The National Green Tribunal(NGT) directed the NPCIL in Gorakhpur to remove fencing from their construction site, following the appeal by the local citizens highlighting the wildlife in the area being under threat due to the nuclear plant project. DiaNuke.org interviewed a key activist, Mr. Vinod Karwasra, who has been at the forefront of the struggle to save local wildlife, particularly the blackbuck.
Why has the Gorakhpur NPP become a threat for the blackbucks in the area?
The local population belongs mostly to the Bishnoi community that abounds wildlife which includes mostly the Black Bucks. The Govt. acquired 1313 acres for plant that is irrigated land and which abounds some blackbucks (40-50) but the land acquired for township 187 acres (Located 6 km from plant site at Badopal Village) is a natural habitat of Black Bucks and other 22 species of wild animals. This site (200 acres) has more than 300 Black Bucks.
There are greater merits in protecting this area for conservation of Black Bucks. Any developmental work at this site would adversely affect the long term conservation of Black Bucks.
As per TOR (Terms of Reference) issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited(NPCIL) dated 13-10-2010, specifically points to provide conservation plan along with Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) report. But NPCIL did not pay any heed to the conservation plan and started deploying the heavy machinery/guard shed and erection of pillars and started putting fencing at this site in an entirely malafide manner. The only intention of NPCIL was to dislocate the entire wildlife and to start construction work at the township site.
The entire wildlife is protected by the local Bishnoi community, which has been famous world over for being a traditional environment-loving community). As I also belong to the same Bishnoi community and my residence is very near to township site, I became the whistle blower against the construction activities at the township site before preparing any conservation plan for Schedule-I species. I started campaigning against this and prepared a team. We started giving regular memorandums to district administrations to stop activities before formulation of conservation plan or grant of Environment Clearance. But NPCIL continued to start the activities assisted by District Administration. In the 1st week of July 2013 NPCIL started putting of chain link fencing at pillars which acted as obstacle/trap for wild animals and from 5 to 14 July 2013 total seven Black Bucks were killed. Bishnoi community opposed the fencing and started agitation from 08th July 2013 at the township site to remove the fencing but NPCIL didn’t take any action. Meanwhile I, through the Akhil Bhartiya Jeev Raksha Bishnoi Sabha, filed the application to remove the fencing and to depute any internationally recognised agency. On 15th July 2013 the NGT issued stay order at fencing. On 23-25 July 2013 a team of the National Green Tribunal(NGT) respondent WII (Wildlife Institute of India) visited the site and submitted detailed report and recommended to shift the colony site and to declare the colony site as “Conservation reserve”. The report also recommended that WII will formulate the conservation only if the project authority commits to shift the colony site. On 22 August 2013 the NGT disposed off the plea against the NPCIL’s township giving relief to us and a direction to MoEF to include the applicants in further proceeding to grant or refusal of EC. Accordingly we participated in EAC meeting held at MoEF on 19 November 2013 and represented to consider WII report before grant of EC. But MoEF issued EC to NPCIL with some specific conditions such as to obtain the clearance from wildlife angle and to prepare the conservation plan before starting any activity at plant site.
On 13 January 2014, the stone laying ceremony by the then Prime Minister was scheduled but Bishnoi community opposed this and started agitation against this ceremony. In March 2014 the Sabha filed an appeal against the illegal EC which is still pending at NGT.
What has been the NPCIL’s response so far?
As per explained earlier NPCIL didn’t formulate any conservation plan and instead tried to dislocate/kill the Black Bucks by destroying their natural habitat. Although more than a year has passed, and the WII has strongly recommended the shifting of township site, the NPCIL is not ready till now to implement this although they have a great financial loss. Still NPCIL is trying to construct colony at that site with some less area (125 acres). They have not taken any measures for safeguard of black bucks. There are no guards deputed for safety of black Bucks at the township site but dozens of guards are there at plant site.
How far has the court helped you in this cause?
We moved to NGT in July 2013 and got stay over fencing and court also directed MoEF to include us in further proceeding for grant or refusal of EC. Now again we have filed an appeal against illegal EC at NGT and matter is under process.
What has been the response of the larger civil society in Haryana?
Actually, in early 2010 the PAP’s (Project Affected Persons) started agitation against the land acquisition and that go for approximately 700 days. During this period 3 farmers lost their lives at agitation. Some stakeholders, politicians also participated in this agitation but this movement was limited to land acquisition and PAP’s only. The other people of the area didn’t participate much against this plant. Most of the local public were misinformed that only the Gorakhpur farmers are agitating to enhance the compensation for their acquired land. Most of public of area is not aware about the irregularities (Shortage of irrigation/ drinking water, reduction of exclusion zone radius etc.) but all worries about its explosion or leakage. But public has taken that it is very harmful but what can be done against the govt.
Please tell us something about yourself. How did you get involved in this cause?
I am a whistle blower against the township construction before conservation plan of Black Bucks. I am PG in Physics (M.Sc., M.Phil.) so while studying the EIA report I pointed out some more irregularities in this plant such as water usage, land acquisition, study of flora and fauna, site selection, decommissioning plan and NSDF (Near Surface Disposal facility).