Didn’t get notice to join consultations: Villagers
Public consultations on expanding production at the Gevra opencast mine of Coal India Limited (CIL) in Chhattisgarh’s Korba district were given a miss by local residents and environmental groups.
It wasn’t because they had nothing to say about the proposed increase of production from 45 million tonnes to 49 million tonnes. The villagers and environmentalists, in fact, never saw the public notice seeking feedback from stakeholders who would be most affected by the project, activists working with the local community said.
The expert appraisal committee (EAC) of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC), considering the expansion proposal last June, recommended that the Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board (CECB) issue a public notice seeking feedback from the local community and redress any grievances they had.
The villagers approached Janabhivyakti, a Chhattisgarh-based non-governmental organisation, which filed two right to information (RTI) pleas with the CECB asking if a public notice had indeed been issued and comments been received from the local community.
Residents of Raliya village tried approaching the CECB to check on the public consultation exercise but didn’t receive any information. They requested Janabhivyakti’s programme offer, Bipasha Paul, of to file an RTI on the consultation dates so that they had an opportunity to raise environmental issues at the consultations. In both the replies,on October 18, 2019 and January 3, 2020, copies of which are in possession with HT, the CECB said this information was not available. On January 6, 2020, South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL), one of the subsidiaries of state-owned CIL, submitted a compliance report with the EAC, stating that advertisements had been placed in both national and state newspapers on December 5, 2019, informing the public of the proposal to increase production at the Gevra mine.
“We don’t know why the RTIs said in January that it had no information when the advertisements were placed in December. The villagers submitted their comments to the CECB on January 7, 2020, but they were not considered as the officials maintained that the last date for submission had lapsed. The villagers’ grievances regarding key issues such as transportation, increase in load of road transport leading to air pollution from coal dust, spike in traffic, accidents,resettlement and employment have been glossed over,” said Paul.
RP Shinde, regional officer of CECB, had this to say: “Perhaps, the RTIs didn’t provide the information because the public notice was already issued and the last date for submission had lapsed. Besides, we did not receive any comments within the stipulated time of one month from the time the advertisements were placed. Advertisements, however, were not placed in local newspapers.”
A senior SECL official said the CECB followed the norms in publishing the advertisements. “We don’t know why the villagers didn’t respond,” the official said.
The EAC considered the proposal for the Gevra project’s expansion on June 25, 2019 , when the panel noted that it had been granted green clearance on June 3, 2009 to increase production from 25 to 35 million tonnes per annum based on a public hearing conducted on August 22, 2008. The project was allowed to expand further to 45 million tonnes but public hearing was exempted as per the 2006 environment impact-assessment notification and subsequent amendments made to it. The rule stipulates that all projects located within industrial estates approved by the authorities are exempted from public hearing.
“If notices for public consultations or hearings are held back, under-publicised or hidden, it directly impacts the quality of public participation. It is not enough that a notice is published, but it needs to be ensured that it is received and understood by those whose life it is most relevant to,” said Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.