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Award winning environmentalist to dial in from India in opposition to Russell Vale expansion

An award winning grassroots Indian environmentalist who has spent much of his life fighting Wollongong Coal’s majority parent company has been given special permission to speak at next week’s Russell Vale Independent Planning Commission public hearing.

Ramesh Agrawal won the Goldman Environmental Prize - often described as the green Nobel Prize - in part due to his relentless campaigning against Jindal Steel and Power’s plans to build a coal mining project in Raigarh district, Chhattisgarh, India. 

In July 2019, Jindal Steel and Power managing director Naveen Jindal and four other officials of the company were charged under sections 420 (cheating) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

India's chief Environmental Court, the National Green Tribunal, also recently fined Jindal Power Limited, a partner company of Jindal Steel and Power, 1,540,000,000 Rupee ($29,428,630 AUD) for causing damage to the environment and local communities in Raigarh at its coal operations between 2005 and 2016.

Mr Agrawal was shot by unidentified assailants in 2012 and now requires a cane to walk.

He said he would urge the IPC not to approve the Russell Vale expansion because executives from majority-owner Jindal Steel and Power were under investigation for criminal activity in India.

“Jindal Steel and Power Ltd is... charged with corruption by the government of India,” Mr Agrawal said.

“The case is under trial in a special court of CBI - one of our highest investigation agencies. 

“Mr Naveen Jindal, the managing director of the company, is among the accused.

“The people of NSW must not allow a company of this repute to exploit local people and their valuable natural resources.”

However, the IPC does not have the power to consider a company’s criminal or financial history when assessing a project.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said this was a criminal restriction on the IPC, and the organisation should be able to consider whether a company was “fit and proper”.

“It does not pass the pub test that the IPC cannot take into account Wollongong Coal’s untenable financial situation, or the criminal charges levelled against high ranking members of its parent company,” he said.

“What happens if the IPC approves this expansion and these executives are jailed after work commences on the mine? We may be left with yet another stranded asset beneath Sydney’s precious water catchment that taxpayers have to pay to clean up.

“Wollongong Coal has no money - it is likely insolvent, has lost more than a billion dollars over the last seven years, its Wongawilli mine was shut down over safety fears, and yet the IPC can take none of this into consideration when assessing the Russell Vale expansion.

“The NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act must be reformed now to enable future IPC panels to consider fit and proper issues as part of their determination of major projects.”

Mr Agrawal will also appeal to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley not to grant approval to Wollongong Coal under the ‘fit and proper' test of the EPBC Act during the Federal Assessment of the project, which will follow the IPC decision if the project is given the green light.

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