Orissa government bows to pressure, to hold public hearing on Sindol hydro-power project

BHUBANESWAR/ BALANGIR: Even as a dawn-to-dusk bandh was observed in Sonepur district in protest against the proposed Sindol hydroelectric facility, the state government on Wednesday said it would organize public hearing in the project area.

“Public hearing would be held in the project area to take the views of the local people,” said energy minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, apparently bowing to public outcry against the project. Nayak’s statement followed displeasure expressed by ruling BJD leaders representing the project area besides battle cries being given by Opposition leaders.

On Sunday, ministers Prasanna Acharya and Niranjan Pujari and Biramaharajpur MLA Padmanabha Behera had communicated their reservations to the minister about the state government announcing nil displacement in the project area without completing survey work.

The Orissa Hydro Power Corporation (OHPC) and the National Hydro Power Corporation ( NHPC) signed an MoU on June 21 to jointly set up Sindol I, II and III units on river Mahanadi with a combined capacity of 320 mega watt in Sambalpur, Boudh and Sonepur districts. The investment is estimated to be around Rs 2600 crore.

Although the minister has gone on record that the project shall entail zero human displacement, local people are up in arms and apprehend displacement of around 150 families. Official sources survey for the project is being done by WAPCOS Limited, a Union government consultancy agency; survey has been finished for Sindol I while it is on for the other two units.

Nayak said details about the project would be highlighted during the public hearing, but did not say when the event is expected to take place.

Official sources said public hearing takes place whenever any displacement issue comes up during land acquisition for a project, but in case of Sindol, a two-decade-old project hanging fire due to stiff resistance, the government intends to do it “more prominently”. “Public hearing can be done only after the survey work is over and the detailed project reports (DPRs) are ready,” a senior energy department officer said.

Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh slammed the government, asking, “What was the necessity to ink a pact without conducting public hearing or preparing DPRs?”

In Sonepur, the Sindol Prakalpa Virodh Mancha (SPVM) organized a bandh. Members of different political parties, including BJD, lent their support. Shops, financial institutions, schools and colleges remained closed. Vehicular movement also came to a halt without agitators adopting coercive methods.

Shyama Prasad Mishra, a member of SPVM, said people in all six blocks of the district responded to the bandh spontaneously. “Ever since the government signed MoU for the project without the DPR]), people likely to be displaced are dumb-founded. They cannot comprehend what the government is going to do with them and their land,” Mishra said, questioning the ruling BJD’s decision to go for the project when public had thwarted three such attempts in the past.

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