On December 30, 2015 an environmental public hearing is being held for the expansion of Deposit No. 10 of the NMDC operated Bailadila Iron Ore Mines in Dantewada by almost 30% of its existing capacity. This expansion of this deposit, which lies close to Bacheli, one of the two mining complexes operated by NMDC here – the other is at Kirandul, another 8 kms away – will effect more than 20 villages, apart from two municipalities, and the public hearing is the only chance for the effected public to have a say. But as always, neither is the public informed of the hearing, nor are they given information to understand the impact of this expansion, and the hearing is being held more than 2-3 hours away from any affected village, all of which flout the norms laid down to regulate public hearings – as per the EIA Notification issued by the MoEF in September, 2006.
The regional office of the Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board, the nodal authority to conduct this public hearing, too also admits (unofficially) that no notices are sent out to the concerned gram panchayats. In fact, the many effected villages aren’t even marked as effected, as a mandatory 10km radius from the projects site is sometimes reduced to just 5km, for the purpose of the hearing. Who is to know!
They go on to admit that the EIAs – environmental impact assessment reports prepared by consultancy firms hired by the project proponent itself (talk of separation of interests!), and used by the MoEF as benchmark documents to gauge the environmental impact – are also quite fraudulent and rarely, if ever give sufficiently detailed answers to the questions raised by the MoEF while giving Environment Clearance to the project – called a Terms of Reference, or simply TOR.
The intent of the state in this theater of conflict is clear – a sustained campaign of misinformation, coupled with the heavy hammer of intimidation and contractors (read hard cash) to wipe out whatever resistance there could be to such blatant appropriation of the rights of the local populace in a Schedule-V area. The public hearings then, are reduced to a mere formality, and are rarely challenged anywhere in the country. A recent cancellation of a proposed Adani Power Plant’s public hearing in Surguja, also to be held on 30th December, is a rare victory.
In this vacuum of (unarmed) people’s voices operate political contractors, navigating whose motives can be quite a game. It is precisely here where a new group, calling itself the Bailadila Sanyukt Panchayat Jan Sangharsh Samiti has risen, picking up the clarion call of asking NMDC for employment for local youth. This group had, just a few months ago, brought the Kirandul mines to a halt in a day-long strike. They are now protesting the holding of this public hearing, as they had protested against another such hearing held earlier this month for another deposit (no. 4). On December 28, a group of sarpanches from more than 10 villages met the collector of Dantewada district, and registered their protest against this hearing asking for it to be cancelled and re-held only when their demands of employment to local youth are met, and when all guidelines of the EIA notification are followed. Attached (1 & 2), are their representations to the collector and a press statement released by them. It remains to be seen how much they succeed in their efforts, or what direction this sangathan take in the future. But as of today, their effort has to be supported. And the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (CBA) has already answered that call. Attached (3) is also a letter by CBA demanding the cancellation of the public hearing on the grounds of a technically faulty EIA report which provides incomplete and misleading information about the impact of this project.
The press will have its eyes set at Dantewada on the 30th, waiting to see what unfolds. Watch this space for an update.
A small, but significant victory today in Bastar. The state had to concede to the demand of the public and cancel the public hearing – a temporary relief only, though. The cancellation notice issued by the Dantewada Collector, KC Devasenapathi, states that the public hearing was cancelled due to ‘inevitable’ circumstances and a new date for the hearing will be communicated later.
While calling this a victory signalling the resilience of the aadivasis of Bastar, the Bailadilla Sanyukt Panchayat Jan Sangharsh Samiti and the Aadivaasi Mahasabha have both independently contested setting a new date for the public hearing. The press statements (See Below – 4 & 5) released by both groups called out for cancellation of the current EIA report which violates at least 14 of the 42 points of the TOR issued by the MoEFCC, and hence for a cancellation of the entire Environment Clearance process. Only when a new EIA report, which mandatorily, truthfully and completely answers all questions raised in the TOR, is prepared can the new public hearing be held.
The sangathans have also resolved not to let any public hearing happen in the future till their demands – of resolution of the laal paani issues (The Hindu, Tehelka) plaguing the entire area for decades now, time bound measures to deal with air and soil pollution that are so rampant in the rich forested areas of Dantewada, and employment to local people in the mines along with recognition of the forest rights of the gram panchayats in this entire region and strict implementation of PESA Act – are met.