In a letter dated March 23 to the Gujarat State Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and other authorities, the environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) had said: “The disaster unfolding around the Badi-Hoidad Lignite Mining Site in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat, has done irreversible damage to the groundwater, farmlands, air quality, agriculture, and health of the villagers and other living beings in the surrounding areas. The villagers have been reporting that the fruit-bearing trees like jamun and mango in the area are withering because of groundwater pollution. The villagers also report that they are unable to grow vegetables, specifically onions and groundnuts, now. This clearly indicates the adverse impacts and subterranean geological activity due to mining and the drilling operations carried out before mining in the past to find lignite.”
It has been four months since a disaster in November 2020 when villagers woke to the bewildering sight of their farmlands having risen about 9 metres high and become 300 m broader and about 700 m longer. This overnight phenomenon has been linked to drilling operations for a nearby lignite mine that is believed to have triggered subterranean geological activity.
From November 2020 to March 2021, PSS sent seven letters to the GPCB reminding it that the two companies carrying out the lignite operations—Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited (GSECL) and Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL)—were in violation of the very basic need to set up a sewage treatment plant and an effluent treatment plant, as mandated by the Supreme Court. GSECL operates a 250-megawatt lignite-based thermal power plant located at Padva village, while GPCL carries out lignite mining nearby.
In its latest letter, PSS reminded the authorities that it was incumbent on them to implement a Supreme Court order dated February 22, 2017, in letter and spirit, for both these companies and that failure to do so was contempt of court. PSS believes that GPCB should issue a closure notice to the thermal power plant.
However, instead of a closure notice, the GPCB issued only a legal notice, dated December 31, 2020, pointing out serious lapses in the functioning of GPCL. Rohit Prajapati of the PSS said: “If we read the legal notice, all the major and crucial conditions of the Environment Clearance are admittedly violated.”
This, in itself, is reason enough to shut down operations because the Supreme Court order of February 22, 2017, clearly states: “We therefore consider it just and appropriate, to direct the concerned State Pollution Control Boards, to issue notices to all industrial units, which require “consent to operate”, by way of a common advertisement, requiring them to make their primary effluent treatment plants fully operational, within three months from today. On the expiry of the notice period of three months, the concerned State Pollution Control Board(s) are mandated to carry out inspections, to verify, whether or not, each industrial unit requiring “consent to operate”, has a functional primary effluent treatment plant…. Such of the industrial units, which have not been able to make their primary effluent treatment plant fully operational, within the notice period, shall be restrained from any further industrial activity.”
That the Supreme Court took the matter very seriously is seen in the next paragraph, where it said: “We are of the view that mere directions are inconsequential, unless a rigid implementation mechanism is laid down. We therefore hereby provide, that the directions pertaining to continuation of industrial activity only when there is in place a functional “primary effluent treatment plants”, and the setting up of functional “common effluent treatment plants” within the time lines, expressed above, shall be of the Member Secretaries of the concerned Pollution Control Boards. The Secretary of the Department of Environment, of the concerned State Government (and the concerned Union Territory), shall be answerable in case of default. The concerned Secretaries to the Government shall be responsible of monitoring the progress and issuing necessary directions to the concerned Pollution Control Board, as may be required, for the implementation of the above directions…. The concerned Pollution Control Board is also hereby directed, to initiate such civil or criminal action, as may be permissible in law, against all or any of the defaulters.”
The NGO’s letters to all the authorities have elicited no response.