The Access Initiative

Heavy Metals in the Water of Kriva Reka, Macedonia

By Kiril Ristovski (Posted: October 13, 2008) 

The waters that are close to the mine have indicated pollution of a level-5 category, and the concentrations of lead have been above the allowed maximum level.

Presence of the heavy metals above the maximum allowed level can be found in the waters of Kriva Reka. This is a clear assessment of the results under the State Inspectorate Kumanovo, even though the assessment is late by a few months. The pollution is closest to the manufactured capacity and to the arid part of the ROC “Toranica,” according of the toxicological analysis that has been obtained from the Institute for Health Protection on the Initiative of the Fishery Organization, “Mrena” from Kriva Palanka. Measurements were taken from the location across the mine, the exact spot of the waters of Toranicka Reka.

The presence of lead was 144 000 mg,kg, which is 5 times over the maximum allowed concentrations of 30 000. These examples correspond with level-5 category of water quality. The measurements of the Kriva Reka around the arid place were showing classification on waters that belong to level-3 and level-4 water quality category .But there is one important missing part in this analysis, which is there have not been measurements of lead or zinc. The waters of Kriva Reka that are close to the pumps for drinking water are in correspondence with level-2 category of water quality.

The State Inspectorate for the Environment has announced information about results which were showing much higher presence of heavy metals on the river around the mine Toranica, but they did not give more detailed answers about the pollution. The company, “Indo minerali I metali,” will be supplied agreements, with directions about the methods and procedures regarding the regulation and taking sanctions on the pollution in that region. This was the last response directly from the State Inspectorate for the Environment.

This company has claimed that from the beginning of the pollution of the river, they had been working under regular ecological standards, taking care of the environment protection, and that their analysis has been regular. They also said that if anything goes wrong by cause of their work, they would take care of everything to protect the natural resources.

The Governmental Institutions have been inaccessible for information The residents have been reacting for three months, and they did not have adequate official information. Also, Florozon, the NGO from Skopje (under the project TAI assessment in Macedonia), has been conducting assessment for the impact of the biggest polluters of the environment in Macedonia, and ROC “Toranica” has been taken under examination through this project.

Their assessments were focused on the public access to information, public participation and access right to justice, national transparency and Government contribution regarding the environmental protection and peoples’ rights. This initiative is the biggest net in the entire world and has commitments for citizen’s insurance regarding their rights and opportunities for participations in the decision making processes related with environmental issues.

The State Inspectorate for the Environment did not respond on the official request letter regarding the results from the conducted measurement and results of the water quality of Kriva Reka. They did not act according to the law, and after one month, no one has managed to get information from the State Inspectorate for the Environment. This kind of non-compliance is not acceptable because Macedonia is party to the Aarhus Convention. This convention is based on the access right to information, public participation in the decision-making process regarding the environmental issues, according to Florozon.

According to Florozon, the assessment for the access right to information, which have been obtained by Octa, Feni, Sasa and Pollution of Kamenicka Reka, has had a bad experience, so their final report that will be delivered to the European Institutions will contain negative values.

The next step after this assessment, according to Florozon, will be the implementation of the recommendations from the TAI assessment, with an aim for capacity building of the government and of the civil associations, in order for a strong national capacity to be built. The legal recommendations are directed toward changing the law’s articles and changing government practice.

Kiril Ristovski Skopje 02.10.2008

See Also:

Zinc and Lead Flowing Into the River of Kamenicka Reka

India: District Court Intervenes To Stop Faulty Public Hearing

By Ritwick Dutta (Posted: October 9, 2008)

In a rare instance, the District Court of Raigarh on 17-9-2008, in the Central Indian State of Chhattisgarh, stayed the proposed Public Hearing for seven projects which included thermal power plants and steel plant expansion projects on the ground of non compliance with the procedure stipulated under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification.

Local resident and activist Ramesh Agrawal of local civil society group: Jan Chetna had objected to the manner in which public hearings are being conducted by Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board (CECB). A complaint was filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court Raigarh to halt the seven public hearings on the following grounds:

• CECB failed to hold public hearings within stipulated time of 45 days from receipt of request from project proponent and hence not empowered to hold public hearings. • The public were not provided information with respect to the proposed project, this restricts active and effective participation in the decision making process. • Raigarh District is facing sever pollution caused by industries and it is of utmost importance to know people’s concern for upcoming projects since it will affect their Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Judge A.Toppo expressed his strong concern by citing Supreme Court’s verdict and held that ‘Permission to Establish of industries must only be granted only after assurance that proposed industry will make every effort for conservation of environment. Development is must in this era and equally important is conservation of environment for existence of human life and other living beings. We should maintain balance between Development and Conservation of Environment.’ Court stayed three public hearings.

The District Courts used to be major avenues for redressal of grievances for the public prior to the advent of Public Interest Litigation which is centered in the High Court and the Supreme Court under Article 226 and Article 32 of the Constitution respectively. Today despite the increase in number of civil society groups and increasing recourse to judicial remedy, District Courts are rarely relied on by environmental activists. The liberal relaxation of locus standi and the activists approach of the judges in the mid 80’s and 90’s prompted aggrieved citizens and groups to approach the Supreme Court and High Courts directly circumventing the District Courts. This led to several landmark decision of the higher Courts which are cited by judicial bodies throughout the world. However, over the past few years, the higher courts have increasingly adopted the approach of ‘judicial restraint’ and non interference in the ‘economic and policy’ affairs of the State. Unfortunately, many of the environmental issues get clubbed under this broad category leading and this has led to increased frustration among those who relied on higher Courts to seek relief and fight state policies. The initiative of Jan Chetna is therefore landmark, they chose to approach the judicial forum which is closest to the affected people i.e District Court and got relief. At a time when justice from the Higher Courts eludes struggle groups, the District Courts decision is commendable and also worth replicating in other parts of the country.

Ritwick ( is an environmental lawyer with Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) and heads the TAI Himalayan Coalition.

India’s First “Referendum” on an Industrial Project?

Posted by Ritwick Dutta (October 8, 2008) 

In a very first in terms of public participation in environmental decision making, the State/Provincial Government of the western Indian State of Maharashtra organized on 22nd of September 2008 a Referendum in District Raigad for deciding the fate of the new Special Economic Zone. As per reports, farmers are said to lose over 3400 Hectares if the project is allowed to come up and have been opposing the project not only in terms of the displacement and loss of land but also the impact on the ecology of the area characterized by agricultural holdings, dense forests and mangroves and coasts offering varied livlihoood options.
The referendum was held in stages and as per reports in the media, the project has been opposed by an overwhelming majority of villagers. The proponent of the Special Economic zone, Indian Industrial giant : Reliance Industries claimed that the referendum reflected the view of ‘so called farmers’ and not the ‘landowners’.

As per the existing practice only a Public Hearing is conducted under the provisions of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 for eliciting the views of the affected public. However, the outcome of the Public hearing is rarely give weight in the decision making process. Organizing a Referendum thus is an interesting development and offers hope for communities opposed to socially and ecologically destructive projects.

Earlier, the affected farmers under the banner of Shetkari Samiti had filed an Appeal before the National Environmental Appellate Authority with assistance from Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) against the approval granted to the 4000 MW Thermal power Plant at Raigad on the grounds of: • The project been approved only on the basis of a Rapid Environment Impact Assessment report based on two months data despite the need for a comprehensive one year data; • The outcome of the Public Hearing not been considered (in fact the Ministry of Environment and Forest been totally unaware of the Public Hearing process) by the decision making body; • The thermal power project is located in highly ecologically sensitive estuary and coastal zone and also a designated Green Zone where such activity is prohibited

The outcome of the Referendum is clear so far as the opposition of the farmers are concerned. However, seeing the views of the people, the government seems to have turned turtle. While the Referendum was announced and conducted by the District Collector (the highest government officer of a District), the Chief Minister (the head of the State Government) has stated that what was held was not a ‘referendum’ at all.

Like most struggles in India, this too had landed in the Court with Reliance Industries filing an Petition in the Bombay High Court. Whatever its outcome, the events in Maharashtra marks an important landmark in the struggle for greater voice for the affected communities on decisions which affect their lives and environment.

Ritwick ( is an environmental lawyer and leader of the TAI Himalayan Coalition

Let Justice Flow – A TAI Success Story

Posted By Lalanath de Silva (October 2, 2008) 

This is a story about how community leaders activated the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka to intervene and save a river the Deduru Oya. If you cannot view the video from the video frame below you can do so by clicking here

The Deduru Oya river bed had been mined for years for sand. Sand is used in buildings and road construction. Over exploitation of the river had lead to major environmental damage river bank erosion, lowering of the water table, salt water intrusion, poor water quality and habitat destruction.

The Supreme Court acted on a human rights case brought by community leaders. Led by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, the Court banned sand mining in the river and ordered the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau to stop issuing mining permits. The Court galvanized the Police to arrest and prosecutes illegal miners. The issue received wide publicity in the press.

Mining operations have been stopped for about two years now. As a result natural recovery has begun. Additionally the community leaders have been able to obtain funds through the UNDP and commence rehabilitation of the river bank in two critical areas.

The case was made possible through financial and legal aid given to community leaders by the Green Movement of Sri Lanka. The green Movement is part of The Access Initiative Coalition of Sri Lanka.

Assessing Access in Yunnan, China

Posted by Monika Kerdeman

The Yunnan coalition started their TAI assessment process during a training workshop from Jan 13-15, 2008, led byTAI core team partner Thailand Environment Institute. The coalition of civil society groups includes Eco-WatchYunnan Academy of Social Science (YASS)Yunnan Institute of Environmental Science (YIES)Yunnan Environmental Science Society (YESS) and Centre for Mountain Ecosystem Studies ICRAF-China, the coalition’s lead organization.

At the workshop, coalition members were trained on the TAI Assessment Toolkit. Since the training, the Yunnan TAI coalition translated the indicators in the TAI Assessment toolkit into Chinese, and gathered information and relevant documentation, laws, regulations and guidelines for review.

As part of their research, Yunnan coalition members met with the Provincial Water Bureau, Yunnan Provincial Environment Protection Bureau, Agricultural Bureau, Yunnan Provincial Forestry Department, Vegetative Protection Station, Air Quality Monitoring Station, local agricultural stations, environmental protection stations and other related sectors to acquire more information. Interviewees included experts, villagers, and consumers as well as local authority staff.

The Assessment in Yunnan examines eight case studies on access to information. These studies are on various environmental issues including; the state of environment report of Yunnan Province, air quality monitoring in Kunming city, accidental explosion at a sulfur depot and vitriol factory of the Sanhuan chemical company, noise quality monitoring in Kunming city, environmental information of Yuntianhua International Chemical Company in Yunnan, monitoring of drinking water quality in Songhuaba reservoir in Kunming, GMO information monitoring in Yunnan, and paraquat herbicide accidents in Yunnan.

Five case studies on public participation are: public participation in environment protection decisions in eco-tourism policy in Diqing prefecture, public participation in the urban agglomeration development plan in south of Yunnan, public participation in the extension project of the 2nd hospital of Kunming, public participation in the water saving regulatory of Kunming city, public participation in decision-making of Provincial Forestry Development Strategy and public participation in the environmental impact assessment of the construction of Honghe Steel Factory..

The research also looks at access to justice. The access to justice case studies are on pesticide residue information in food – claimed by people to the people’s congress, public’s claim on the dam building on Salween River, local residents’ collective claim on old trees felled by a company in Baiyu Village, Xishan District of Kunming, and the claim on the pollution accident of Longma Phosphorous Chemical Company in Xundian, Yunnan.

Tribals Fight for Access Rights in North East India

By Ritwick Dutta (August 16, 2008) 

There are reasons to smile for the members of the Idu Mishmi community in the North Eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh located in the Himalayan Mountain Ranges: The Government on 13-08-08 has cancelled the proposed Public Hearing for the proposed 3000 MW Hydel Power Dam to be located in Dibang District of Arunachal Pradesh.

For more than a year, local tribal communities have been protesting against the dam touted to be among the highest in the Country on the ground that it woud devastate the fragile ecology and destroy the culture and livelihood of the Idu Mishmi Community numbering only 8000 Individuals.

The Dibang Dam is a classic instance of a fight of a local community for access to Information and Participation and a partial victory of the community. When the first Public Hearing was announced, local tribal community sent a legal notice through Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) requesting for postponement of the hearing in view of the fact that the Environment Impact Assessment Report was not available at designated places and only an electronic version was made available in a state where people hardly had access to Internet. The Government relented and directed that no Public Hearing be conducted till the required EIA Reports are made available at the designated places for access to the community. The Public Hearing was planned over two phases. The first Public Hearing saw large scale protests by community members.

As the Public Hearing process was underway, in a shocking development aimed clearly at undermining the Public consultation process, the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh decided to lay the foundation stone for the project at Itanagar, the State Capital located more than 500 Km from the project site ! This was met with stiff opposition both locally and nationally.

Finally, the date for the second Public Hearing was fixed on 20-8-2008. However, the community was shocked to learn that the place for conducting the Public Hearing was more than 100 Km from the affected villages and project site. The Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 provides for conducting the Public Hearing in or in proximity to the project site. In the North Eastern Part of the country characterized by undulating terrain and heavy rainfall travelling 100 Km could very well take even upto a day’s journey.

The Community members with the support of Neeraj Vagholikar of NGO Kalpavriksh contacted Rahul Choudhary, Environmental lawyer and member of TAI Himalayan Coalition who immediately shot off a legal notice during the first week of August, 2008 citing violation of Principles of Natural Justice and provisions of the EIA procedure by conducting the Public Hearing at such a distant place which would make it difficult for the affected community to participate and thereby defeating the whole purpose of Public Hearing.

See also A Public Hearing without the ‘real’ public: Notes from TAI Himalayas

On 13th August, Community members were pleasantly surprised to know that the proposed Public Hearing has been cancelled. Even more important was the fact that the Chief Minister of the State has called for a meeting with all the concerned organizations who have been raising the issue with respect to the Dam to be held on 20-8-2008.

The happenings in the far eastern State of Arunachal has important lessons for the rest of the Country. The community is convinced that there is no use of Public Consultation unless it is based on adequate and proper information about the dam and its impact and the fact that people should be able to participate effectively in the Public Hearing. Easy access to the place where the Public Hearing is conducted is as important as access to information. In the absence of these pre conditions, the Public Hearing process becomes a mere formality and procedure to be accomplished in the EIA process. For the Idu Mishmi Community, it is their first step in securing their access rights.

Ritwick Dutta Ritwick ( is the leader of the TAI Himalayan Coalition and the founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) and is based in New Delhi

TAI Thailand Promoting Access Rights in Constitution and Other Acts

Posted July 24, 2008

Pro Public, the leader of the TAI Nepal Coalition, is looking for ways to influence the Constituent Assembly, the government body mandated to write the new constitution for the Republic of Nepal, in order to enshrine access into the highest law of the country. The Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), which carried out a similar, successful campaign in Thailand has this advice for Nepal (below the fold):

The Thailand Environment Institute has been working on TAI in Thailand since 2001. We included relevant partners in our TAI Thailand coalition. We already conducted 3 national assessments. For each assessment, we had 25-30 distinguished persons in our advisory committee. They are from agencies (Director General level) relevant to our case studies and also from Constitution-related agencies. We held a public conference (with 200+ participants from various stakeholders) after each national assessment. This was our ground work.

When a new constitution was being drafted in 2007, we held a small workshop of key relevant participants, discussing and making recommendations related to access rights in 3 laws: the new Constitution, Public Participation Act (not yet in existence) and the amendment of the Official Information Act 1997.

Once the draft Constitution was completed, the government allowed a period for people’s comments. We then held a public dialogue of 400+ participants to discuss and make recommendations on the issue of environmental governance in the new Constitution. At this dialogue, we made specific comments to specific articles in the draft Constitution. We submitted them to the Constitutional Drafting Committee and a few other agencies/bodies.

Some of our partners are also in the drafting committee or working committees. We also worked through our partners’ networks. Our coalition’s recommendations were circulated to grassroots NGOs in the provinces as well so that recommendations from various forums will resonate with each other.

We have been successful in influencing the Constitution. Yet, we have not been successful in pushing a Public Participation Act as yet. One of our TAI partners, King Prajadhipok’s Institute, is now leading an effort to propose 3 new Acts related to public participation. Other partners are also working on other Acts which are related to access rights. TEI is also involved in these efforts.

Last week, on 9 July 2008, we (TEI, TAI Thailand coalition and 34 other organizations – some of them are governmental although most are NGOs – few from private sector) held a workshop of 270 participants (including impacted persons from outside Bangkok, Thailand) to identify types of environment- and health-related information that should be classified as ‘public information,’ which the authorities should make readily available to the public without people having to request it. This is to implement Article 9(8) of the Official Information Act 1997. We hope to submit recommendations to the Office of Official Information Commission (who also was one of our co-organizers of the above workshop). This is to enable them to submit it to their Board (the approval authority). We also invited two members of this Board, who are sympathetic to our course, to speak at the workshop.

In short, our strategy is to involve the decision makers or those who have access to the decision-making processes in our activities. Our effort is to create an opportunity to involve them. At the same time, we also keep the civil society informed and involved. It is important to maintain and expand our networks. The networks can be either formal or informal. They can also be loose. Each partner or organization in the networks can also promote access rights on their own through their own channels, which help strengthen our collective efforts.

In Thailand we have active people’s movement for the past decades, especially in the areas of environment (2 decades), health and human’s rights (especially after the Constitution 1997). There also are several ongoing environment- and development-related disputes. People are therefore aware of the issue.

It is also strategic to identify sympathetic officials in governmental agencies or the agencies whose mandates support access rights.

The Grass is Going to be Greener This Year!

Posted By Ritwick Dutta (July 20, 2008) 

The benefit of Right to Information and citizens’ participation in environmental issues is not just limited to NGO’s and citizens. It can also be of great help to government officers, especially to those trying to implement the law and Judgments of Court but who face resistance from other departments.

The recent instance in the famous tea-growing Darjeeling Hills in India provides an interesting example. As the example of Darjeeling shows, the petitioner got the relief even before the case was heard by the Supreme Court special committee on Forests, in view of the strong evidence obtained through the Right to information Act, 2005.

The issue relates to an ecologically fragile part of the Himalayas located in Darjeeling viz the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to several endangered species. A part of the Sanctuary comprising grasslands was used for dumping old vehicles by the local government, namely the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The dumping encroached upon 20 acres of land of the Protected Area. This was done in violation of the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and even the orders of the Supreme Court.

The dumping of vehicles continued until April 2008. The forest officer in charge of the Sanctuary, Ms Sumita Ghatak, directed the Hill Council to remove the vehicles. The Hill Council resisted, and continued to dump its old vehicles thereby polluting and destroying the fragile ecology. The orders from the Forest Department not only met with strict resistance but also led to the Hill Council making a formal complaint before the government for strict action against the Forest Officer for harassment and undermining the authority of the Council.

It was at this moment that conservation groups and concerned citizens got together. Using the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005, local citizens obtained all interdepartmental correspondence which revealed a shocking level of arrogance of the Hill Council to the provisions of law and to the orders of the Supreme Court. It was clearly seen that the manner in which the Hill Council responded to the direction of the Forest Officer, prima facie constituted contempt of the Court. The Hill Council sought to overlook the provisions of all conservation laws.

Using the various information obtained under RTI, a petition was filed by Wildlife Trust of India, a national level NGO, before the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court asking for initiation of contempt proceedings against the Principal Secretary of the Hill Council. As is required by the Court procedure, a copy of the petition was sent to the Hill Council.

Surprisingly, within three days of receiving the copy of the petition and without even the case coming up for hearing, the Hill Council wrote to the Forest officer that in view of the petition filed in the CEC, the Hill Council would like to surrender the entire 29 acres immediately and also take away all the vehicles dumped by it!

Within days (first week of May 2008), the vehicles were removed. The land is now back with the wildlife and Forest Department.

Is this a case of effective judicial remedy, or the benefits of RTI, or responsive civil society intervention? Well, it is a mix of all and the beneficiary is obviously the wildlife of Darjeeling hills which will get to munch in an extra 29 acres of grassland free of rusting vehicles!

Contributed by Ritwick Dutta (with inputs from Vyom Raghuvanshi, WTI) Ritwick ( leads the TAI Himalayan Coalition and filed the above mentioned petition on behalf of Wildlife Trust of India.

New Regulation for Public Participation in Ecuador

Published: 2008

In October 2006, the environmental movement welcomed the adoption of the regulation on public participation and consultation in decision making. This fact generated great expectation by the implications in environmental management.

However, in May 2008, President Correa issued a new regulation that governs the mechanisms for social participation in environmental management. In the view of Manolo Morales, President of CEDENMA, “what –the new regulation- pursues is to facilitate the process and make it more expeditious manner that does not become an obstacle to development”.

This new regulation sidelined several important criteria reflected on the previous, for example, consultation pre-implementation and monitoring of impacts generated by the laws, policies and strategies. This creates a gap again, and highlights the need that the processes of policy development involve citizen participation and especially the stakeholders who will be affected (positively or negatively).

At only include participation and consultation processes for environmental impact assessment, can be considered a regulatory setback. But there is also the perception that the previous regulation could not be implemented due to lack of resources, capacity of Ministry of Environment and information. This may have generated in the government the need for a more “real” and operational mechanism.


Nuevo Reglamento de Participación en Ecuador

En octubre de 2006, el movimiento ambiental celebró la aprobación del Reglamento sobre Participación Ciudadana y Consulta Previa. Este hecho generó gran expectativa por las implicaciones que tendría en la gestión ambiental.

Sin embargo, en mayo de 2008, el Presidente Correa emitió un nuevo reglamento que regula los mecanismos de participación social en la gestión ambiental. A criterio de Manolo Morales, Presidente de CEDENMA, “lo que persigue –el nuevo reglamento- es facilitar el proceso y hacerlo más expedito de manera que no se convierta en un obstáculo al desarrollo”.

Este nuevo reglamento deja de lado varios criterios importantes que recogía el anterior, como por ejemplo, la consulta de pre-ejecución y el control de los impactos generados por las normas, políticas y estrategias. Esto último genera nuevamente un vacío, y resalta la necesidad que los procesos de desarrollo normativo cuenten con la participación de la ciudadanía y especialmente de los actores que se verán afectados (positiva o negativamente).

Al únicamente regular la participación y consulta en los procesos de evaluación de impacto ambiental, se puede considerar un retroceso normativo. Sin embargo también existe la percepción que el reglamento anterior no pudo ser aplicado en la práctica por falta de recursos, capacidad del propio Ministerio del Ambiente e información. Esto pudo haber generado en el gobierno la necesidad de contar con un mecanismo más “real” y operativo.

A Public Hearing Without The ‘Real’ Public: Notes From TAI Himalayas

By Ritwick Dutta (Posted: July 13, 2008)

The TAI assessments in Northern India were conceptualized as Research for Action and not just plain academic research. As planned, the action would take place once the research findings and assessments are completed. However, we are happy to share this story on how action seems to have started before the assessments are completed!

The field study for the two northern Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are at advanced stages. As part of our field assessments, the TAI research team had to visit the picturesque remote town of Pithoragarh, Uttrakhand. Sharing its border with Nepal, the task of the TAI team was to assess the emergency response system especially with respect to access to information for a Hydel Power project in operation.

The team interviewed local community members informed by local activist Ramnarayan about a Public Hearing to be held within the next two days for a proposed Hydel Power Project called the Rupsiyabagar-Khasiabara of the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC). The villagers knew very little about the project and its implication and Ramnarayan has been guiding them in making them aware of their rights.

The TAI Research team which comprised a group of three environmental lawyers immediately worked out a strategy with local activist Ramnarayan. A copy of the EIA report was immediately procured which before now was not made available, and a rapid critique of it was prepared based on consultation with the local community. TAI researchers assisted the local groups in preparing representations before the concerned authorities.

The most disturbing aspect which was raised by local groups was the fact that the Public Hearing was being held at a time when most of the villagers have gone to the higher altitudes to collect medicinal plants, grazing as well as collecting a extremely valuable Yarsagumba’ Cordyceps sinesis : a highly priced Fungi which is much in demand in Chinese medicine. In fact, almost all the villagers in the 6-8 villages in the project area had gone for collection of medicinal plants. Further, the EIA document was made available over 150 Km away (in difficult terrain, this could take a lot of time given a weak network of roads).

From the biodiversity point of view, the area is the home to the endangered Musk Dear besides other Himalayan Species. The EIA has failed to take these factors into account.

The Public Hearing on 11-6-2008 at Munsiary met with stiff resistance. Most of the people opposed the Public Hearing since it was meaningless in view of the affected community not being present and the required document not being made available. Predictably, some of the village leaders supported it in view of the petty and short term contracts they are to get. The Public Hearing was scheduled at 11 AM, and just at the start of the public hearing the locals got hold of dais and asked the panel members of the public hearing to postpone the hearing.

For almost three hours the hearing was stalled, and then the panel of the Public Hearing decided to postpone it. However the NTPC (the Project proponent) gave the presentation highlighting the benefits of the project but very obviously ignoring the negative 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. 

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. TAI-Himalayan Coalition will be assisting the local groups in ensuring that the affected communities are heard and the ecology protected.

Public Hearing such as these become unfortunately a stage-managed show. Unless there is active and meaningful involvement of the people in the decision making process, the implementation of Principle 10 at the local level is still a far away. Yet, as the happening at Munsiary, Uttarakahnd show, local people if effectively informed and supported do have the capacity to raise critical question on the wisdom of the project and the purpose of such so-called Public Hearing. Earlier, the local people would have been silent or ‘silenced’ spectators to environmental vandalism. Today, the engagement of civil society as well as greater access to information is opening new vistas of engagement and at times resistance. Governments and Corporations cannot delay for long the voices from the field.

Ritwick Dutta Team Leader: TAI Himalayan Coalition