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Involve locals to offset environmental damage in Mundra SEZ and port region, says letter to Natarajan

By Our Representative
In a letter to Jayanthi Natarajan, Union minister of state for environment nd aforests, New Delhi, several Gujarat-based environmental groups have demanded early implementation of the recommendations of the committee for inspection, which looked into environmental destruction on the part of the Adani Port and Special Economic Zone, Mundra, Gujarat. The letter wants urgent steps to be taken to involve local people in restoring environment, destroyed while implementing the project in the area.
It says, "Based on the assessment of the committee we request you to take urgent steps to repair damage and harm done by the company and as recommended in the report the environmental restoration fund should be one per cent of the project cost or Rs 200 crore, whichever is higher. We demand that a committee should be formed with locally-affected people and an expert team of environmentalists headed by a senior official from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to plan better use of the environmental restoration fund."
The letter further says, :"The fund should be used for overcoming the environmental damage done by the company and restoration and conservation of environment to prevent further damage. We also request you to take prompt legal action against the company so that this does not set up an example of pollute and pay for other industries", the letter says, adding, such action would bring justice to "the people of Mundra who are struggling to save their livelihood and natural resources."
The letter has been signed by Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra, Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (Kutch), Yogesh Pandya of the Health and Environment Association (Bharuch), MSH Sheikh of the of the Brackish Water Research Centre (Olpad), Falguni Joshi of the Gujarat Forum on CDM, Tushar Panchol of the Paryavaraniya Vikas Kendra (Rajkot), Chetan Vyas of the Paryavaran Gauchar Bachao Samiti (Rajula, Amerli), Himanshu Banker of Vikalp (Ahmedabad), Rajni Dave of the Bhumiputra and and Manviya Technology Forum (Ahmedabad), and Krishnakanth of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Surat).
The Adani had been in the eye of the storm, allegedly for its massive adverse ecological impacts. Based on several complaints, the MoEF had set up the committee to examine allegations of environmental destruction and non-compliance, including distortion of the original high tide and low tide, by the company. A five-member committee, headed by top environmentalist Sunita Narain, included officials from the MoEF and experts on coastal ecosystems and disaster management, examined the complaints.
The committee used remote sensing technology to assess environmental damage that had occurred over the past decade. It concluded that there were cases of non-compliance, including widespread destruction of mangroves on 75 hectares of land mangroves on the Bocha Island; and refusal of the the company to take precautions to guard against blocking of creeks because of construction activities.
The report states that satellite imagery shows signs of deterioration and loss of creeks near the proposed North Port. It adds, the company has not taken stipulated measures to ensure that the channels that bring large volumes of seawater for use in the thermal power plant and then discharge as well as the storage tank is lined so that there is no chance of salinity contamination in groundwater. This was a clear condition set at the time of clearance.
Further, the company was found to be wanting about the inventory of its fly ash utilisation and disposal. Nor was it serious about reporting on compliance with the conditions set at the time of environmental clearance. "In many cases, non-compliance with reporting conditions has been observed", the report says.
"The committee in its investigations has found that there have been instances to circumvent statutory procedures by using different agencies, at the Centre and state, for obtaining clearances for the same project. The public hearing procedure, which is a critical part of project clearance and helps to understand and mitigate the concerns of local people, has also been bypassed on one pretext or another," says Narain, adding, "The fisher community, which depends on the coasts for their livelihood, is the worst hit by these changes."
Among the key recommendations of the report are:
* The ministry should create an Environment Restoration Fund,which should be 1 per cent of the project cost (including the cost of the thermal power plant) or Rs 200 crore, whichever is higher. The fund should be used for remediation of environmental damage in Mundra and for strengthening the regulatory and monitoring systems.
* Environmental clearance of the North Port should be cancelled, this will lead to an increase in the mangrove conservation area and ensure ecological balance in this coastal zone.

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