An indictment of rehabilitation measures

AN ENVIRONMENTAL and socioeconomic survey of Singrauli was commissioned in May 1988 by the National Thermal Power Corp (NTPC) and executed by the French public sector corporation, Electricite de France International. Indian voluntary and environmental groups working in the area protested against being left out from the assessment team and criticised the survey's terms of reference, as set by NTPC and the World Bank.

The Electricite study cost Rs 3.5 crore, says R V Shahi, director of operations at NTPC. The 14-volume report was released in July 1991.

"Despite our opposition to the survey, we commend Electricite for a conscientious job," says Anakshi Thukral of Multiple Action Research Group, an area voluntary organisation. "It presented an independent report, despite pressure to water down some of its conclusions."

The study, covering a radius of 15 km from the Rihand reservoir, analysed 10 primary areas: land use, water use, soils, sediments, hydrology, water quality, meteorology and air quality, terrestrial and aquatic ecology, noise and socioeconomics. The study indicted coal mines in the area for causing environmental pollution, but granted a clean chit to the thermal power plants.

The study said power generation in the area could be raised from 6,500 MW to 11,000 MW without installing additional environmental safeguards. It indicated also that although "direct environmental impact of further development of thermal power in the area would be limited, the detrimental nature of the indirect environmental impacts is unquestionable". Noting land-use patterns and socio-economics would bear the brunt of indirect environmental impact, Electricite blamed this on a lack of comprehensive regional planning.

The study severely indicted NTPC's handling of relief and rehabilitation measures and criticised its failure to redress the inadequacies of the compensation system and insufficient amenities in the resettlement colonies. Electricite's recommendations included equipping new thermal power plants with desulphurisation devices and improving water quality in the area by better management and operation of ash ponds.

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