Vadhavan locals demand another public hearing, this time at project site
The villagers call the January 19 public hearing a farce.
Villagers in the coastal village of Maharashtra’s Palghar district, whose homes and livelihoods have come under serious threat due to the proposed deep draft port at Vadhavan in Dahanu taluka, have called a protest march to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) at Boisar on Thursday. While the mandatory public hearing for the project was recently held, the villagers from the project-affected areas have alleged that the hearing was a farce and have demanded another hearing, this time at Vadhavan itself.
“The public hearing that took place on January 19 was held in a completely wrong manner. We demand that another hearing take place at Vadhavan itself,” Bhushan Bhoir says.
The public hearing was held at Palghar, which is around 35 km away from the project site. Despite the distance, around 10,000-12,000 villagers travelled to Palghar to register their opposition to the project. The hearing took place amid heavu police bandobast in Palghar.
“When we reached the hearing, we found that the local BJP officials had brought in many outsiders as supporters of the project. We demanded that we would not speak until they left. Even then, the police did nothing. We drove them out ourselves and then started speaking at the hearing,” Bhoir said.
He added that even after all this, the locals were not given sufficient time to speak.
#पालघर जिल्ह्यातला अतिशय महत्वाच्या #वाढवण बंदराची जनसुनावणी ही उदया १९ जानेवारीला पालघरच्या जिल्हा क्रीडा संकुलाच्या मैदानात होणार आहेत. त्या अनुषंगाने या ठिकाणी कड़े कोट बंदोबस्त तैनात करण्यात आला आहे. pic.twitter.com/idwVUjJRCd— AIR News Mumbai, आकाशवाणी मुंबई (@airnews_mumbai) January 18, 2024
“When we began making some crucial points, we were asked to stop and they began wrapping up the hearing. Before that, they gave no answers to any of our questions regarding the project. They did not even read the minutes of the meeting, as is the norm, before ending the public hearing,” Bhoir said.
Media reports of the hearing described the same and said that the officials could not answer several of the questions asked by the villagers.
Palghar District Collector Govid Bodke, who held the public hearing along with the MPCB and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA) officers refuted these claims.
He told Indie Journal, “We started the hearing at 11 am and continued till around 5 pm. We listened to everyone. However, at some point, when the same people were reiterating the same points, we had to stop them. We gave them enough opportunity to make their case.”
He also said that prior to the hearing, provisions had been made at the Gram Panchayats in the affected villages for people to register their suggestions and objections.
महाराष्ट्रातील शासकीय यंत्रणांना मराठीचे धडे गिरवायला द्या.. वाढवण जनसुनावणी मराठी अहवालात मराठीची कुचेष्टा.. आहे का कोणी वाली पहा नवयुग पालघर pic.twitter.com/zXOkKbK3vn— Navyug Palghar (@PalgharNavyug) January 18, 2024
However, Bhoir pointed out that the summary of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) survey report was made available to the public just 15 days before the hearing and that it was translated to Marathi very poorly.
“The report looked like it was translated to Marathi by using Google Translate and handed over to us. Moreover, they imposed Section 144 (prohibiting public gatherings) across the Palghar district on days leading to the hearing. There was no way for us to reach out to the people and talk to them about the report,” Bhoir said.
As for the EIA survey report, the activists also said that the report presented to them was incomplete and as per rules, the authorities are not allowed to hold public hearings until the report is complete.
“The locals in and around Vadhavan project site have been opposed to the port since the very beginning and hence we have been prohibiting surveys. So, there is no way that the survey has been completed,” says Aniket Patil, a member of Vadhavan Bandar Virodhi Yuva Sangharsh Samiti.
Bhoir adds that despite no opposition from the locals of Daman, the EIA survey in Daman is also incomplete.
“The scientific process itself is not complete and they conducted the public hearing. The details of the hearing will now be submitted to the EAC. If they approve, environmental clearance will be given which will give a green signal to begin construction work,” he says.
The District Collector however insists that the public hearing is complete and that the suggestions and objections by the people will be submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC).
Also read: डहाणूच्या गणेशोत्सवातून वाढवण बंदराला विरोध
The Vadhavan port project, which was revived in 2015, was given in-principal approval by the MOEFCC in 2020. The local villagers in Dahanu taluka’s coastal districts have been opposing the project since then and have held multiple protests against it. Villagers say that owing to the protests, the District Collector imposes Section 144 in several parts of the district very frequently. The villagers have said that the port, which is being built in the eco-sensitive zone, which is also the breeding ground for fish, could affect the livelihoods of the local fisherfolk and could also lead to a loss of home for many.
“We are expecting around over a thousand people to march with us to the MPCB tomorrow. We have kept the number small this time as the police requested us, saying that they already have a huge load. We will continue fighting in democratic ways to hold our ground,” says Vaibhav Vaze of Vadhvan Bunder Virodhi Samiti.