Friday, August 23, 2013

Green Tribunal puts Pipavav Port's expansion plan in abeyance, rejects environmental clearance by MoEF

Pipavav port seen from Shiyalbet
By Our Representative
The National Green Tribunal (NGT), which is supposed to settle disputes arising out of environmental clearances (EC) granted to developmental projects, has set aside the environmental clearance (EC) granted for expansion of the Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd, one of the two major private ports on Gujarat coast. EC was given by the Ministry Environment and Forests (MoEF) following a report by the Expert Appraisal Committee (AEC), which operates under it. The NGT has asked the MoEF to make a complete reassessment of the expansion project and complete all the formalities afresh.
The order, passed by tribunal headed by NGT’s judicial member Justice VR Kindaonkar, says the project be kept “in abeyance” for six months, adding, during this period the authorities should find out measures adopted by “other such ports located elsewhere in the country for avoiding the adverse impact on environment and the surrounding area.” The proponents, Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd (GPPL) – owned by APM Terminals Mauritius Ltd as the largest shareholder – had announced they would spend Rs 1,097 crore in the project. If implemented, it would mean a three times rise in cargo handling and eight times rise in container handling.
The NGT judgment, even as putting the project in abeyance, said several questions, raised at the public hearing for the project, which took place in 2011, had remained unanswered. These relate to livelihood of the residents of nearby areas, particularly Shiyalbet, an island-village which does not have any infrastructure facilities. Its residents are even denied access to road. Then, there are issues related with pollution caused by dredging during project expansion, and agriculturists’ concern on coal dusting due to handling of the cargos at the port, causing damage to crops and trees in the nearby area.
The NGT gave example of how concerns of people, expressed during the public hearing, have remained unaddressed. “Mayabhai Vallabhai raised question regarding coal dust generated due to handling/transportation from the port. No response appears to have been given by the project proponent to the said query. Gondalia Vipul Bansidas raised question regarding proper amenities for Shiyalbet. The response to such question is vague. Queries raised by Babubhai Vallabhai about road access remained unanswered”.
The NGT regretted, the MoEF’s order granting EC is merely reproduced “a part of the letter of recommendation of the EAC”, which “does not show independent evaluation… The EAC did not evaluate the correctness of responses given by the project proponent to the written representations made by the members of the public during course of the public hearing. The EAC did not take into account the problem of the inhabitants of Shiyalbet island.”
The NGT further said, “Perusal of the EC order shows that there was no independent application of mind by the MoEF to the material placed before it and report of the EAC. The order shows that the EAC had sought additional clarifications from the project proponent. Obviously, it was clear that the EAC was not satisfied at the initial stage after the public hearing was held and as such decided to call for further information by issuance of modified terms of reference (ToR).”
Favouring the need for development, modernization and expansion of the port project, the NGT referred to the example of how ports at Chennai, Vishakapatnam, Bombay Dockyard, Jawaharlal Nehru Port, etc. have tried to overcome environmental issues. Based on these, the NGT asked the MoEF to “examine whether the expansion can be granted after laying down certain stringent conditions to take care of the environmental impact due to the expansion and modernization of the port. For example, the Chennai Port is being run with modern techniques.”
The NGT said, “As a part of pollution control measures, the Chennai port has installed wind curtains made of ultraviolet resistant fabric along the harbour’s beach front for over 1.5 km to the east of the coal terminal to prevent wind carrying coal dust into the city.” It has also installed “a semi-mechanized closed coal conveyor system. The conveyor belt runs at an elevation of 10-13 m and has provision for longitudinal movement along the road to the plots and transverse movement for stacking coal at individual plots. The coal discharged into the hoppers located at the two docks is conveyed to coal plots through conveyors or tripper cars and is equipped with belt weigher.”
The MoEF granted environmental clearance (EC) to allow the project to go ahead on June 5, 2012 based on recommendations first from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and then its own EAC. Dissatisfied, two local non-government organizations (NGOs), Gauchar Paryavaran Bachav Trust and Gau Raxa Hitraxak Manch approached the NGT.
Senior advocate Ritwick Dutta appeared before the NGT, and forwarded following arguments:
· The expansion and modernization project is much in excess and will adversely affect the mangrove forest, migratory bird habitats, and various species of wild fauna.
· The GPPL has encroached on gauchar land village grazing land which will cause adverse impact on the livestock and livelihood of the villagers.
· The expansion project would lead to a situation where groundwater available to the villagers will also be adversely impacted, salinity of the land in the villages around the port will increase, and the crops will be adversely affected.
· Coal dust generated due to movement of the carriage vehicles will be disproportionately increasing, and it will cause health hazard to the villagers residing in the surrounding areas.
· Beneficial activities like provision for medical facilities, health care facilities and employment to the villagers have not been considered by the GPPL.
· The area should be free from unsustainable activities because the surrounding area of the project site is the habitat of endangered species like lions, leopards, etc. Lions have been cited in Rajula taluka near the project site.
· There is lack of adequate of road capacity and connectivity to those living in Shiyalbet, a small island village nearbly, which will further deteriorate.

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