By Pushp Jain (Posted: February 18, 2013)
Public Hearing is part of the process under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, and rules there under i.e. Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006, and related amendments in India. This is the tool for people to have ‘Access to Participation’ in environmental decision making.
Many a times, Public Hearings are taken lightly as a formality and the spirit of the laws and laid procedures are not followed. This is why, in one of the most famous cases in the context of Public Hearing process, Utkarsh Mandal v. Union of India [W.P. (C) No. 9340/2009 & CM APPL Nos. 7127/09, 12496/2009] decided by the High Court of Delhi, India on 26.11.2009 made very strong observations on this aspect of environmental decision making process.
The Court held that the public hearing clauses of the EIA Notification 2006 are to make public hearing a meaningful one with full participation of all interested persons who may have a point of view to state. The clauses operationalise the de-centralised decision making in a democratic set up where the views of those who are likely to be affected by a decision are given a say and an opportunity to voice their concerns. This procedure is intended to render the decision fair and participative and not thrust from above on a people who may be unaware of the implications of the decision. The court did not agree with the respondents in the case that there is no requirement in terms of the above clauses to make available the Executive Summary of the EIA Report of the Project available to the persons likely to be affected at least 30 days in advance of the public hearing. It directed that if people’s participation has to be informed and meaningful, then they must have full information of the pros and cons of the proposed project and the impact it is likely to have on the environment in the area.
Recently, a Public Hearing for proposed Cement Grinding Unit by Ultratech Cement Limited (India) on 15.02.2013 in Tarsa and Ashti villages of Mauda Tehsil, in Nagpur District of Maharashtra State in India was cancelled because of insufficient communication regarding the public hearing to the affected persons and not providing the relevant documents in time and not following the procedure laid in law. EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), India, a support group, through an ERC Public Hearing Alert in Western Ghats Google Group informed about the upcoming public hearing. In fact, the detail of venue for conducting the Public Hearing was not displayed on the website of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) responsible for organising the event. After ERC intervened this information was uploaded by the Board. The Times of India, Nagpur Edition, picked up and carried the story on this issue. Because of these efforts, the local groups and villagers got together to oppose this public hearing being held without following law, procedure and addressing people’s concern. Mr Pramod Bhusari, Deputy Collector of Nagpur district, (head of district administration) who was chairing the environmental Public Hearing meeting, after taking cognizance of the objections raised by villagers and Mr Ashish Jaiswal, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) decided to cancel the public hearing and directed MPCB to fix up another date for public hearing after following due procedure as per EIA notification.
Pushp Jain EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC) New Delhi 110048 India Web : ercindia.org; Email : firstname.lastname@example.org