In a move to expand mining operations of uranium ore at Andhra Pradesh's Tummalapalle by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), the state Pollution Control Board (PCB) has invited stakeholders to a public hearing in January 2021. The PCB issued a notification, following the UCIL's proposal for expansion of the project to increase production from 9.0 lakh tonnes per annum to 13.5 tonnes per annum, in the area of the mine, spread over 973.61 hectares.
The expansion of the project requires environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoE&F) as per the notification. The proposal comes at a time when local residents and farmers from the neighboring villages of the uranium processing plant have been alleging severe effects due to contamination of groundwater for years. Environmental rights activists and locals have alleged that chemical sludge from the plant has been contaminating groundwater, causing serious health problems and resulting in crop failure.
The proposed expansion will include the limits of nine villages â€” Medipentla, Velpula Mabbuchintalapalli, Rachakuntlapalle, Bhumiya Garipalli, Kanumalavaripalli, KK Kotala, Tummalapalle and Bhumayagaripalle of Vemula mandal in Kadapa district.
Responding to the fresh proposal, Dr K Babu Rao, senior environmental activist and retired Chief Scientist of the Indian Institute Chemical Technical Technology (IICT), in an open letter to the APPCB Secretary, alleged that officials have compromised protecting public interest. He wrote, "This project is a clear example of how personal interest of public officials takes precedence over public interest. UCIL has been a habitual violator of environmental acts and regulatory agencies remained mute witnesses. Even after the violations became evident, you have preferred to look the other way instead of protecting the people and the environment though people vested you with position and power to act on their behalf."
He alleged that the violations continued to take place and a study sponsored by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras to look into the issue, was not released yet. While appealing to officials to take the concerns of local people into their conscience, he said "In an irresponsible system, we can only voice our concern as there is no redressal system."
Human Rights Forum (HRF) Andhra Pradesh General Secretary K Jayashree said that there are pending complaints against the establishment for failing to follow standard measures. She said, "We are writing to District Collector and PCB officials about their need to go ahead with a public hearing on the expansion of the project, despite several lapses and at a time when they have been unable to address public concerns."