asian Network on Dams, Resources and People.
A few months ago in Jharkhand, the Uranium Corporation of India held a public hearing for a new mining project in its office and filled the room with employees an hour before the scheduled meeting. The hearing ended without the voice of the locals being heard but the meeting minutes stated people had agreed to the project.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had introduced public hearings in 2006 to ensure the voice of affected people are heard.
Despite complaints, the Environment Ministry has seldom taken action against officials for faking public hearings.
“The quality of the EIA is not of the desired level. I have received a lot of complaints against non-transparent public hearings. It appears to be a formality,” Ramesh said. He promised to improve its quality.
There is a huge disparity in rejection rates of projects under the Environment Protection Act and Forest Conservation Act. Under the former, the rejection rate is just 2 per cent while under the latter, it is 26 per cent.