28 November 2007
Krishi Bhoomi Samrakshana Samithi – Bajpe
Downloads: Press Release in Kannada
An Environmental Public Hearing on the proposed Mangalore Special Economic Zone was called today at 11 am at St. Joseph’s Church, Bajpe Church Hall, by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board under the Chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner of Mangalore, Shri. Maheshwar Rao, IAS.
The claim made by the Board while issuing the 30 days notice of Public Hearing in various newspapers, was that the investor M/s Mangalore SEZ Ltd. complied fully with the provisions of the EIA Notification 2006, and thereby the issual of hearing notice was legal.
Many written objections were raised by various local affected communities during the 30 days period on the ground that the Hearing had been called in abject violation of the spirit, objective and provisions of the said Notification, in particular the procedure as laid out for holding such Statutory Public Hearings in Annexure IV of the Notification. Of absolute importance here was the fact the the Draft Environment Impact Assessment of the proposed investment was available in the designated offices only in English, and thereby violated the provisions of Section 2 of the aforesaid Annexure.
No clarification was issued to the general public by the Deputy Commissioner or by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board or even the Karnataka State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority as to how the holding of the Hearing fulfilled the aforementioned provisions.
On the day of the Hearing over 5,000 people gathered at the venue from the very early hours of the morning. Significantly half of those gathered included women and children from the affected areas of the proposed investment. As was insisted, they followed every requirement of the Board in terms of registering their names and addresses and sat peacefully inside the premises of the Church Hall.
The Hall was full half hour before the scheduled time of the Hearing, and about 500 people were seated outside after registration. Even at the time the Hearing commenced, at 11 a.m., there were at least another 1000 people still to be registered and seated. It is indeed a matter of great concern that the Deputy Commissioner opened the process of conducting the Hearing, even when the local affected persons in particular and many others who were concerned, in general, were not yet able to fully participate in the proceedings.
Many fervent appeals were made to the Deputy Commissioner not to initiate the process till such time everyone was adequately seated and able to participate, but he overruled this request and continued with the process.
After the introductory remarks by the Deputy Commissioner, Member Secretary of the Board, officials of the Government department dealing with SEZ and the project proponent, the floor was thrown open to those present to present their views.
One important point raised at the outset was that the Deputy Commissioner was conducting the Hearing in gross violation of the provisions of the EIA Notification. In particular it was brought to the attention of the forum that the decision of the DC to hold the Hearing in this manner was in abject violation of the provision 2.2 wherein it is stated as follows:
“The Applicant shall enclose with the letter of request, at least 10 hard copies and an equivalent number of soft (electronic) copies of the draft EIA Report with the generic structure given in Appendix III including the Summary Environment Impact Assessment report in English and in the local language, prepared strictly in accordance with the Terms of Reference communicated after Scoping (Stage-2).”
It is clear from this provision that the Draft EIA and the Summary of the EIA must be provided in English and in the local language. Instead of fully complying with this provision, the Draft EIA, which constitutes the main document for consideration of impact was provided only in English and not in the local language, Kannada, as required per law. This despite many requests, including by way of mass representations, that this document must be provided in Kannada and to hold the Hearing only after this demand was complied.
This act thereby constituted a major violation of the aforementioned provision and also prevented the affected communities in particular to be able to fully consider the details involved and provide their opinions fulfilling the principle of prior and informed consent. To hold the Hearing, thereby, despite this major illegality also attacked the very fundamental principles of Right to Life and Livelihood, to equal and genuine participation in a statutory process and also of expression.
In such a situation the DC had powers to postpone the Hearing in accordance with Section 3.3 of Annexure IV if the aforesaid Notification, which is as follows:
“3.3 No postponement of the date, time, venue of the public hearing shall be undertaken, unless some untoward emergency situation occurs and only on the recommendation of the concerned District Magistrate the postponement shall be notified to the public through the same National and Regional vernacular dailies and also prominently displayed at all the identified offices by the concerned SPCB or Union Territory Pollution Control Committee.”
Clearly then, the only option available to the Deputy Commissioner was to comply fully with the aforesaid provisions and call for a Hearing after the project proponent had supplied the requisite documents in local language also as required per law. To continue to hold the Hearing despite this gross illegality and legal infirmity exposed the DC as engaging in fundamental violation of the basic tenets of the Constitution of India and the relevant law applicable to the conduct of Environmental Public Hearing process.
Rather than accept this legal demand, the DC decided that it was up to him to decide that the Draft EIA need not be provided in the local language and thereby the Hearing would continue. He stated that there was precedence wherein documents had not been provided in the local language and the Hearing had been conducted by the Board, and that this was sufficient for him to consitute the process as legal.
There was total opposition to this position from everyone gathered. It was pointed out to the DC that to cite a precedence of previous illegallity as a reason to continue holding the hearing exposed him to fundamentally violating the law, and he was urged to not continue with the illegal Hearing.
Soon after the DC engaged in a political game by inviting some former local elected persons in an effort to convince the people that the continuance of the process was in accordance with law. But they were clearly shouted down by everyone present and the DC was urged to desist from abusing his power and engaging in such partisan behaviour.
Protesting such partisan approach of the DC, he was told in clear terms that given that the Parliament of India was seized with the matter of SEZs in general, and that Karnataka was under President’s Rule, it would be a major abrogation of the democratic traditions demanded for decision making to even consider moving ahead with the process of environmental decision making on the Mangalore SEZ when there were no elected bodies to represent the public. In addition, the Parliament had constituted various committees that had come out with important principles based on which decisions on SEZ’s were to be taken, and none of which were being complied in the present instance.
Once more repeated appeals were made to the DC to ensure full compliance with the EIA Notification and hold the Hearing only after the documents were available in Kannada as required per law. It was once more stressed that to invite opinions of the affected public without providing information in a language they could understand is no consultation at all. Thereby, it was only reasonable for the DC to postpone the Hearing in accordance with Section 3.3. of Annexure IV of the EIA Notification 2006.
Even though these arguments were forcefully and repeatedly made for quite some time, the DC unreasonably and illegally decided to continue with the process of the Hearing. He even stated that he would not in any circumstance postpone the Hearing. This resulted in continuing forceful demands for postponement of the Hearing.
At this instance the DC got up and declared the Hearing had ended and walked out. He did not in any manner explain the legal grounds for such a decision.
In light of such turn of events and the eventual decision of the Deputy Commissioner to walk out of a Statutory Public Hearing in clear abrogation of his service rules and the applicable law, which constitutes a major attack on the fundamental right of the affected public to be heard based on the accepted principle of prior and informed consent, we demand that the DC must immediately announce by way of an executive order that the aforesaid Public Hearing has been postponed. In upholding the law, the undersigned demand that the process of decision making on this project is deferred till such time democracy is fully restored in Karnataka and the project proponent and the Board is able to fulfil the provisions of the EIA Notification and other applicable law.