Babus crush people’s voice to approve projects
Public wealth of poor has always been stolen by the powerful. Now, it is being done with their consent. And, the modus operandi is public hearing.
No project is India can get environment or forest clearance without a mandatory public hearing of the affected people. The district administration is required to conduct the hearing in a fair, transparent and democratic manner to hear the concerns raised by locals.
It rarely happens.
Many a times the civil society organizations cry foul over the manner consent is taken for a project at a public hearing. But, many regulatory authorities such as environment ministry debunk their claims citing vested interest of the NGOs against the project.
The same logic was applied when environment ministry gave clearance to Jindal Steel’s coal mining and pithead coal washery project in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has found something else.
The NGT’s order this week setting aside the environment clearance granted to the project shows how the district administration and environment ministry colluded with the project proponent to forcibly get consent of the locals.
The ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) mandated to examine each project before making its recommendation has suggested that the public hearing in the project should be conducted afresh. “The suggestions made by the EAC for conducting fresh public hearing was brushed aside,” the NGT order this week said.
The order points out at collusion at two points — district level and the ministry level — despite evidence that locals were against the project.
Here, I produce, verbatim of the NGT order on how district administration conducted flawed public hearing.
In the case on hand, after viewing the CD of the public hearing conducted on 5.1.2008, we are surprised to note to our dismay that the same was a “farce”. It was a mockery of the public hearing and the procedure required to be followed thereof. All the norms required in conducting a smooth and fair procedure was given a go by.
10. For conducting Public Hearing, a big pedal was erected, and a dais was created, and in front of the dais some officers were made to sit, for recording consideration of the representations made by the people raising objections for the establishment of the project.
The area covering the dais and the place where the officers were sitting was safely cordoned and in front of them about 200 plastic chairs were arranged for the public. Even before the public hearing could start, the affected people raised slogans to stop the public hearing. However, on the intervention of the Additional District Magistrate a few persons came forward and gave their statements saying that no Gram Sabha was conducted and the Gram Panchayats have issued “No Objection Certificates” and such certificates are invalid and cannot be relied upon to say that the people in the village have no objection for acquiring their lands for establishing the project. It is also pointed out that none of the Sarpanchs of the affected villages or other public representatives of the local bodies are present in the public hearing. Thereafter, the women from the affected villages who opposed the establishment of the project came in a queue one after the other and simply said that they oppose the project since their lands are being affected and their livelihood is taken away. The names of the persons and other details such as name of the father/husband, village and the extent of land and survey number were not recorded. The mike was not given to them and many of them were directly exposed to the video.
In the meanwhile, it appears the persons raising slogans against each other also pelted stones and that created some commotion which resulted in the intervention of the police and use of force. The participants however, broke all the plastic chairs and left the place. The officers were all sitting quietly even after the people left the place after the police used force. Some media persons and the local people objected for continuing the proceedings after the people left the place. In fact, there was no announcement that the proceedings would be resumed after some time. However, the additional district magistrate resumed and continued the proceedings in the presence of few persons. This time only the supporters of the project were paraded one after the other only to say one word “I Support”. The persons who supported the project all appeared to have been brought and prompted by the proponent.
It was a mockery of the entire process of public hearing. At the end, the additional district magistrate, declared that the public hearing was complete and there was no necessity for the project proponent to answer anything since there was nothing much has been spoken by the persons opposing the project. Further, no summary of the public hearing was prepared in the local language nor it was made known to the public. The ADM abruptly declared that the proceedings are concluded. The way in which the proceedings are conducted is nauseating and no reasonable person would accept that it was conducted fairly and much less properly.
Here is second part of the NGT order to demonstrate how environment ministry colluded.
It appears even the EAC has commented the way in which the public hearing was conducted and suggested for a fresh public hearing in the matter.
The MoEF however, did not make any comment or furnished any reasons for differing with the findings and suggestions made by the EAC with regard to the public hearing conducted without following the procedure envisaged in the EIA Notification 2006 (clause 8). In the further meetings of the EAC, the aspect of public hearing was not raised and there is absolutely no mention as to whether re-conducting a public hearing was necessary or it was felt that there was no necessity of the same. Further, the MOEF has simply recommended, for grant of the EC, without taking care of a substantive procedure, which was found to be defective, into consideration, except saying that “since the EIA Notification has stipulated that objections/views expressed about the project could be given in writing. The views/objections received from the public and organisations prior to and after the conduct of the public hearing on 5.1.2008 could be discussed by the EAC.”
Here, we may note that the original records placed before us by the MoEF does not disclose as to the following of the procedure as envisaged under clause 8 of the EIA Notification 2006 or there any comments made accepting the suggestions made by the MoEF by the EAC.
The MoEF simply ignored the mandatory procedure under clause 8 of the EIA Notification 2006 and granted the EC in favour of the project proponent. Therefore, the EAC recommendation and the grant of EC are liable to be set aside.
The two extracts from the NGT order, I think, makes it clear the arbitrariness of public hearings being conducted in India. There are several NGT orders and tales demonstrating how poor are pushed or forced to give consent to projects and turn refugees in their own land.
Such had been the magnitude of flawed public hearings that the NGT prescribed the procedure to be followed to conduct a public hearing over and above the conditions stipulated by the environment ministry. It is time the ministry has a re-look on how the public hearings are being conducted and tries to make it an absolute democratic process.
A difficult task for ministry babus, who are tuned to helps the industry more than the people, who are getting uprooted from their own land.
The new NGT conditions may not end the coercion of the public hearings but I hope that it makes them more transparent, open, democratic and inclusive for rights of the poor. It may also end the mockery being made by cash rich corporate aided by district administration of public hearing — an important instrument to enable poor determine their Constitutional right to live.
A proper public hearing can help the government to bridge the development deficit in India’s poorest and most backward districts, where most of the projects are coming up.