Updated: July 6, 2021 12:41:18 am
Hundreds of agitated protesters from villages in Songadh taluka of Tapi allegedly attacked policemen and vandalised vehicles during a public hearing on setting up of a zinc smelter plant at Doswada village by the Hindustan Zinc Limited Company of the Vedanta group, amid pollution concerns, even as police resorted to firing tear gas shells to disperse the crowd.
Industrial Extension Bureau (INDEXTb), an arm of the Gujarat government, termed the incident as “unfortunate”.
According to police, protesters began attacking the police teams deployed at a public hearing by officials of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and Tapi collector HK Vadhvaniya in Doswada village to hear the grievances of villagers who are protesting setting up of the plant.
The GPCB, which held the public hearing, said that the proceedings for the day have been recorded and written complaints were collected from the villagers. The records will be submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
The public hearing began at 11 am in the presence of district collector and GPCB officials for which three domes were erected to accommodate 700-800 persons. “We planned to hear and take complaints from 200 people at a time due to Covid protocols. However, those who came first and made submissions did not leave. This caused the crowds to swell,” said a GPCB official present at the hearing.
“The violence began about one hour into the hearing. Till then we accepted all written complaints
and objections related to the project. The proceedings were also recorded,” the official said without elaborating on the number of complaints received.
Some of the tribal villages affected by the project had passed a resolution against the project during the hearing. “We tried to explain to the villagers that we were at the site merely to record views and objections of the villagers and the final call about the project will be taken by the government and the MoEF. However, they did not agree and the situation soon turned chaotic,” the official said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sujata Majumdar, Tapi superintendent of police, said, “A number of police personnel were injured and police vehicles were vandalised. We are in the process of detaining the accused perpetrators and taking action against them. Police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. The situation is completely under control now.”
In a statement, iNDEXTb managing director Neelam Rani said, “It is unfortunate what happened today at Doswada in Tapi district. The need of the hour is to create jobs, bring employment and strengthen economic development in the state, especially in the post-pandemic world. We are committed to creating a conducive environment for industry to grow and will extend support to ensure ease of business. As a responsible government body, the welfare of our communities and focus on environment will always remain a top priority and we will ensure that best standards are followed.”
Tapi Collector HK Vadhvaniya did not respond to calls or messages by The Indian Express.
On July 1, The Indian Express had reported how sarpanches of 43 villages waited for three hours at the Tapi collectorate to meet Vadhvaniya to submit a memoroandum detailing their concerns about the zinc plant but could not meet the collector. The villagers, under the banner of Adivasi Ekta and Vikash Andolan, later submitted it to the resident additional collector.
Hindustan Zinc Limited, a Vedanta Group company, announced an investment of Rs 5,000-10,000 crore to set up a state-of-the-art 300 KTPA (kilo tonnes per annum zinc) smelter plant at Dosawada, spread over 415 acres. An MoU in this regard was signed in October 2020 with the Gujarat government. The first phase of the plant is estimated to cost Rs 6,000 crore.
Located near ports such as Hazira, the proposed plant would produce zinc and other minor metals. The company has targeted to complete the project by 2022.
“A state-of-the-art plant can bring technology and economic progress for the people of Dosavada and the state of Gujarat. We remain committed to design and build an environmentally responsible plant that the people of Gujarat will be proud of. HZL remains committed to continue dialogues with all stakeholders (sic),” said a spokesperson of Hindustan Zinc Limited.
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