The environmental groups Him Privesh and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan hail the Himachal Pradesh high court order of imposing Rs100 crore fine on Jaiprakash Associates Ltd (JP group) for violation of environmental laws and norms and resorting to "falsehood to mislead" the government for setting up a cement plant Solan district of the state.
The court has also quashed the environment clearance for setting up a 25MW thermal plant in the cement plant\\\’s vicinity and ordered the plant be dismantled within 2 weeks.
Hailing the verdict, Him Privesh and Himalaya Niti Abhiyan have issued a press statement on the environmental justice done by the high court.
Here is the full text of the statement:
The years of struggle of the communities and their stand against the illegal Jaiprakash Associates power project and cement grinding unit in Nalagarh has been vindicated by the Himachal High Court.
Delivering a strongly worded judgment, Justice Deepak Gupta and Sanjay Karol, admonished the state government and the regulatory bodies for being delinquent in their duty and allowing gross illegality to flourish. Members of the local community organisation which has been relentlessly fighting against illegal and environmentally damaging activities in the region find their stand vindicated and can hope to breathe in a situation that was becoming suffocating with the advent of this industry.
The judge’s ordered for the constitution of a Special Investigation Team to investigate the nature of connivance and the consequent huge loss to the State and to fix responsibility. The judges noted, “JP group has successfully misled and hoodwinked the State of Himachal Pradesh, the H.P. State Pollution Control Board, the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Environment Appraisal Committee and all other authorities. These authorities and the officials who were manning these authorities are supposed to act like watch dogs to fiercely protect the interest of the public. They unfortunately behaved like meek lambs being led for slaughter.”
Considering the blatant lies of the company, the court ordered that the Thermal Power Plant be dismantled within three months. However the court was a little lenient on the cement plant itself which involves mining and a lot of other subordinate employment that could be affected. Therefore the court abided by the ‘polluter pays’ principle and has fined the company of Rs 100 crores. It has sought strict vigilance over their compliance and has kept the options of closing it down open.
Another important highlight of the judgment is the change in the process of EIA preparation. The court said “ the Pollution Control Board shall ensure that whenever any public hearing is held, the people of the area are well informed about the public hearing and they are also informed about the benefits and the ill effects of the project. The Pollution Control Board must have its own machinery and own scientists who should give an independent opinion on the pros and cons of the project. These shall also be placed on the website of the PCB.”
It further went on to add “In future whenever any studies are being carried out by any project proponent while preparing the EIA reports, the study shall be carried out only after notice to the State Pollution Control Board, MoEF/EAC in case the project requires clearance at the central level and also to the inhabitants of the area where such studies are to be carried out and project has to be established. Notice to the public shall be given in the same manner notice of public hearing is given.
Mr Jagjeet Singh Dukhia, Balkrishan Sharma of Him Privesh and Mr Guman Singh of Himalaya Niti Abhiyan hailed the decision as historic and expressed the hope that better governance will prevail. Mr Guman Singh added “it is a matter of great relief for the local communities and has reassured our faith in the power of people’s struggle and of the judiciary”.
Mr R.Sreedhar, Chairperson of mines minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P), who has been associated with the struggle, said that the court despite all the obfuscations by the state and the company has vindicated the peoples stand. On a cautious note he said “the company will definitely knock the doors of Supreme Court and the judgement needs protection and endorsement so that the lessons are learnt by one and all”.
Himalaya Niti Abhiyan apprehends that there have been gross violations of environment laws, PESA, land and forest regulations in many hydro electric projects, cement and industrial projects in the state in connivance with officials and politicians of present BJP and previous Congress government. JP group did same illegal occupation on forest land violating PESA and FRA in Karcham Bangtu Hydro Electric Project and grossly violated laws in Bagga cement plant.
Forest right act is in force since 2008 and state government/MoEF is giving forest clearances without recognizing the forest rights of the local communities which is illegal.
Kulbhushan Upmanyu, R S Negi and Guman Singh have also demanded CBI inquiry to identify the illegalities committed by all Mega projects such as cement, hydro projects and other industrial projects, established in state within last ten years.