Recently held Public Hearing for Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project at Munsiyari District of Uttarakhand is an example of the establishment and corporate playing farce with the provisions of public hearing provided in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 (EIA Notification). The EIA Notification provides for conducting Public Hearing in the project-affected areas for the projects which fall under the schedule of the EIA Notification. The Public Hearing is a platform where the persons who have any objection to the project can register the same, and the proceedings of the public hearing with objections of the public are sent to the Ministry of Environment & Forest to decide over granting Environmental Clearance to the project.
The Project proponent of Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) scheduled the public hearing on 11.06.2008 when most of villagers are out to higher altitude of mountains to collect ‘Yarsagumba’ ( or cordyceps sinesis is a rare herb and grows above 3,500 meters of the Himalayas) knowing very well that most of the villagers will not be able to participate in the public hearing. The NTPC scheduled the public hearing at this time to complete the formality of conducting public hearing without any opposition. The way this public hearing was conducted shows that NTPC and the State Machinery did not want Public Hearing to be conducted in fair manner.
The number of families who will be losing land is almost 1362, according to the NTPC, which is generally careful not to reveal the true figures. It is true for other projects and will happen in this project also that the villagers who are dependant on agricultural land for livelihood are paid very less compensation for their land, and the money given is not sufficient to buy similar kind of land. The money given as compensation does not last long and the farmers end up becoming labourers on the construction site or working in small hotels or dabhas in Delhi and living a miserable life. The government has developed a great law for acquisition of land, where under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, invoking urgency clause it can acquire the land without entertaining any objection, but at the same place there is no proper policy about the rehabilitation of the person affected by the project.
This situation is similar as stated by Karl Marx in Capital Vol-1, referring to legislations against the expropriated of France, Netherland and Holland, that “Thus where the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded by laws grotesquely terrible, into discipline necessary for wage system”.
The Public hearing held on 11.06.2008 was opposed by the local people on the grounds that:
* Almost all the villagers of 8-9 villages of the project area would go to collect ‘Yarsa Gumba’
* The other villagers were not informed about the project properly.
* No sufficient information about the public hearing.
* The executive summary of the project was not made available.
* The Environment Impact Assessment report of the project was available almost at the distance of 150 K.M from the project site, which was not possible for the villagers to access.
* The Procedure of conducting Public Hearing has not been followed as provided in the EIA Notification, 2006.
The Public Hearing was scheduled at 11 AM, and just at the start of public hearing the locals got hold of dais and asked from the panel members of the public hearing to postpone the hearing. There were villagers like one Gram pradhan and Block Head who wanted to continue the public hearing for the reasons that they will get petty contracts from the NTPC during the construction of project. For almost three hours the hearing was stalled and the panel of the Public Hearing decided to postpone it. However the NTPC gave the presentation highlighting the benefits of the project and very obviously missing out the impacts of the projects. No questions or objections were raised to the panel members as the public was told that this public hearing is postponed and it will be held again in October when the villagers are back. Only two-three persons who were expecting favour from the NTPC in terms of getting contracts spoke in support of the project, to which the NTPC personnel were not tired of clapping.
The very next day on June 12, 2008 it was reported in the newspaper like ‘Amar Ujala’ and ‘Rashtriya Sahara’ that the public hearing was postponed due to protest. But the NTPC did not allow the media to ruin their plan to show the public hearing of June 11 as the final hearing to get the Environmental Clearance. The very newspaper ‘Amar Ujala’ which reported that the Public Hearing was postponed published an advertisement in its 13th June edition, that the public hearing was held for the Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project amidst protest. This is clearly an indication that the NTPC will submit this as a final Public Hearing, showing the Ministry of Environment & Forest that the project was supported by the locals.
To paraphrase Marx, capitalism flourishes only by breaking down all resistance. Evidently, this public hearing is also an example of a strong corporate-state-media nexus, which undermines public objections and opposition, looking for every means to breakdown the resistance of the maginalised people.