Bulldozing Public Hearings During Lockdown Violates Norms, Amounts To A Farce

The Human Right Forum (HRF) strongly objects to the holding of environmental public hearings across Andhra Pradesh during a time of partial lockdowns and demands that the process be immediately stopped.

The AP Pollution Control Board (APPCB) is going ahead and organizing public hearings as if it is blissfully unaware of the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the thousands of people succumbing to it. Even during the partial curfew, the PCB went ahead and conducted a public hearing on May 12 at Lingalavalasa village in Tekkali mandal of Srikakulam district. Yesterday, May 20, two public hearings, one at 11 am and one more at 2 pm, were held at Ballikurava village and mandal HQ in Prakasam district. The PCB is slated to organise six more public hearings in the districts of Prakasam and Nellore upto June 26.

The holding of these public hearings is in violation of norms that are to be adhered to during the partial curfew underway since May 31 by the State government. When PCB officials were asked why these hearings were being held, they contended that they were going by a memo issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) on September 14 last year which stated that public hearings with not more than 100 persons could be conducted!

This is an appalling explanation. The memo was issued at a time when the first wave of COVID-19 was petering out. To invoke it now, during a deadly second wave when the virus is clearly more virulent and positive cases and fatalities are very high, is irresponsible and totally unacceptable. A public hearing is no wedding event where one can cap the number of people allowed to attend and participate. It is an important democratic exercise wherein people, confronted with potentially destructive developmental projects, get an opportunity to participate and raise objections, seek clarifications and proffer suggestions. It is highly objectionable to hold these hearings in this manner during a pandemic. Such an exercise only benefits project proponents and the government but does not in any way uphold principles of transparency and democratic procedures.

To conduct public hearings like this mitigates against not just environmental norms and the law, it is also violative of people’s Right to Life. It puts people who might participate at great risk. The PCB has no right to play with the lives of people in this manner.

It is clear that the ongoing pandemic is being used to ram through these public hearings in a highly undemocratic and unlawful manner. These are not genuine public hearings but amount to a farce. They must be immediately stopped.

K Sudha   
(HRF State general secretary) 

UG Srinivasulu
   (HRF State president, AP)


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