INDIA: SUBVERTING DEMOCRACY AND SACRIFICING THE PUBLIC: ANOTHER MANAGED PUBLIC HEARING
The struggle for the Villagers of Singhitaria, located at District Jangir-Champa in the State of Chattisgarh is not over. In a rare decision in March 2010, the National Environment Appellate Authority had quashed the Environmental Clearance granted to M/s Athena Chattisgarh Power Pvt. Ltd. for setting up of 2 x 600 MW Singhitarai Thermal Power Plant. The Clearance was quashed on the ground that the Public Hearing had been openly declared as cancelled by the Additional Collector and therefore the proceedings of this Public Hearing had no validity. But the victory was short lived.
A fresh Public Hearing was held on 05.04.2010 for the project. However, to effectively ensure that the ‘real affected public’ are kept out since the mood of the Public was against the project, a venue was selected for the public hearing which was 18-20 km away from the Project site and no arrangements were made to travel from the Project-affected areas. As a result only about 30 Project-affected persons were able to participate.
What was shocking at the Public Hearing was the presence of Politicians at the Public Hearing Panel. One sitting Member of Parliament from BJP and the President of the Zilla Panchayat were ‘invited’ to part of the Panel. According to Ramesh Aggarwal of Jan Chetna who along with the local villagers had filed the petition before the NEAA, the political leaders openly supported the Project and criticized those who raised objections. At the end, the minutes of the proceedings were neither read out nor signed by the members of the Panel as required by the EIA Notification. Instead some welfare schemes were recommended. The provisions of law is clear: as per the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, the Public Hearing Panel is to comprise of the District Magistrate/ Additional District Magistrate and representative of the State Pollution Control Board. No other person can be present. Then why were the Political leaders part of the hearing ?
This public hearing is not an aberration, it has become the norm. Each day several Public hearing are held and many such violations takes place. Unfortunately, it is only in a few instances that the local communities are able to detect the violations. Uninformed and made powerless, India’s Public is being made a silent spectator in the destruction of their own Environment. Whenever their voices are raised, it is silenced, most often in the most brutal form. India’s Public Hearing process has today become the most misused forum. An impression is given to the people that their voices will be heard and people make extreme efforts to attend it, even losing their days income in the process. Little knowing that what they express and say is not even looked at by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, mandated to do a detailed scrutiny of the Public hearing process. Of more serious concern is the open nexus existing between Politicians, Bureaucrats and Industrialist. Till date, the linkage was largely beyond public gaze. However, as the Public Hearing at Singitaria shows, politicians and more importantly Members of Parliament and Panchayats was no longer shying away from their closeness to corporate houses, which in most instances flourish under state largess. Unfortunately, this frustration with the democratic process does lead the tribals to have more faith with naxals and Maoists. As the happenings at Dantewade, Chattigarh last week shows (where 75 police personnel’s were killed by Maoist), the retaliation can be brutal and bloody.