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Environmental impact assessment, thermal power plants – a seminar looks at issues

Is your fish curry laced with mercury? Are your lungs lined with coal dust? Are you drinking water infused with sulphur? A seminar organised at Hotel Raj Park on June 8, jointly by the Press Institute of India (PII) and the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) brought home to participants that the answer is likely to be an alarming ‘Yes’ to any or all of these questions.

As India goes ahead with formalities permitting more thermal power plants (TPPs) to come up, the government announcement that there would be no new TPPs between 2017 and 2022 notwithstanding, experts and journalists debated the current scenario and the dangers it posed to public health and resources at the seminar titled Environmental Impact Assessment and Thermal Power Plants: Strengthening Monitoring and Compliance Regimes.

The event aimed at helping journalists covering the subject to become better informed and trying to find out how the media could play an important role in promoting positive and responsible reporting in the field of environmental governance and TPPs and related issues such as EIA, including monitoring and compliance.

Speakers included V. Sriram, associate editor, Madras Musings, who gave a media perspective on environmental impact assessment; N.K. Kuttiappan, advisor, CAG, who informed the gathering about recent amendments and notifications; Professor Pannirselvam, visiting faculty for Environment Studies, Anna University, who gave an overview of technical aspects of thermal power plants; and Vinoth Kumar, sub-editor, The Hindu Tamil, who spoke from the perspective of a journalist from the vernacular media.

The CAG representatives recommended the setting up of an independent authority to scrutinise EIA reports, and complete transparency in filing of reports, with all data being made available in the public domain and open to questioning.

Vincent D’Souza, editor, Mylapore Times, said it was up to the media to present facts in a way that highlighted the direct impact of the issues and shake the public out of its tendency to dismiss the importance of long-term environmental degradation in favour of immediate comfort and convenience.

Sashi Nair, director, PII, welcomed the gathering and set the seminar in context. K. Vishnu Mohan Rao, senior researcher, CAG, gave the participants an overview of the thermal watch initiative. Om Prakash Singh, executive director, CAG, summed up the proceedings at the end of the event.