It was on 25th September 2006 that the Himachal Pradesh Government first approved the proposal for setting up of Greenfield cement plant unit by Lafarge India Private Limited (LIPL). This happened short after in 2003, the BJP led government at the Centre announced an industrial subsidy package for the state. The Cement plant is proposed at Alsindi in Tehsil Karsog of District Mandi which falls in the Satluj Valley.See more...
The total cost of the project in 2006 was estimated at Rs. 900 Crores. Lafarge, the main investor of the project, is a French multinational firm and the largest producer of cement in the world. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Lafarge India Private Limited (LIPL) and GoHP was signed in September 2007.
"La Farce?", a report which studied the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the project, points out that, "the area within 10 kms radius of the mining and cement plant site comprises of 171 revenue villages." On impacts of mining, the report adds that, "at the mining site, 16 villages of 3 Panchayats - Balindi, Bagshyad and Bindla will be directly affected as they will lose part of their agricultural lands and most of their forest lands under the category of Demarcated Protected Forest". Significant problems have also been ascribed with the Solid Waste and pollution generation which will affect "all the villages in the Alsindi valley downslope of the Pheridhar ridge."
Greenfield project is a distinct case of environmental justice in the state where local communities, through power of collective action have asserted rights over their natural resources and livelihoods. The project's sheer magnitude, extent of mining involved and diversion of forest and private land were major factors that spurred reaction on ground. Local affected people from 10 panchayats formed local platforms to lobby with Lafarge authorities.
• One of the initial demands from the community called for cement unit's complete relocation which however did not materialise. Between 2007-2009, a series of representations questioning project's viability were sent by local groups and environment justice organisations to the Centre government in New Delhi. The two groups (local and state environmental groups) also collaborated to demand a transparent independent review of the project. At this point, people's Joint Action Committees (JAC) and Deobadeyogi Paryavaran Sangarsh Samiti (JDPSS) were also officiated.
• The Environment Public hearing for the project was conducted by the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Control Board (HPPCB) on 4th December 2008. The locals univocally voiced their opposition once again but the JAC was later dissatisfied with the biased reporting of the hearing- of HPPCB having completely downplayed people's opposition. A resolution was sent by the JAC to Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) along with the recorded video of the public hearing to prove their case. However, these efforts did not come to any fruition as Greenfield project was finally granted environment clearance on 8th June 2009.
• But like several other environmental justice movements in Himachal Pradesh that have effectively deployed Judicial activism as a protest strategy, the case of Greenfield project too is unique in that sense. The locals and environment groups refused to accept EAC's decision , and decided to launch a legal battle. They went ahead and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the National Environment Appellate Authority (now NGT) and challenged the EC.
• The EC was challenged in two separate petitions. People's efforts did bear positive results as the NEAA appointed a committee to investigate the environmental and socio- economic repercussions of the EC. Shri J.C Kala, the ex member of the Appellate authority visited the project site and based on people's testimonies, the NEAA committee was forced to question project's viability. After interacting with the local affected population, the NEAA declared Greenfield project as an "imminent threat to the rich agricultural economy of the region".
• The positive outcome of NEAA visit was that on 30th August, it revoked the EC granted to the project. The critical order of the NEAA stated that “The authority is convinced that on environmental and social considerations, it is neither desirable to mine the Telehan village nor put up a cement plant at Ghanger.” and that "the dispossession, impoverishment and trauma attached to the displacement have neither been captured by the Environment Impact Assessment nor appreciated by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) or the state government." It further noted that the "Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary is situated less than 5 km from the project site and could have possible impact on the wildlife".
• Following NEAA decision to revoke the EC, Lafarge India moved to the High Court with its appeal against it. At this stage, what came as a setback for the local movement was the High Court's decision to set aside the ruling of NEAA. The High Court at this point raised questions at the authenticity of a one man committee of the NEAA. However, along with this decision, the court also ordered a reassessment of the EC and asked MoEFCC for a site visit to be conducted. A Sub- committee appointed by the MoEF (now MoEFCC) visited the Project on October 2011. As per local environment groups, the committee did not visit the actual mining site; but only visited the areas accessible by road and did not interact with the affected population. Despite a shoddy site visit and an equally unfair report of the Sub -committee submitted to the EAC, the Greenfield project was recommended for EC.
Simultaneously, the movement against Greenfield was also embroiled in its context specific politics where a few powerful political vested interests tried swaying people's opinion in favor of the project. In between in March 2009, Section 4 of the old land acquisition was issued to begin acquisition of 1009 bighas. Given that the land acquisition notice was issued during the election period and therefore violated the code of conduct, the JAC approached the Election Commission. The notice was only withdrawn temporarily and in June, Section 4 notice was issued once again. The event witnessed objections in form of mass fillings against the project. There was a demonstration of more than 500 people in Karsog town.
Several multiple conflicts related to violation of Forest Rights Act also emerged. Local and state level environmental groups in February 2014 also raised questions on diversion of 360 hectares of forest land (granting of Stage I ) on which communities are dependent for their livelihood, especially the marginalised groups on Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP). Moreover, most of the forest land to be acquired falls under Demarcated Protected Forest. The environmental groups in their submission against granting of Stage I Forest clearance also questioned the larger cascading of Satluj valley with hydroprojects such as Luhri hydroproject and Kol dam.