Environmental NGO Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) on December 18, 2020 sent a letter to Union and Gujarat environment officials demanding the cancellation of the Gujarat Power Corporations Limited (GPCL) environmental clearance after a land raising disaster at Badi-Hoidad lignite mining site at Bhavnagar District.
On November 16, as many as six villagers witnessed a 30-40 feet land raising in Hoidad village. People were shocked to see a large mound of topsoil, dumped by the GPCL, descending into the ground. Accordingly, the PSS wrote letters on the same day and later on November 30 seeking to immediately stop mining activities in the district. They claimed that the GPCL had been mining the area in such a manner since 2018.
However, the NGO expressed anger at the company’s inaction regarding the event even a month after the mining disaster. As such, the group reiterated its original demand and further stressed the need for company as well as government plans to prepare the 12 villages with around 33,000 population, barely 18 kms away from Bhavnagar city for continued mining activity in the region.
They demanded that the government conduct a mock drill, an awareness campaign in the area and a detailed investigation into the incident with regards to erring officials. They appealed to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Chief Secretary of Gujarat and others to take strict action against GPCL officials, who failed to report the incident despite viral videos of the incident circulated on social media.
“It is utterly surprising that even after our detailed letter, no action has been taken to direct the GPCL to immediately halt the mining activities till the Expert Committee submits its interim report. The Committee has visited the site but no information has been shared with the local panchayat or through advertisement, news channels or through press conference to nearby villagers about necessary precautionary measures,” said the PSS in a press release.
Thus, they appealed to authorities to at least fence the affected area and bar entry with public warning notices to the effect that it is a disaster-prone zone as per earlier directions of the Assistant Collector.
Further the PSS asked for surveys to find causes for the disaster and to assess the possibility of sea water ingress due to raising of farmland. They recommended a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to understand the impact of mining on the area beneath the land surface and similar surveys detailing geological and hydrological studies of the area.
On December 2, the regional office of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) Regional office took 16 groundwater samples of seven villages. Following the investigation, a detailed sampling of all groundwater sources should be undertaken, said the group.
For this, they recommended a detailed status report for the water quantity and quality of wells, borewells, lakes, ponds, streams, wetlands, and Malesari river and Ramdasia river to assess the adverse impacts of ongoing mining activities and past disasters.
“The GPCB must prepare and make this report public at the earliest possible,” they said.
According to villagers and the executive of the GPCL, a similar land rising incident took place in December 2019 near the farm of Italia Vitthalbhai Lovejibhai in Thordi village. The land is elevated across a length of more than 100 meters, which can be seen even today.
“The company officials also casually acknowledged the disaster in presence of the Assistant Collector as if it was a small, non-serious incidence,” said the PSS.
Meanwhile, villagers voiced concerns to the team led by the Assistant Collector about serious issues like land acquisition, damage to farmland, damage to agriculture, air and ground water pollution resulting from such disasters.
In view of all this, the environmental group questioned why such a tragedy was not foreseen in the Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) Report and the Environment Management Plant (EMP.)
The PSS asked government officials to scrutinise the insincere and factually incorrect compliance report uploaded on the GPCL website from 2018 onwards by conducting a thorough site visit with affected villagers.
Lastly, the group appealed for an empowered committee of experts to devise a comprehensive restoration plan of the raised land areas so that villagers can begin to use their land for their regular livelihood activities.
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