Solan: This was yet another public hearing to decide the fate of yet another project in Himachal Pradesh with an all too similar verdict. As around 1,500 people belonging to panchayats in Nalagarh area and the adjoining belt of Punjab vociferously and unanimously rejected Jaiprakash Associates Limited’s (JAL) proposal to set up a 30 MW thermal power plant at Bagheri village near the Himachal-Punjab border during a public hearing for the unit held at the panchayat ground in Bagheri on Monday, the writing on the wall became all the more clear regarding conflict between aspirations of the people and forces of the new economic order.
The public hearing, conducted by the HP Pollution Control Board, saw emotional scenes with the youth, women, elderly and local political representatives of the area cutting across party lines, unanimously voicing opinion against the setting up of the 2 MTPA cement blending unit and the 32 MW diesel generator-based power plant. These units were appended with the 30 MW thermal power plant in the proposal moved through the Ministry of Environment and Forests after the public had rejected the original plan. People from more than 7 nearby panchayats of Himachal and equal number from Punjab had gathered for the public hearing.
Speaker after speaker at the dais spoke about the negative fallouts that the project would have on the water, air, livelihoods and the ecology of the area. At the outset, Jagjit Singh Dukhia, the president of the local NGO Himparivesh, asked the authorities present about the logic behind holding another public hearing for the same thermal plant which had been unquestionably rejected by the people at a public hearing held at the same place two years back. The then Congress government had withdrawn the NOC provided to the thermal power plant then after the negative vote in the last public hearing. Dukhia was referring to a copy of a show cause notice issued by the HP Pollution Control Board to the JAL administration after the withdrawal of permission, which had asked why the company’s consent to establish should not be withdrawn in the light of their continuation of illegal construction on the thermal plant.
The show-cause notice stated that this construction was in contravention of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and Environement Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. Dukhia alleged that the construction on the thermal and cement plant had continued unhindered for two years and within which time the Jaiprakash Associates embedded the project within a cement plant and applied to the Ministry of Environment for clearance, which was a ploy to hoodwink the public and the government. He blamed the HP Pollution Control Board of not taking any decisive action against the company while violations were going on and now conducting this public hearing which made a mockery of people’s earlier verdict against the thermal plant.
Master Jagir Singh, representing Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), said that the major impact of setting up of polluting industry would be on the people of downstream areas, which belonged mostly to Punjab. He also voiced his concern regarding the impacts that the proposed thermal plant would have on the milky white historical gurudwaras of Anandpur Sahib and Kiratpur Sahib.
Guaman Singh of Himalay Niti Abhiyan alleged that the land on which the existing cement and DG unit had been established had not been transferred in the name of JAL and an enquiry should be conducted on how such a big industry was built without proper lease of land. He also pointed out that if this one thermal plant was allowed to come up, then there would be many other industries queuing up to set up similar captive units to counter the shortage of electricity in the winters. He said that instead of subjecting the people of BBN and Punjab area to this ecological atrocity, the government should earnestly pursue its proposal to set up a pit head thermal plant in a coal producing belt.
The Zilla Parishad chairperson of Solan district, Ram Kumar Choudhary said that he had always opposed the setting up of the thermal plant and the Congress was still opposed to it. The speakers raised their concerns regarding the 11 lakh liters of ground water that this plant would need everyday and the about the 59 tonnes of toxic bottom ash that would be generated by the plant everyday.
The MLA of the area, Harinarayan Singh Saini, said that he was a representative of the local people and not the government. The thermal plant would not be installed if the local people did not want it to happen. He said that he had opposed the thermal plant during the last public hearing and was still staunchly against it. He said that he would endeavour to appraise the government of Himachal Pradesh regarding the peoples’ opposition to the thermal plant and promised that it would not be allowed to be set up at any cost.
The speakers, totaling around 30, included BDC chairperson of the Nalagarh area Soma Devi and ex-BDC chairperson Sant Ram. The district administration was represented by the ADM, Rakhi Kalhon, and the HP Pollution Control Board by senior environmental engineer DK Sharma. Rajiv Gaur was present from the JAL side along with many other officials.