By Krishnakant, Rohit Prajapati and Swati Desai*
The summary record of the 17th Meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee (Nuclear), held to examine nuclear projects attracting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, held on May 6, 2014 is now available. Our perusal suggests that it ignores some major points about the violation of the basic procedural norms while conducting the Environmental Public Hearing (EPH) on March 5, 2013 for the proposed 6,000 MW Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) to be built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).
We have earlier also stated that the EPH was illegal as it was held on the basis of an incomplete EIA report and had also serious anomalies; further, serious anomalies happened even during and after the EPH was held. The minutes of the EPH are not in the standard format as they are usually prepared. Instead, they read like a news report, with the proceedings summarized instead of reporting every detail in minutes’ format.
The most glaring omission from the minutes of the EPH is the complete omission of the fact that additional district collector Jagdish Trivedi was sitting on dais next to Bhavnagar district collector VP Patel, who had convened the EPH, which is strictly against the rules. Additional district collector can sit on dais and chair the EPH only if the collector deputes him/her in absence of him. The fact that the additional district collector was sitting sharing the dais with the district collector is missing from the minutes altogether. We can understand that presence of police force and private security guards are not mentioned, but the presence of several other people sitting on dais are also not mentioned in the minutes, e.g. company officials and others who we could not be recognised. Actually, the minutes of the public hearing proceedings should accurately reflect all the views and concerns expressed during the EPH. This is a gross violation of the EIA Notification, 2006.
We would like to raise the issue of enforcement of legal right in relation to non-implementation of provisions of EIA Notification, 2006, and issues pertaining to the principle of natural justice. The EIA Notification, 2006 requires that the Expert Appraisal Committee should do detailed scrutiny of the outcome of the public consultation, including public hearing proceedings, while appraising the application for grant of environment clearance. However, where the public hearing is not done properly, and even elected representatives were not allowed to make their legal procedural representation, the project will not be appraised on the basis of correct facts and will result in grave injustice to person affected by the project.
Also, following our repeated correspondence stressing that the EIA report is illegal since it has been prepared by the unaccredited consultant, there has been till date no official response any other responsible government office. Instead, letters from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) were received. A careful perusal of the letter leads to questioning its validity, as the letter dated February 20, 2013 by the Engineers India Ltd (EIL) to the NPCIL and letter dated February 18, 2013 by National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (NABET) to EIL does not have any outward number and it cannot be considered as an official response as it is the party to the case and not the officiating agency replying us.
The Supreme Court order dated July 6, 2011 in in TN Godavarman Thriumulpad v/s Union of India & Ors of Justice SH Kapadia, Justice Aftab Alam and Justice KS Panicker Radhakrishnan state, “The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should prepare a Panel of Accredited Institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the rapid EIA and that too on the Terms of Reference to be formulated by the MoEF.” The MoEF Office Memorandum dated December 2, 2009 states, “It is decided… that no EIA/EMP Reports prepared by such Consultants who are not registered with NABET/QCI shall be considered by the Ministry after June 30, 2010.” Thus it is very clear from the Office Memorandum of the MoEF dated December 2, 2009 and the Supreme Court order dated July 6, 2011 that the EIA reports that have been prepared by consultants who are not registered with NABET/QCI should not be considered. In contrast, the procedure followed for the Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power plant, both during the preparation of the EIA report as well as later during the EPH was erroneous with serious anomalies.
Other anomalies, which have been pointed out to the concerned authorities earlier, are as follows:
- The Terms of Reference for the MoEF clearly mention that the study area should “cover an area of 10 km radius around the proposed site for conventional pollutants and 30 km radius for radiological parameters.” Instead the EIA report categorically mentions that 30 Kms for radiological areas of the study will be undertaken in future, the radiological survey is yet to be carried out for 30 km area and have not been carried out as stipulated by MoEF in the Terms of Reference (TOR). But this has been clearly violated.
- No villager/village Panchayat in the 10-30 kms radius has been informed or served notice for the public hearing as the rules stipulate by the concerned authorities.
- The EIA report clearly mentions that the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) plan for the project affected families is under preparation and the details of the same have not been mentioned in the EIA report as per the TOR (detailed R&R plan/ compensation package in consonance with the national/ state R&R policy for the project affected people including that due to fuel transportation system/pipeline taking into account the socio economic status of the area, homestead oustees, land oustees, landless labourers). With no details available on such a crucial point, the exercise of preparation of EIA report and further that of the public hearing is rendered meaningless. Neither there are any details of the ongoing discussions being held with District Collector/Commissioner of the concerned area for compensation for land and landed properties as mentioned in EIA at page number IX.
- The forest clearance required for the forest land acquired for the process has not yet been obtained as per TOR (forestry clearance for the forestland involved in the project should be obtained and a copy furnished). The non-availability of the forest clearance certificate again is a serious anomaly and details should have been made available before the public hearing as stipulated.
- The TOR clearly states that “a note on site selection should be given in the EIA”. But the EIA only states that “the site selection committee appointed by Government of India comprising members from MoEF, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), Central Electricity Authority (CEA), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), DAE, and NPCIL have recommended Mithi Virdi as the suitable site for establishing the nuclear power plant (6×1000 MW) capacity Light Water Reactor. The site selection committee has considered various site selection criteria as specified by AERB/MoEF such as location, land availability, transportation accessibility, source of cooling water, meteorology, population, seismic zones, flood analysis, sustainability of the project, other environmental aspects etc. before recommending the suitability of the site for establishing NPP.” But a copy of the said report is not annexed with the EIA.
- The proposed plant site is falling under irrigation command area identified by Gujarat state irrigation department. An application for seeking no objection certificate for development of the proposed project is submitted to irrigation department, Government of Gujarat. Yet again copy of a no-objection certificate to develop the project in an irrigation command area application are not to be found in the EIA report as required by TOR of MoEF.
- The TOR insists that all documents should be “properly referenced with index, page numbers and continuous page numbering”, and “where data are presented in the report, especially in tables, the period in which the data were collected and the sources should be indicated.” But the EIA violates both at many places.
- The TOR states that “detailed risk assessment and disaster management plan should be given.” However, in Chapter 7, there is only a discussion on what needs to be included in the disaster management plan, but no real plan is given. In addition, page 314 of volume I of the draft EIA states, “The manual on Off-site Emergency Response Plans would be issued by State Level Emergency Response Committee”. However, no such plans are available.
The EIA report mentions (on page 319 of volume I) that “Volume II: Prodecure for Off-site Emergency” would provide “guidelines for handling off-site emergency at Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant and deals with emergency management organization, emergency equipment and facilities for handling the situation up to 16 km radius.” One look at the index of Volume II shows that there is no discussion of off-site emergency in that volume. This is a clear violation of the TOR.
AV Shah, regional officer, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, had reassured Rohit Prajapati and Swati Desai, who were representing on behalf of the villagers just before the EPH proceedings that the sarpanches of ten villages (Jaspara, Mithi Virdi, Paniyali, Khadarpar, Mandva, Sosiya, Navagam (Nana), Goriyali, Rampar (Garibpura), Bharapara.) would be allowed to raise procedural issues after the opening remarks by the collector who chaired the EPH proceedings and the GPCB’s opening remarks on the issue.
The sarpanches had already prepared the written submission for the procedural lapses in the EPH as directed by the authorities. However, when the EPH proceedings started, the first violation of the norms happened, when authorities reneged on their assurances to Rohit Prajapati and Swati Desai.
Jaspara village sarpanch Shaktisinh Gohil started making a point on procedural lapses soon after the opening remarks, but was prevented by the collector saying that Gohil could hold the floor on the lapses only after the NPCIL presentation. This was a clear violation, because the collector should have first read the written submission on the procedural lapse and opined on it before going ahead with the hearing.
The main point of the written submission of the sarpanches was that “the EIA Report for NPCIL has been prepared by Engineers India Limited (RIL)”, and “according to EIL’s own admission it does not have the requisite MoEF accreditation to undertake the Environmental Impact Assessment.” Therefore, the EIA Report is therefore “illegal.” Further, “The EIA Report has not been prepared as per the TOR determined by MoEF. The EIA Report is therefore incomplete. Any public hearing based on such incomplete report would be illegal. Only 24 villages in a radius of 10 km from the project have been considered ‘affected’ by the project. A total of 128 villages falling in the 10 to 30 km. radius have not been considered ‘affected’.” Then, “The entire exercise of the illegal EPH was further rendered futile as the collector did not even go through the basics of the procedural norms and did not give ear to democratic representations. The NPCIL presentation should have been held only after the collector had read the sarpanches’ representation, opined on it, and not otherwise as it had happened.”
This apart, the sarpanches also objected to “the coercive and terror filled environment in which the EPH was held, to prevent the villagers’ from making free and fair representation.” Not only was there “heavy posse of police force but also private security guards at the EPH site”, but there was “frisking and checking of every entrant, and at places questioning villagers and participants about their antecedents.” Also, there were “unnecessary barricades and iron wire fencing between the collector’s dais and the participants area, a first ever arrangement during the EPH in recent times in Gujarat.”
Worse, the collector “allowed songs and recordings in favour of the NPCIL and benefits of nuclear power plant to be broadcast from the public address system arranged by the collectorate. These recordings continued to be played till the EPH proceedings began formally. This is a clear violation of the neutral approach that the collector should have taken on the issue and instead made clear his predisposition on behalf of the NPCIL.” The NPCIL, in fact, made an “audio-visual pre-recorded presentation during the EPH, with no NPCIL official making any opening remarks officially except for switching on computer and other accessories.”
As if this was not enough, on June 11, 2013, while giving the so-called coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance/ recommendation for CRZ clearance to the NPP, the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) stated that “the authority deliberated the proposal of the NPCIL and after detailed discussion, decided to recommend to the MoEF to grant CRZ clearance for construction of intake, outfall facilities, jetty and desalination plant at village Mithi Virdi by MPCIL”. The clearance was granted on receiving a “detailed note regarding the safety aspects and site selection criteria along with its advantage for this site and submit to this Department” and a site visit by a GCZMA member.”
This clearly means that the GCZMA is not serious about the CRZ clearance because they have casually given this clearance/ recommendation for CRZ clearance without asking for and reading the note on safety aspects, site clearance report and without undertaking the site visit. GCZMA has not taken in account the basics, for instance eventualities like population increase in the immediate vicinity of the proposed plant. It is not clear if the GCZMA is a victim of the non-transparent and secretive approach of the NPCIL, which has not attached the report dated June 28, 2007 of the Site Selection Committee even in the EIA document.
Meanwhile, the NPCIL continued to resort to the illegal practices by keeping silent on the issues raised by the villagers. It needs 81 hectares of forest land in addition to the other land for the nuclear power plant. To facilitate this the taluka development officer (TDO) of Gujarat sent a letter dated July 15, 2013 to Sarpanch of Jaspara directing him to pass a resolution on the lines of the copy that he had sent, so as to have the village body’s stamp of approval for the state government transfer of forest land to the NPCIL. In this letter. the TDO instead of seeking the opinion of gram sabha as per the law for the land transfer, illegally and unconstitutionally orders the sarpanch to pass the readymade resolution. This is the new way of getting the consent from the villagers by the concerned authority. The gram sabha of Jaspara unanimously condemned and rejected such an unconstitutional letter of the TDO. The gram sabha unanimously resolved not to hand over the forest land for non-forest use to the NPCIL.
*Representing Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara; based on a written submission to Dr V Rajagopalan, secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, New Delhi, on October 6, 2014