Indepth | The upcoming NRL Bio Refinery Project is a threat to Kaziranga National Park?

By Prasenjit Deb

Numaligarh, July 18: The NRL Bio Refinery project in Assam has got mired in controversy following allegations that the project got environmental clearance in a quiet an undemocratic way. Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha, an NGO has alleged that the NRL Bio Refinery Project will harm the fragile ecosystem of Kaziranga National Park as the project site is only a few kilometers away from the National Park.

As per source, a public hearing was conducted on July 15, 2017 by Assam State Pollution Control Board regarding the various issues that have come up in connection to the Project.  During the public hearing Advisor for Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha, Soneswar Narah was allegedly protesting the matter and was giving his views on environmental and socio-economic impact of the project when the sound of the microphone was cut off. However, he continued with his speech despite of disruption and tried to demonstrate – how the project would impact the fragile ecosystem of the area, Kaziranga national park being only a few kilometres away, police personnel barged into the stage and violently escorted him off the place. As per source, he was forcefully pushed to the police vehicle and taken away.

In a significant development towards implementation of its upcoming Bio Refinery Project at Numaligarh, NRL had inked a Framework Agreement with its technology partner of M/s Chempolis Oy, Finland on 22nd Feb, 2017. According to their official website, NRL’s   Bio Refinery is designed to produce 49,000 tonnes of bio ethanol annually with co-production of furfural and acetic acid from locally available non-food bio-mass feedstock utilising formicobioTM technology from M/s Chempolis Oy, Finland. The plant apparently shall have capacity to process 5 lakh tonnes of green bamboo on an annual basis.

Official version

Reacting to the incident, Madhuchanda Adhikari, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, NRL, told Time8, “Public hearing is a mandatory requirement for every public sector, whenever there is any new project, public hearing is must. Every public has to go through this public hearing,” however, taking about the protest, Adhikari added, “I am not aware of the fact, but, yes, if, there is any in-disciplinary approach by any public, then police has to play their active part.”

Adhikari further mentioned, “We are running a 4000-crore refinery, moreover, our refinery is a green project and we are 40 km away from Kaziranga National Park, so no question of disruption of environment. Also, the entire public hearing was conducted within one day which is a record.”

As per information, public hearing was conducted in the presence of District Administration, Police, and Local public. Apart from this, demonstration related to the project was done by NRL along with question-answer session held during the hearing.

What activists say

On the other hand, sources, informed that, a case was registered by the officer in charge of Numaligarh outpost, I/C Naba Kumar Deka against Soneswar Narah. He was then arrested under section 353, 307 and 34 IPC and the case number is 457/17.

Talking exclusively to Time8, Narah said, “I was deliberately obstructed to speak before the public during the public hearing, it’s a clear sign of undemocratic approach by the authority and it’s a violation of Fundamental Rights. I couldn’t say a single word which is really offending. Moreover, I was forcefully pushed to the police vehicle,” he further added, “On February 22, 2017 NRL had a tie-up with a company from Finland. NRL has not even bothered to take public’s consent and suggestions into the matter. Also, there is No Development Zone (NDZ) in Numaligarh, where the officials have signed a contract that they wouldn’t form any further industry, however, the officials in the recent public hearing didn’t mention anything about NDZ in their 200 page report for the ongoing Bio Refinery Project, also they haven’t done any proper impact assessment, it is to be noted that the region is also an Elephant corridor and the entire region has been transformed into cancer prone area and TB prone area. Apart from this, the report didn’t even mention about the measures that NRL has taken in favour of the public.”

On asking about the project and public hearing, Narah informed that only the notifications which were written in English were disclosed among the local public. Commenting on the matter, Narah added further, “Only 5 pages where translated from English out of 200 pages of the project, which is not possible for the local public to understand. It’s a sign of political manipulation by the concerned department of NRL. For all such nuisance, I am going to file a defamation case against NRL authority.” Narah also informed that post 72 hrs of the incident, he is yet to be presented before the judicial custody.

However, Numaligarh Police, I/C, Naba Kumar Deka was not available for his comment.