CHENNAI: In a move that has raised eyebrows, Union Environment Ministry has granted Environmental Clearance (EC) for the 660-MW Ennore Supercritical Thermal Power Station (ETPS) expansion project without holding a public hearing. This is despite its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on Environment Impact Assessment of thermal power projects last March turning down Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Ltd’s request seeking exemption to a public hearing.
A public hearing is a mandatory step in the process of obtaining environmental clearance. This provides a legal space for people of an area to come face-to-face with the project proponent and the government and express their concerns. Residents of Ennore have long protested efforts to expand the thermal power plant projects. Official documents accessed by Express reveals the ministry has considered a public hearing conducted for another thermal power station — ETPS replacement project — on October 26, 2017 to grant EC for the ETPS expansion project.
10 years on: TANGEDCO makes 17% progress
Though both these projects are proposed inside the same ETPS complex, they are two different entities. Besides, the replacement plant is a de-listed project by the environment ministry. This was the ground on which the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) Chairman Navin Chandra rejected the public hearing exemption request.
However, the union environment ministry has ignored the observation made by the appraisal committee and granted exemption to the project. In a letter dated July 10, 2019, S Kerketta, the ministry’s director (impact assessment), formally informed TANGEDCO that there was no need to hold a public hearing on this matter.
When contacted, a senior official of TANGEDCO justified that the present project is under construction and Rs 703 crore had already been spent on the same. “So, conducting a public hearing would have substantially delayed the construction as the validity of EC had expired. The project is following the full procedure under EIA notification.
”The project had suffered multiple delays and cost escalation till date. The union ministry had, firstly, accorded an environmental clearance for establishing the plant in 2009, which was initially valid for just five years. It was subsequently extended till 2019.
It has been noted that the construction activities and commissioning of the project could not be completed within the outer time limit of the EC validity of 10 years. TANGEDCO has made only 17 per cent of the physical progress, pouring in a Rs 703-crore investment. The total cost of the project stands at Rs 5,421 crore.