The public hearing for EIA clearance for OPG’s power plant in Bhadreshwar was held on 29th May 2009. The venue was Chokhanda Mandir, Bhadreshwar village, Mundra Taluk. The Gujarat Pollution control Board Regional Officer, J.D.Kalyani and Kutch Additional Collector Shri.Vaghela chaired the meeting. OPG project director Mr.Padmanabhan and company officials were present. Also, officals from Detox corporation, the
A huge number of people numbering over 2000 persons from affected villages participated in a 2 km rally which ended in the venue of the public hearing. This included traditional fisherfolk, Salt pan workers, Pastoralists, farmers and other villagers from Bhadreshwar, Sangad, Wandi, Luni, Hatdi, Pavdiara and other villages, likely to be affected by the project. The venue was filled to capacity and there were more people waiting outside trying to participate in the public hearing.
Shri.J.D.Kalyani gave an outline of the environmental clearance process. The project details were presented by an official of Detox corporation. After his presentation, several locals held the mike and explained their view on the project, listing out various issues in the proposed power plant.
The issues are listed below:
- MASS Leaders raised the issue of the fisherfolk. Randh Bhadreshwar Bander, which is situated 5 km from Bhadreshwar village and home to over 5000 fisherfolk has not been mentioned anywhere in the OPGs’ report, which is supposed to provide details of habitations in a 10 km radius. In fact, as per the latittude- logitude of the power plant provided in the EIA report, the power plant is coming up exactly on Randh Bander. Since 2004, the fisherfolk have been submitting memoranda to the district administration to recognize the Bander land as a Fish landing centre. A Gujarat Government report of 2004 recommends that the Randh Bander be developed into a modern fish landing centre. In this situation, the OPGs are planning to install a power plant and a desalination plant which will discharge pollutants in the air, highly saline water and warm water into the sea, which will affect the marine ecology. Fishing is the sole occupation of the traditional fisherfolk and deprived of it they will perish. To pacify the fisherfolk, the company officials promised to provide water to the fisherfolk from the desalination plant. But, the fisherfolk were unanimous in opposing the OPG power project and exclaimed, “We will bear lathi and bullets, but we will not let the OPGs near our land ”.
- Villagers of Bhadreshwar dismissed the claim that the OPG power project is 5 km away from the nearest habitation. Within 5 km of the power project are the 5000 fisherfolk in Randh Bander, Bhadreshwar village with a population of over 6000 and over 5000 salt pan workers. Also, as per revenue records, the land on which the power plant is proposed, has not yet been procured by the OPGs. Local villagers asked, “When the land is not yours, how can you seek permission to build something on it?”. The company officials had no reply to these questions.
- There are nearly 5000 acres of salt pans in the area around the proposed power plant. The salt pans produce over 5000 tonnes of salt every month valued at over 15 crores. Already, the salt pans are facing difficulties due to pollutants that emerge from industries, 10 kms away, that burn around 400 tonnes of coal per month. Now with a power plant hardly 2 kms away, that burns around 90,000 tonnes of coal per month, the salt pans will be seriously affected and the salt produced will be unsuitable for consumption and the salt pans will be forced to close down. Bikha Bhai, speaking on behalf of the salt pan association stated, “We have been pursuing our traditional livelihoods for decades. Now this project is threatening to snatch our livelihoods from us. We are against this project and our fight will not stop with this public hearing. If the project is cleared at the state level, we will go to the central government. If it cleared there, we will go to the courts. If it is still cleared, 10,000 of us, including salt workers and fisherfolk in this area will lay down our lives before this project is implemented”.
- Traditional pastoralists also opposed the project on the grounds that the project will adversely affect them and their livelihoods.
- The Sarpanch of Bhadreshwar viillage, Shri.Umar bhai took a strong stand against the project, on behalf of all the communities in
. He said that companies like OPG state that they will take precautions, but in our experience, nothing is done in reality to protect the local environment. He quoted the example of the Adanis who had given several promises but nothing was implemented. He stated that this is not a question of Hindu-Muslims, the entire village is with the fisherfolk and united in opposing the OPG project. Bhadreshwar Village
- As a sign of their Gandhian protest against the OPG power project, none, not even one of the 2000 people touched the food, not even water that was kept next to the venue, in a OPG food stall which looked deserted.
- Soni Ben from lok Adhikar Manch said that widows in the area had been long demanding for 5 acres of land each, from the collector. But the collector refuses to even meet them But, when industries ask for land, the collector eagerly agrees to their demands. She said that the project will be of no use to the village and hence she is against the project.
- Smt. Usha Ben Thakkar, ex-MP,
Kutch, who had served on the Fisheries board condemned the plan to build the power plant in Bhadreshwar, stating that fisheries will be badly affected. Other leaders like Shri.Haresh Thakker, Dalit leader Shri.Valji Bhai opposed the plan to construct the power plant in Bhadreshwar and suggested that the p[ower plant be constructed in Little Rann of Kutch or other barren lands which were available in plenty in Kutch.
- Panchayats of eleven affected villages submitted letters opposing the OPG project.
Even though the hearing was held on a Friday, a holy day for muslims, hundreds of muslim fisherfolk turned up at the hearing to raise a voice to protect their livelihoods. At the end of the meeting, the people from Bhadreshwar and neighbouring villages shouted, “We will give our lives, but not our land” in a clear and unanimous message to all the authorities, the OPG company and the Government that the people are not in favour of the project and they will strongly oppose any move to implement the project.