By: Mahesh Chander Sharma
Mandi (Oct 23): While both Congress and BJP in Himachal Pradesh have been accusing each other of having cleared certain cement plants in the state, documents prove that both of them are to be blamed for it.
The BJP had declared setting up a cement plant at Sundernagar in year 1989, but at that time the Congress used to oppose this decision on the ground that it would ruin the ecology of the state. But when the Congress came to power, it took a U-turn and signed an MOU for setting up of the cement plant in Nalni area. This proposal was turned down by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in the year 1999 on the ground that the plant area and mining sites were close to a wildlife sanctuary.
So the BJP, which was in power during those days, recommended shifting of the plant near Sundernagar, but the mining area remained the same, which was earlier rejected. Once again the government changed and the project got environment clearance in the year 2005 during the Congress tenure.
The present government started the process of acquisition of land in the year 2008. Leaders of both the parties have been accusing each other of favoring the cement industry, but none listened to the demands of local residents who were opposing the setting up of the cement plant. With the passage of time, the cost of from Rs 400 crore to Rs 1,200 crore.
Recently, information obtained through Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed that former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh not only recommended violation of environment clearance norms in his letter written on 29th March 2005 to A Raja, the Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF), but also mentioned that the mandatory public hearing to register affected people’s objections over the mining area be waived off in “larger public and national interest”. So the MOEF acting on the letter accorded environmental clearance to Harish Cement Plant.
As per rules and regulation regarding environment clearance, the whole process of public hearing and filing of objections should have been followed for setting up of the cement plant and mining area because the executing company had changed its site, but Virbhadra Singh recommended waiver of the public hearing, which was mandatory as per the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 1994.
According to Amar Chand Verma, an environmentalist, it was for the first time in Himachal Pradesh that mandatory public hearing pertaining to setting up of a polluting plant in a thickly populated area on agriculture area and very near to a wildlife sanctuary was not conducted in violation of environment laws.
Interestingly, as per the environmental policy of BJP, no forest land and agriculture land would be given to mining projects, but in reality the elected BJP leaders too have been trying their best to set up the cement plant near Sundernagar as reported earlier. The local residents have now challenged the decision of the government before the state high court.