Odisha to lock horns with Centre on NTPC project in Chhattisgarh

Lakhanpur (Jharsuguda): After the controversial Polavaram multi-purpose project in Andhra Pradesh, another project in a neighbouring state is all set to pit Odisha against the Centre. A fresh row is building up between the two over the upcoming super thermal power project by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) at Lara in Chhattisgarh bordering Odisha, if an exclusive report aired by OTV is anything to go by.

According to the report, work on the mega thermal project of NTPC is in full swing at Lara in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh, which is barely two km from Lakhanpur block in Jharsuguda district. Of the 4000 MW project, consisting of five units of 800 MW each, the Centre has planned to commission 1600 MW (two units) by 2017.

While six village panchayats of Lakhanpur block—Remonda, Kandheikala, Charpali, Pithinda, Kanaktora and Badimal— and Jharagan reserve forest come under the buffer zone within a 10 km radius of the proposed project, the Centre, showing gross apathy towards Odisha, has neither gone for an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in the six panchayats of Lakhanpur block having a population of around 25,000 nor conducted any public hearing in these panchayats to seek the opinion of the people.

A public hearing was held in Chhattisgarh in 2011 in which the people of six panchayats of Lakhanpur block were not invited.

Protesting against the unilateral decision of the Centre and the NTPC authorities, the Lakhanpur Sarpanch Sangh had staged an agitation in 2013 and taken up the matter with chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

Acting on the complaint, the chief minister had directed the Jharsuguda district administration and the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) to submit a joint report.

The joint report was submitted to the state government on November 11, 2013.

Talking to OTV, president of Lakhanpur Sarpanch Sangh, Sanjeet Pradhan said the district administration, in its report, has stated that the NTPC authorities have neglected the six village panchayats of Odisha while setting up the proposed project.

“Despite our protest, the Centre has not taken any steps in this regard. The Sarpanch Sangh is not opposed to any company. We want our rightful demands fuflilled. If the Centre does not listen to our demands, we have decided to move the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to redress our grievances,” Pradhan said.

Expressing grave concern over the gross apathy of the Centre, noted environmentalist of Chhattisgarh and Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Ramesh Agrawal decried the decision of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) not to conduct an EIA in six panchayats of Odisha, which are within 10 km radius of the project.

“While the ministry had conducted EIA in some villages within 10 km radius of the project, why did it ignore the six panchayats in Odisha? Will there be no pollution in these panchayats? Will the people of these panchayat not be affected? The ministry, while conducting public hearing in the affected areas, should have informed the people of these panchayats through their local language in newspapers and submitted a copy of the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) report which it did not do. Considering the above, I would advise the people of the six panchayats of Odisha to move NGT and lodge a complaint that the ministry has neither given them the opportunity to participate in the public hearing and nor conducted EIA in their panchayat. I hope the Tribunal would take cognizance to their complaint and pass orders in their favour,” Agrawal pointed out.

Asked about the matter, Bargarh MP Prabhas Singh said it is a matter of utter regret that the Centre is yet to conduct socio-economic survey and public hearing in the six affected panchayats of Odisha. Besides, NTPC has also not done any CSR activities.

“The NTPC authorities have set up the plant in the area while ignoring the concerns of the people. I had raised the issue in the Parliament during its winter session last year and demanded environment clearance and public hearings for the ongoing project. Besides, I had also demanded CSR activities to be taken up by the NTPC in the project affected areas and urged the Centre to study the joint report of the Odisha government and the OSPCB on the said project,” he added.

Terming the apathy of the Centre towards Odisha as grossly unfortunate, Singh said he would continue his protest till the people of the affected panchayats get justice.

On the other hand, Regional Officer of OSPCB’s Jharsuguda branch, Niranjan Mallick said the Board has submitted its report to the state government since 2013. “We are waiting for an order from the government and will take appropriate action once we get it” he added.