Adivasis oppose Vedanta's zinc smelter plant in south Gujarat

The zinc plant will need 4.5 crore litres of water every day. Once it becomes operational, agricultural activity will be ruined for want of irrigation water which is already in short supply, they say

A HZL plant in Udaipur (Image for representational purpose only)
A HZL plant in Udaipur (Image for representational purpose only)

Nachiketa Desai

Fearing destruction of their fertile land and serious threat to their health, adivasis of south Gujarat’s Tapi district have opposed the multi-national Vedanta group’s move to set up a zinc smelter plant close to the Kakrapar atomic power station.

The Adivasi Panch (people’s court) has demanded scrapping of the zinc project and postponement of the public hearing fixed by the state’s pollution control board on July 5.

“The public hearing has been deliberately fixed for July 5 to ensure that few attend the hearing as the Adivasi farmers of 92 villages will be busy transplanting paddy in their fields,” allege Lalji and Bhupendra Choudhary, leaders of the Adivasi Panch.

Moreover, the Adivasi leaders point out, the Gujarat State Pollution Control Board published the proposed zinc plant’s environment impact report on its website as late as on June 20 though the rule requires the board to publish the report 45 days before the public hearing. Besides, the leaders said, the voluminous report is in English, which most illiterate Adivasi farmers cannot understand.

“It was only after we mounted pressure on the pollution control board officials at their regional office in Navsari that they gave us an over 1,000-page report,” says Bhupendra Choudhary.

The only document in Gujarati given out to the representatives of the Adivasi Panch was a 20-page summary of the report.

Vedanta Group’s Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL) and Gujarat government had signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2020 to set up a greenfield zinc smelter in the state entailing an investment of up to Rs 10,000 crore. Spread over 415 acres, the smelter will be operational by 2022.

The Hindustan Zinc Ltd claims the 300 kilo tonnes per annum zinc smelter at Doswada of Songadh taluka of Tapi district will provide direct and indirect jobs to over 5,000 people.

Adivasi Panch leaders dispute Vedanta’s claim that there are no ancient forts, forest and places of worship within 10 km radius of the proposed zinc smelter plant. They point out that the Devli Madi hill, venerated by the adivasis, is situated just four km from the site of the proposed zinc smelter.

The land on which the proposed zinc facilities is planned to be set up was originally acquired 25 years ago by the Gujarat government for establishing an industrial estate. However, no industrial estate came into existence since then.

“Now the state government amended the original objective of the land acquisition to hand over the land to the Vedanta group. The land acquisition rule stipulates that if the land acquired is not used for the specified purpose within five years it should be given back to the original owner,” contends Lalji Choudhary.

The Adivasi Panch leaders said the Vedanta company, which had claimed that it would provide employment to over 5,000 people, has contradicted its own claim. In its report, the company now has said the smelter will provide full-time employment to 1,650 people and 250 others on ad-hoc basis.

The Adivasi leaders said though farmers of the nearby villages are not being given water for irrigation from the Doswada reservoir, the Vedanta company claims in its report that it will need as much as 4.5 crore litres of water every day for running the zinc smelter plant.

For want of irrigation water, once the zinc facilities becomes operational, cultivation of agricultural land will be ruined, point out the Adivasi leaders.

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