Gujarat govt bars Adivasis from protesting against Vedanta’s zinc smelter plant on flimsy grounds

They were denied permission to stage dharna at district collector’s office citing ‘COVID-19 protocol’ even as Gujarat State Pollution Control Board has fixed July 5 for a public hearing on the issue

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Nachiketa Desai

After the sarpanches of over a dozen Adivasis’ villages of Songadh taluka of Tapi district in south Gujarat expressed their solidarity with the Adivasi Panch’s opposition to a proposed zinc smelter plant, the district administration denied permission to the Panch to stage a dharna in front of the district collector’s office saying it would amount to violation of ‘COVID-19 protocol’.

Ironically, Gujarat State Pollution Control Board has fixed July 5 for a public hearing on the proposed zinc smelter plant for as many as 91 villages in the radius of 10 km from the plant site, evidently unmindful of the same ‘COVID-19 protocol’.

The Adivasi Panch has opposed the holding of the public hearing on the ground that it would not only violate the social distancing protocol but also because very few Adivasi farmers would be able to attend it due to their preoccupation with transplanting of paddy.

Meanwhile, Vedanta Zinc Limited came out with a one-page leaflet in which the company has sought to allay the fears expressed by the Adivasi Panch that the residue of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic and Sulphur Dioxide from the smelter plant would pose great threat to the health of people and their cattle besides poisoning their fertile agriculture land.

The leaflet, which did not carry the names of the author and publisher, claimed the plant will in no way pose any such threat to the people, their livestock and agricultural land. It also contended that the plant would use minimum possible quantity of water from the nearby Ukai dam.

The Adivasi Panch, meanwhile, has begun creating awareness among the people of 91 villages about the ill-effects of the zinc smelter plant. Besides visiting villages on motorcycles, the Adivasi activists have prepared a 20-minute video in which leading environment scientists, social activists and medical professionals are seen telling how dangerous the zinc smelter plant can be to the people, their land, water, air and the whole environment.

The video, in Gujarati as well as Hindi, has gone viral on social media platforms such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

The video carries interviews with Dr Surendra Gadekar, a physicist and editor of anti-nuclear journal Anumukti, his medical professional wife Dr Sanghamitra who has conducted extensive ground research on the impact of nuclear power station in Rawatbhata and the uranium mine in Jaduguda, and Dr Suresh Choudhary, a general surgeon practicing in Vyara, the district town of Tapi.

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