Thousands of villagers walked out of the environmental public hearing for the planned 6,000 MW nuclear power plant in Bhavnagar’s Mithi Virdi region,leaving authorities conducting the proceedings in a massive empty pandal that was built as venue.
Bhavnagars district collector V P Patel and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) regional officer A V Shah began the proceedings around 11 am at Navagam in Ghogha taluka,explaining about the purpose of the meeting.
When officials from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) began making a presentation,however,the sarpanch of Jaspara village,Shaktisinh Gohil,one of the villages where the plant is to be located,stood up and submitted a copy of a 2009 Delhi High Court judgment that says oral presentations can be made by locals and outsiders at public hearings.
Gohil then said he and other villagers wanted to make their representations first because they had found errors in the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted by the NPCIL,a document which forms the basis of such hearings,and that they would also like to be represented by NGOs and activists who he said know more about such issues then villagers,threatening to walk out of the hearing with everyone else if that demand was not granted.
When Patel said as per law project proponents are to first make their presentations,Gohil gave a call for a walkout,after which several sarpanchs of other nearby villages declared support.
Within a few minutes,an estimated 5,000 villagers walked out peacefully,shouting slogans,leaving just 20-odd people left inside the venue,excluding scores of policemen and security personnel employed by the NPCIL,company officials and local authorities.
The villagers gathered outside and made their way to a nearby field to conduct their own meeting,collecting signatures from villagers and mulling their next plan of action.
Meanwhile,in the pandal,authorities announced repeatedly that those who wish to make representations should do so and it would be duly recorded.
At the end of the day,a total of 61 representations were recorded,including that of a young villager from Navagam who said their grazing grounds should not be taken for the project,and a law student who had come from Ahmedabad.
Another 36 representations had been received via email and traditional mail,and a total of 47 representations and replies to these by the NPCIL would make up the minutes of the proceedings that will be sent to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for consideration,an official said.
The collector wrapped up the public hearing by 2 pm when it was clear no one was going to make any more representations.