Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tallest statue to be built sans eco-clearance, peer review of seismic activity off Narmada dam: Activists

By Our Representative
Two senior Gujarat-based environmental activists, Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah, have asked the Government of Gujarat to submit an application for environment clearance to the concerned authorities before kickstarting the construction of 182 metres high -- tallest in the world -- statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, planned about 3.2 km downstream of the Narmada dam. Asking the state government to immediately stop the construction, and suspend all activities related to it, they said, the proposed decision to go ahead with the project is “illegal”, and against the spirit of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of September 2006, as also and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Belonging to the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a radical environmental group based in Vadodara, the activists said, what is “surprising and shocking” is that the Government of Gujarat allocated Rs 500 crore in the 2014-2015 budget, and Government of India allocated another Rs 200 crore in its 2014-2015 budget for the Statue of Unity project, “by presuming that it does not requires environment clearance from the concerned authorities”. This has been followed with the Government of Gujarat issuing a work order of Rs 2,979 crore to Larsen and Toubro for the construction of the Statue of Unity.
The activists said, what is equally surprising is that the office of the Chief Minister of Gujarat has
“no idea” about the legality of the Statue of Unity project. “That is why they have not categorically responded to any of the issues raised in our letter dated November 7, 2013; instead they directed the principal secretary of the department of forests and environment as well as the additional principal secretary of Narmada, water resources, water supply and Kalpsar department to reply”, the activists said.
Worse, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust, the implementing agency for the statue, has not responded to their queries either, while the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) – implementing the Narmada dam – claimed the he project did not require any environment clear
ance. In fact, the SSNNL refused to concede to the request for copies of minutes of all the meetings in which the decision for the Statue of Unity project, or decisions, resolutions, notifications and letters issued for the Statue of Unity project.
Opposing the Statue of Unity, the environmentalists said, the work on the project is being proposed just 3.2 km from the Shoolpaneshwar sanctuary, which is an eco-sensitive zone, and it involves “massive infrastructure.” They added, apart from the statue itself, its website states that the purpose of project was to develop a tourism spot which would include a 13 km long water body, including boating activity around the statue.
All this, they contended, will “affect the downstream river, its biodiversity, people and livelihoods and other related aspects”, adding, it is sought to be implemented without not just a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts, but also without any “public consultation”.
The environmentalists recalled, “During the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam due to hard rock digging, the seismic area already carries the burden of artificial activity in the bed rock and added load in what is deemed geologically fault line area. Public reports on geotechnical and geological studies on the proposed site have raised issues of structural stability as well as safety. This cannot be taken casually by authorities."
They added, "The seismic hazard analysis claimed to have been done by the Gujarat Government’s in-house Institute of Seismological Research or the geological and geotechnical investigation commissioned to another government institute, WAPCOS, cannot be considered credible unless peer reviewed and put in public domain.”

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