MoEF&CC, please hear us out!- People of Tamil Nadu

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Recently, Tamil Nadu’s Environment Minister Mr. KC Karuppannan submitted a memorandum to Mr. Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister- Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), seeking an exemption from the Public Hearing process for certain projects implemented by the government.

Common Effluent Treatment Plants, Common Municipal Solid Waste Management Facilities, Oil and Gas Transportation Pipeline Projects and Common Hazardous Waste Treatment Storage facilities are the projects for which exemption from a second Public Hearing has been demanded. Interestingly, the reason given to exclude the people in these ‘public importance’ infrastructure projects is fear of delay in their implementation, mentioning cases in the past when ‘investors faced heavy loss’, when public hearings could not be conducted smoothly.

So why is this move ill-advised and against the spirit of democracy?

The Public Hearing Process is an important component of the Environmental Clearance process and requires engaging the public in projects that may affect them, their food security, health and livelihood, and their environment. Before awarding Environmental Clearance for certain categories of projects, a public hearing will have to be conducted, wherein people will be given an opportunity to voice their concerns about the project and seek clarifications. The project proponents are required then to address the concerns raised by the people. In short, this means that if you have a problem with a project that is coming up in your area, its public hearing is the most important platform you have to voice your views about it.

But the state government- it seems- does not wish to engage the people and hear them out on projects said to be undertaken for their own development. Instead, it is now seeking to skirt the established participatory process and exclude the people, especially when they have been vocal with their dissent in the past.

Interestingly, the memorandum from the state government came soon after a few companies had been granted permission to extract hydrocarbons in the state, leading to protests by the people. In this context, it is unfair to label these dissenting voices as ‘parties with vested interests’ rather than addressing their real concerns. Earlier too, a company tried to do away with this step by seeking an exemption from public hearing for exploratory drilling of 21 wells in the Cauvery delta.

Attempts to silence the dissenting voices have been made this time by the state government itself, seeking a blanket exemption from the public hearing process. It is most unfortunate that the state government has chosen to prioritise the ‘losses faced by the investors’ over the concerns raised by the people.

This is why we’re asking Environment Minister Mr. Harsh Vardhan to disregard the request from the Tamil Nadu government which is disregarding its people’s views. Hear us out, we say.

Please sign this petition to strengthen the right of our people to be heard!