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Public hearing or a public farce?
A public hearing was conducted on July 30, 2014 at Lanjigarh in Odisha's Kalahandi district to decide Sesa Sterlite Ltd (SSL- formerly Vedanta Alumina Ltd) refinery expansion project.

The public hearing was held by the State PCB on the basis of SSL's fresh application for environmental clearance to expand the refinery's capacity from one Million Tonne per Annum (MTPA) to six MTPA, Additional district magistrate (ADM) of Kalahandi Sasadhara Naik said.

"There was interaction with public on the issue. The statements and opinion of people of project affected areas in the hearing have been recorded," the ADM said adding the hearing was held in a 'peaceful manner'.

"The Public Hearing was concluded 'successfully' in a peaceful atmosphere," said one SSL spokesperson. Please note that the ADM did not use the word 'successfully'. By and large all the electronic and print media had reported that Vedanta's plan for a six-fold expansion in the capacity of its 1 MTPA alumina refinery drew a positive response from locals during a public hearing.

According to senior journalists, the so called hearing for Vedanta's alumina plant's expansion proposal in spite of being stage managed ended without any conclusive resolution as the officials and paid participants who were faking there as affected villagers left the venue abruptly when Dongaria tribes and other affected inhabitants started raising their voice against the illegal and unethical expansion proposal.

Vedanta officials and their agents with the total support of local armed police prevented entry of every potential protester/camera man from entering the highly fortified and barricaded hearing zone.

When Dongarias started climbing down the hills and forced their entry in to the hearing site no one had the courage to stop them. The officials of state PCB called only the ruling party workers and paid participants to depose. They had to flee the place when Dongarias started raising their voice. There was no voting, no reading out of resolution and no declaration that the hearing has ended.

The ADM told the reporters that he would report the matter to the DM. But even before he might have reached the DM's office, the company officials and many a media persons declared that Vedanta got ''No Objection'' to its proposal for expansion in the hearing.

This can happen only in India. None of the guidelines prescribed for conducting a public hearing was followed by the state PCB. No village in the area had got any prior intimation about the event. That morning only a vehicle was going round the area declaring and inviting the people to come for the hearing as if a football match was going to take place.

No circulation of updated EIA report, no discussion with the people. The media in Odisha rarely question the company even if they do terrible crimes. Only Kanak TV of Odisha informed the truth to its viewers that the hearing ended abruptly without any conclusion.

Activists Profulla Samantra and Bhala Chandra Sarangi said the VAL had violated environmental norms at its existing refinery and the EIA report regarding its expansion plan had suppressed facts. Till now Vedanta and State government had not identified raw material source for the existing one MTPA capacity of the Lanjigarh refinery after its plan to mine Niyamgiri hills was rejected by tribals last year at 12 gram sabhas conducted on the directive of the Supreme Court.

The EIA report now claims source of bauxite mining for the expansion project was within 3.7 km of the refinery project. In the light of the Supreme Court judgment and the subsequent all 12 gram sabhas denying the approval of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills, the EIA report seems to be based on outdated information, they alleged.

The only hope for saving Niyamgiri rests with Dongarias who came down the hills on that day in hundreds and stormed the hearing site forcing the hearing to come to an abrupt halt. The Dongarias were found to be speaking angrily against Vedanta and fully controlling the stage when the so called hearing was coming to an end.

The pictures clearly show us how Dongarias had taken control over the site of hearing forcing the conspirators leave the place.

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