By: Rahul Saxena
On 14th of January 2010, we heard that the cement grinding and blending unit of Jaiprakash Associates Ltd (JAL) at village Tikri in Nalagarh tehsil, having a capacity of producing 1.75 million tones of cement annually has been commissioned. We, the people of Nalagarh and the concerned citizens of the state are shocked at the way the company has been able to hoodwink the legal process during the construction of the Cement Blending and Grinding Unit and captive 30 MW thermal power plant and the fact that there has been a continuous abettment of these violations by the state.
The construction of the existing cement and power plant was initiated without two major permissions. The lease of 24.5 Ha. land on which the construction has taken place had not been executed in the name of JAL till recently. This land belonged to the non allotable common pool shamlat and was transferred to the Department of Industries. This is against the legal provisions and locals had filed objections demanding an enquiry on the absence of proper lease of land. The other major violation was starting of construction work without the necessary Environment Clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
When the plant came up for the public hearing on 27/06/2007, a large crowd of locals had vociferously given a thumbs down to the project on account of its environmental consequences. The local MLA had fully supported the people during the meeting. Following this, the permissions/NOCs granted by the state government to the project were withdrawn. But JAL managed to get the consent to establish for the cement unit despite the popular opposition to the project.
On 17/07/2007, the Member Secretary of the HP Pollution Control Board issued a show cause notice to JAL which stated that the construction on the thermal power plant had been going on illegally without consent of the competent authorities (i.e. the MoEF). It further stated that the provisions of not only the EIA Notification, 2006 and those of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 had been violated but also those of the consent to establish and that there could be a law and order problem if the said construction is continued. The letter also mentioned a resolution passed by the Solan District Zilla Parishad in opposition to the setting up of the captive thermal plant.
JAL floated a fresh proposal to have the plant approved through the back door i.e. as a part of a 2.0 MTPA Cement Grinding unit for which it moved a fresh application for Environment Clearance with a different expert appraisal committee of the MoEF. This was the reason why a second public hearing had to be conducted for the thermal plant that had already been rejected by the public once. JAL, meanwhile, also invested time and monetary resources to ‘buy’ favourable public opinion as the advertisements in local newspapers revealed. They donated money to local schools and public institutions so that the atmosphere for a favourable public hearing was built, a fact that was denied by the concerned people.
Around 1500 people belonging to the Gram Panchayats of the Nalagarh area and the adjoining belt of Punjab vociferously and unanimously rejected Jaiprakash Associate’s (JAL) proposal to set up a 30 MW thermal power plant at Bagheri village near the Himachal-Punjab border during the Environment Clearance public hearing on the 7th of September, 2009 for the unit held at the Gram Panchayat ground (at Bagheri). 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, 30 MW captive thermal power plant and the 32 MW Diesel Generator unit. In the bargain, the whole project, including the DG power plant and the cement grinding unit stand rejected by the public.
The construction on the cement, thermal and the diesel generator plant has meanwhile continued all this while as the evidence from the photographs of the plant would show. A large part of the work on the proposed 2.0 MTPA Grinding unit and the 32 MW DG power plant has already been completed. By applying for post facto clearances after constructing its project JAL has made a mockery of the laws of the country.
Along with these illegalities, there are issues of pollution that have been raised. The plant proposes to use 11 lakh litres of groundwater every day which would result in the lowering of water table and failure of bore-wells within a radius of 3 Km. This area is totally dependent upon ground water for irrigation and drinking water purposes. The plant shall release 3 lakh litres of waste water everyday that would pollute the nearby Lohund khud and the Satluj river downstream which is a source of drinking water for 12 Panchayats (in Punjab). The project would generate 59 tonnes of bottom ash per day which is known to contain toxic heavy metals like mercury, uranium, cadmium etc. This would have profound impacts on the health and livelihoods of the people like the Bhatinda thermal plant which has resulted in converting that area into a cancer belt. Additionally, the project proposes the burning of 650 tonnes of coal (or 600 tonnes of rice husk and 200 tonnes of plastic waste) everyday. This would result in immense air pollution, raising the local temperatures and contribute to glacial melting in the Himalayas. It may also impact on the rainfall patterns.
Recently, the High Court of Himachal, on a petition filed by a local person on the land related illegalities of the project, stayed the construction of the plant. However, last week the company filed in a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court. After 3 hearings in a short span of 10 days, the stay on construction at the JAL site was lifted by the SC and the respondents have been asked to file a reply. Meanwhile, despite a detailed petition with evidences having been sent to the state government in the first week of September, 2009, no action has been taken by it against the errant firm. There has been no punitive action by the Ministry of Environment and Forests either, who have been submitted the details of the violations several times. The people of the region are distressed by the attitude of the state in systematically and openly supporting a company indulging in such illegalities. But the people have vowed to continue the battle against JAL’s projects in Nalagarh and have decided to hold a large rally on the 20th of January at Nalagarh in protest against the violators of the environmental and land laws and their abettors within the state’s decision making structure.
Balkrishna Sharma (098162 80860) and Jagjit Singh Dukhia (Himparivesh) :
Guman Singh (Himalaya Niti Abhiyan) 09418277220