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Local people show strong opposition to Lafarge cement plant in Himachal

On 23rd June 2010, the Chairman of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) made a visit to the Lafarge Cement and Limestone Mines project site in order to assess the feasibility of the Environment Clearance granted to the project last year on 8th June 2009. The Environment Clearance to the project has been challenged by two separate petitioners, Pratap Singh Thakur and Ganga Singh Thakur who have filed their appeals, challenging the Environment Clearance, with the NEAA. The most critical argument being made by the petitioners is that the negative socio economic and environmental impacts of the project have been completely overlooked by the Environment Impact Assessment Report  and the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s ‘Expert Advisory Committee’ while recommending clearance to Rs. 900 crore, 3 MTPA  greenfield project.

“While the Expert Advisory Committee of the Ministry did make a site visit in May 2009 after objections raised by us and all affected communities, the committee did not visit the actual mining site nor did it meet any of the affected persons and granted the Environment clearance in June 2009? said Shri Pratap Singh Thakur. The counsel for Pratap Singh Thakur, Supreme court environmental lawyer Shri  Ritwick Dutta has argued that the very purpose of the MoEF committee’s site visit was defeated by such a superficial visit. Based on this, Appellate Authority member Shri J.C Kala on 13th May 2010 had ordered that he himself would undertake a visit to the project site in June and carry out a detailed assessment by interacting with the affected people.

During the site visit the Shri Kala visited Shakrori, located opposite the proposed plant site, Thalli (adjacent to the plant site, Bagshyad and Kanda (at the mining site) and had discussions with the local people. More than 200 people had gathered at Thalli, and strongly opposed the setting up of the plant given the productive agriculture of the area – which would be adversely affected by pollution from the plant. At Bagshyad, a gathering of 400 people dominated by women also presented their concerns and grievances to Shri Kala. The mining site will affect 16 villages of 3 Panchayats – Balindi, Bagshyad and Bindla, as they will lose part of their agricultural lands and most of their forest lands under the category of Demarcated Protected Forest. The existence of natural groves of pomegranate trees is a substantial source of horticultural produce from the area. Fruit trees like Apricot, peach, almond, pear, mango, jamun, banana apart from fuel and fodder species also add to the local biodiversity. Apart from this the mining activity will indirectly affect, with its solid waste and pollution generation, all the villages in the Alsindi valley downslope of the Pheridhar ridge.

“It is shocking that the Environment Impact Assessment report presented by the project proponents had no mention of this extensive dependence on forests and agriculture and instead projected that 49% of the people in the area are jobless” said Shri K.G Thakur, representative from the area. A joint action committee of representatives of the affected Panchayats and 9 local community organisations (including youth groups) called Jai Shri Deo Badeyogi Sangharsh Evam Paryavaran Sanrakshan Samiti has been leading the agitation against the project since the last three years. A lot of resentment has built up against the local MLA (Karsog) Shri Hiralal, as he has not stood with the local sentiment of the project and this was obvious during the site visit, as people raised slogans against him. The district administration too, despite repeated petitioning and appeals by the people, has turned a blind eye to the local concerns related to the project. “Even during the site visit officials of the administration were discouraging the Appellate Authority Chairman from visiting the actual affected site” added Shri Hiramani, another member of the Samiti. However, Shri Kala, did finally visit the area and stated that he would review all the facts before him and give a just order in the matter.

This was a first visit of its kind by the National Environment Appellate Authority to the state of Himachal Pradesh. Recently, the Authority Chairman also visited sites in Uttarakhand and Goa to assess environmental impacts of projects. “Such a site visit is a critical step in assessing the ground situation and it also re-assures the local people that their concerns are being heard at least, in an atmosphere where the local administration and political representatives are either mute spectators or biased towards the project proponents” said Prakash Bhandari, of Environment Research and Action Collective, who was also present during the site visit.

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