On December 30, 2015 a public hearing was supposed to be conducted in Sarguja, Chhattisgarh as a part of the ‘environmental clearance’ process of a thermal power plant (TPP). However, a few days prior to the scheduled date, the district collector of the region ‘postponed the public hearing until further notification’ (Das, 2015 December 26).
Earlier on December 21, 2015 a group of community representatives of the region submitted a letter to the district collector highlighting the obvious discrepancies in the draft environment impact assessment (EIA) report prepared by Greencindia (a consulting firm) highlighting the non-compliance of environmental clearance conditions of the main coal mine with which Sarguja Thermal Power Plant was interlinked by design.
A mine and its power plant
The facts of this story are simple. There was a coal block that was allocated for mining way back in 2006-07 to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, a state owned enterprise. It subsequently received its environmental and forest diversion related approvals on December 21, 2011 and March 15, 2012 respectively. The TPP under question was always part of the plan to operate this mine as it was to operate using rejects from the coal washery associated with the mine. Both the mine and proposed TPP are located in the Hasdeo Arand region of Chhattisgarh.
The Hasdeo Arand region is one of the last intact large forest tracts in central India. Being resource rich, it has been riddled with difficulties for a long time now. It is also home to a large and vulnerable population where over 90 per cent of the residents are dependent on agricultural cultivation and forest produce for their livelihood (Janabhivyakti, 2014).
From being declared a ‘no-go’ to ‘go’ area for mining; the forest clearance given is being disputed, especially in the light of the community forest rights being recalled, that too on grounds of these interfering with mining activity. What is important to understand is that the recognition of these rights was a mandatory precondition for the forest diversion to take effect (Kohli, 2016 February 25).
The mining, development and operations of these coal blocks were handed over to a 100 per cent subsidiary of Adani Mining Private Limited-Sarguja Power Private Limited (SPPL) in 2011. As of now, the environment clearance process for the TPP, consisting of four step-screening, scoping, public consultation and appraisal, is underway. The proposed public hearing which was deferred by the collector is part of the public consultation phase laid out in the EIA notification, 2006.
Through an applied research project, it was found out that there is evidence of non-compliance of the coal mining project. The mandatory conditions of the TPP are also being slowly weeded out. Community representatives from the three affected villages of Salhi, Hariharpur and Ghatbarra, together with a non-governmental organisation, Janabhivyakti filed the right to information (RTI) applications, following news reports, photographs and GPS mapping. When comparison between the legal documents and ground realities were drawn non-compliance was found for several crucial conditions regarding environment clearance of the mining project.
Projects of this kind are termed Category A under the EIA notification, 2006 and have to secure approval from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. At the state level, these are ‘high impact projects’ and hence, their compliance has to be closely monitored by regional offices of the ministry as well as a state level regulatory agency set up under the EIA notification.
Past performance and future approvals
Unfortunately, environmental clearances in India are not linked to the past performance of the project. This is unlike in other sector or spheres, where past performance is heavily relied and valued. Hence, the citizens facing the impacts of these projects are often met with the task to track down the compliance or non-compliance of earlier projects.
In this case, when the terms of reference (ToR) of the TPP were looked into, several instances of non-compliance of conditions were found. One of the conditions stated in the initial environmental clearance of 2011 for the coal mining project was that the location of the thermal power plant was to be finalised on the basis of consultations with villagers. However, there were no consultations held in reality (Janabhivyakti et al., 2016).
While the initial ToR for an EIA of a coal mining project clearly states that a linked super critical power plant must come up to utilise coal rejects from the mining operations, the draft EIA report of the thermal power plant presents it otherwise. The linked TPP, they claim is a ‘greenfield project’—one that is not constrained by prior work. Being a greenfield project implies skipping through a few steps of compliance. Also, status reports of compliance with conditions in the previous phases don’t have to be submitted.
However, it was found through official documents, photographs and newspaper reports that the conditions of coal transportation were violated and there was evidence of river pollution caused due to non-compliance of various other conditions (Janabhivyakti et al., 2016). The non-compliance of conditions in the first phase of the project was cited by the community to argue against the TPP.
For now, the public hearing is postponed and the coal mine is still running. The project proponent is still the same while the TPP is still under consideration. It remains to be seen whether past performance will be considered while reviewing future proposals.
The Notification on EIA of developmental projects issued under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has made EIA mandatory for 30 categories of developmental projects. However, more often than not, non-compliance of the conditions demanded under the EIA is the norm. It is only when affected communities take it upon themselves to challenge such non-compliance that the actual aim of the notification would be achieved.
Das, R.K. (2015, December 26) Adani’s proposed power project in Chhattisgarh hits a roadblock. Business Standard. Retrieved from http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/adani-s-proposed-power-project-in-chhattisgarh-hits-a-roadblock-115122500319_1.html
Janabhivyakti. (2014, December). Perspective document on coal mining in Hasdeo Arand region. Retrieved from http://www.janabhivyakti.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/61/2015/01/Implications-of-Mining-in-Hasdeo-Arand-coloured.pdf
Janabhivyakti, Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (HABBS), CPR-Namati Environment Justice Program. (2016). Closing the enforcement gap (2): groundtruthing of environmental violations in Sarguja, Chhattisgarh.
Kohli, K. (2016, February 25). Anything for a mine. Geography and You. Retrieved from http://www.geographyandyou.com/component/content/article/32-featured-stories/4477-anything-for-a-mine.html.