Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Farce of Public Hearings for Environmental Assessment

Public Hearing or Public Farce
Those NROs and wellwishers of Orissa who imagine "development" of Orissa through extractive industrialisation should have attended the public hearing for environmental clearance forexpansion of the Lanjigarh refinery of Vedanta. They might have had the first hand opportunity of experiencing the farce of "environmental regulation" in our dear state. 

Vedanta is already operating an alumina refinery at Lanjigarh. In various reports of OSPCB and in petitions and complaints filed by local people, it becomes clear that this refinery has created environmental havoc in the area, polluting Vamshadhara river and making life extremely difficult for local people. The picture on the left shows toxic water and ash being dumped into Vamshadhara river from the factory. The pollution has caused sickness amongst local people and death of cattle. People who take bath in the river develop strange skin infections. Smoke and noise from the refinery pervades the area.

Now Vedanta wants to expand the refinery to 6 million tonnes, a fourfold increase in size. The public hearing was called for getting local people's opinions about the proposed expansion- this is a requirement under law for environmental clearance.

We have managed to get hold of the Official proceedings of this public hearing. It concludes by saying "The overall opinion of the public about the project was favorable provided the proponent takes care of their issues."

However, when one examines even the official proceedings in details, it becomes clear that almost everyone present opposed Vedanta's refinery project. Please find the proceedings copy here 

The most eloquent denunciation was by Lado Majhi, a Dongaria Kondh, who even in the truncated version presented in the official proceedings said that Donagrias will never allow Niyamgiri mountain to be mined. You can find his speech at the Public hearing with english subtitles at

Others pointed out the pollution and difficulties caused by the alumina plant. Please read the proceedings to appreciate the anger and angst that has been caused by Vedanta's action. The 27th speaker, Giridhar Patra, mentioned some of the local goons who have been supporting Vedanta by name, and that led to a fracas where these goons, in full view of the administration officials, literally dragged Mr. Patra off the stage. The public hearing couldn't be completed due to this disturbance - however the Chairperson of the hearing deemed the public hearing as concluded. Please see the video of Mr. Patra being removed from the stage at 

Thus we have strong opposition to the project, a public hearing "concluded" beacuse of disturbance, use of local goons to intimidate speakers - and yet the final result - overall opinion of the people was favorable for the project. In case this was the official outcome of the public hearing, then why hold it at all. Why the farce?

My NRO friends, who talk about democracy and development, need to see this to understand how democracy is being subverted by certain "type of development".



No comments: