Gujarat Power Corporation gets notice on violations at lignite mining site in Bhavnagar district that are blamed for tremors and upheaval of agricultural land

Print edition : February 26, 2021

The land upheaval is not an isolated event. Since November 2020, the land has been rising by varying degrees all around Gujarat Power Corporation Limited’s lignite mining site. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The hillock that rose overnight at Badi-Hoidad village in Bhavnagar, Gujarat in November 2020. Three months later, the State government has finally responded to this incident which was triggered by lignite mining operations. Photo: By Special Arrangement

In November 2020, the residents of Badi-Hoidad villages in Ghogha tehsil of Bhavnagar district, Gujarat, were greeted by a disorienting sight. The flat land where their fields lay had risen to a height of around 13 metres overnight.

Three months later, the State government has responded to this incident, which was apparently triggered by lignite mining operations.

The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has issued a show-cause notice to the likely perpetrators—the State-promoted Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL). The GPCL-operated lignite mining site is allegedly in violation of environmental regulations. In its notice, the GPCB has asked the GPCL why it should not be prosecuted for offences under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and the Environment (Protection) Act,1986.

The land upheaval is not an isolated event. Since November, the land has been rising by varying degrees all around GPCL’s lignite mining site. The Vadodara-based environmental action group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) visited the site in the early days of the incident and recorded visual and verbal documentation of the continuing episode.

In a letter written to the relevant authorities on November 26 about the strong likelihood of “illegal and improper” mining, the PSS demanded that all work at the mining site be halted until the reasons for the sudden elevation of land were inquired into and assurances were given that there would be no danger to the surrounding villages. This letter was followed up with reminders on November 30 and December 18.

The GPCB, one of the recipients of the letter from the PSS, finally responded by visiting the site in Ghogha and noting several environmental violations that the PSS pointed out. On December 31, the GPCB issued a notice to the GPCL.

The show-cause notice over non-compliance of environmental norms reads: “Under the circumstances, you are hereby called upon to show cause, within a period of 15 days from the receipt of this notice, as to how have you not committed the breach of provisions of environmental law and as to why you should not be prosecuted for offences committed by you, under Water Act, Air Act and Environment (P) Act, 1986.”

Although the GPCL has submitted a response, it is expected that the GPCB will proceed with its action. The GPCB had given the GPCL consent to start operations in May 2018 under the terms of the Water Act, Air Act and Hazardous and Other Wastes Rules, 2016. The GPCB permit was valid until December 2022.

The GPCB’s notice pointed out that the mining unit lacks an effluent treatment plant (ETP) and a sewage treatment plant (STP), and that it had installed crushing equipment without applying for a licence. Coal crushing and stone crushing units need to apply for permits from State pollution control boards. The GPCL had been operating one without a licence and lacked the necessary air pollution control measures. In response, the GPCL has started work on building plants to tackle effluence and sewage.

Although GPCB and GPCL are engaged in a bureaucratic dance, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of the PSS have persisted in their demand that all mining be stopped until a fully functional ETP is installed and running as required by a 2017 Supreme Court order that says that all industrial units which require “consent to operate” can only be allowed to do so once a functional ETP is set up. Any violation of this order will result in a closure of the activity.

The PSS is pushing for a closure notice to be issued to the GPCL. While the GPCL has said it will set up the ETP and STP plants, it has not directly addressed the reasons behind the elevation of the land.
Also read: Gujarat HC takes up illegal mining around Girnar forest

The GPCB based its notice on random testing around the Badi-Hoidad villages. They claim that 16 samples of groundwater collected from seven villages around the lignite mining site have shown high content of total dissolved solids (TDS), magnesium and chloride as well as high acidic content as shown by a low pH reading. PSS says the water is unfit both for human and animal consumption as well as for irrigation. They say that the groundwater has been polluted by the unregulated mining activity degrading the quality of air, water and soil of the surrounding farmlands,.

The PSS has written to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with copies to the Gujarat Chief Secretary, the CEO of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority, and senior officials of the State Environment and Industries and Mines departments, alerting them about the poor quality of the samples from the mining site.

In the ensuing back-and-forth, the fact that the land continues to rise in certain places and the urgent need to find out why seem to have taken a back seat. The GPCL needs to step up measures to examine this “disaster that is unfolding”, as the PSS has called it, and see how it can be stopped.

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