Odisha activist seeks fresh public hearing for Vedanta’s expansion plan
The activist alleges that the public hearing was conducted hurriedly, denying people their right to attend it.Updated: Oct 03, 2020, 13:09 IST
Two days after the Odisha government held a public hearing over Vedanta Limited’s proposed expansion of its aluminium smelter plant in Jharsuguda district, prominent environmental activist Prafulla Samantra has demanded a fresh public hearing calling the earlier one illegal.
In a letter to the member secretary of Odisha state pollution control board that conducted the public hearing at a government school in Jharsuguda district’s Kurebaga village on September 30 afternoon, Samantra alleged that the hearing was conducted in a hurried manner.
Vedanta Aluminium had proposed to expand its existing smelter plant at Jharsuguda from 16 LTPA to 18 LTPA and its captive power plant capacity to 1,215 megawatt at a cost of about Rs 1,240 crore.
The public hearing on the environment impact assessment of the proposed expansion was held on September 30 after some dramatic developments involving a stay on the hearing process and the lifting of the stay order hours before the actual hearing.
Samantra, who in 2017 had won the prestigious Goldman Environmental prize for his ground-level environmental activism, said he had urged the OPCB not to hold public hearing without proper information to the public as the news of the stay order given by Orissa high court on September 29 had appeared in several newspapers on September 30.
The HC on September 29 had issued a stay order on public hearing notification issued by the Odisha state pollution control board after a petition was filed alleging that the public gathering, as a result of holding a public hearing, will violate the Covid guideline order by special relief commissioner which prohibits large congregations of people. However, the HC in another hearing, done via video conferencing on September 30, permitted the public hearing to take place by relaxing the stay.
Samantra, who has already filed written objections to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the Vedanta Aluminium expansion project, however, said the whole process of public hearing should have been transparent.
“The OPCB should have fixed another day for the public hearing and issued advertisements in the newspapers as per the rules. The HC order could have been implemented on another date by following the law. Many villagers who could have participated in the hearing were not aware of the latest HC order and were deprived of the right to appear in public hearing. How was the hearing made possible within a short time and under whose supervision was it conducted,” asked Samantra.
The public hearing was attended by around 400 people including 62 who spoke.
OPCB regional officer Hemandra Nath Nayak who had conducted the hearing said that adequate time was given to people through advertisements floated in local dailies on August 28.
“Those who are opposing the public hearing should read the notification for public hearing. Besides, no violation of Covid guidelines had taken place as people who attended the hearing had maintained social distancing and wore masks,” said Nayak.
Sanjiv Patnaik, the PRO of Vedanta Aluminium, said the company had no role in the public hearing as it was conducted by OPCB. “The proposed expansion will be within the existing aluminium smelter plant complex of about 2061.41 acres. No additional land would be acquired,” he said.