September 21, 2021 11:11:07 pm
Steel producer ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel (AM/NS) on Tuesday assured to take appropriate steps to settle the grievances of residents from over 70 villages near the company’s plant at Hazira in Surat. The assurances came during a public hearing necessitated by the company’s proposed modification to the existing plant. It plans to install auxiliary facilities and seek environmental clearances for the same.
During the hearing, 25 residents across villages in the 10-km radius of the plant complained of pollution, employment, and health-related issues due to the plant. Dipak Patel, a resident of Damka near Hazira, pointed out that the company, while obtaining the Environmental Clearance Certificate, had assured that it would be a zero-discharge unit, and not a single drop will be discharged into Tapi river or sea. But that was not the case to be. “In the company’s EIA report, they have mentioned discharges of over 17,000 cubic metres daily in the past five years,” he claimed.
However, AM/NS (Gujarat) senior advisor to corporate affairs D. B. Shah replied that the assurances were made for the expansion of the project by the erstwhile company, Essar Steel, in 2016 to seek environment clearance. It is to be noted that Essar Steel was acquired by AM/NS in 2019. “The expansion project was not implemented, so the conditions are not applicable. (For) the condition before 2016, we got permission from GPCB, and the government. The water was discharged by the company after treating them,” he said.
He further added that currently, the company is planning to install a reverse osmosis plant. “We will use our recycled water and will dry the remaining discharge,” he clarified.
On the company’s unfulfilled promise of jobs for 15,000 people in Hazira and its neighbouring villages, Shah replied that under the current modification project, 2,800 people were on the payroll, while around 700 people have got indirect employment. “However, the remaining are hired through different agencies (contractors),” he said. Shah also promised to “work on” the issue of unfair payment for contract workers.
There were also complaints against AM/NS’s failure to provide jobs to local villagers, including farmers who lost their land. The villagers emphasised that the issue of unemployment remained even as non-Gujaratis were being recruited at the facility. They pressed for employment camps and training centres for local unemployed youths. To this, the company assured that they would see better job prospects from next month.
Chandrakant Patel, another villager, complained of the lack of a hospital in Hazira. “We have considered your proposal and we, along with other multinational companies in Hazira, will also work on it. We have to identify a government land on which such a hospital can be made,” Shah said.
Further, AM/NS also promised to look into the grievances of Arjun Patel, a farmer, who complained of damage to his crops and low yield due to pollution from the plant, and Viral Patel who claimed he was yet to receive his land compensation.
The hearing was attended by Surat district collector Aayush Oak and regional officer of Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Parag Dave, in addition to other stakeholders, including Khedut Samaj Gujarat president Jayesh Patel, Congress leader Darshan Naik, NGO Brackish Water Research Centre, Parivartan Trust president Prakash Contractor, and environmental activist Roshni Patel.
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