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Setback to Essar? Green Tribunal appoints committee to ascertain "destruction" to Gujarat's eco-sensitive zone

By Our Representative
The National Green Tribunal (NGT), Pune Bench, has appointed a three-member court commission comprising of three Government of India officials to ascertain the environmental destruction, if any, caused by the Essar Bulk Terminal Ltd to the Salaya Marine National Park and Sanctuary, situated in the Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat.
One of India’s topmost corporate houses, Essar has been setting up what it calls “a world-class marine infrastructure project with a state-of-the-art material handling facility at Salaya”, with the capability of handling 20 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA) of cargo. The project is said to cost around Rs 1,000 crore.
Located in Salaya harbour, which is naturally protected by two islands – Kalubhar Tapu and Dhani Be – the jetty would be spread over 320,000 square metres. Its dry bulk facility proposes to handle the import of dry bulk cargo like coal, limestone, fertilisers and bauxite.
Those who will form part of the court commission are – director, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), a senior scientist of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), and director, Marine National Park and Sanctuary, Jamnagar. It has been asked to submit its report before July 26, 2017.
Interpreted as a big jolt to one of India’s most powerful corporate houses, the NGT bench consisting of Justice UD Salvi and Dr Ajay Deshpande in an order said that the “local investigation” should be carried out to ascertain the extent of constructions going on and carried out by Essar.
Especially seeking to know the how much of “soil-bund” had been constructed, the order also wants the team to find out the navigation route as well as location of the constructions in the Salaya Marine National Park and Sanctuary, possible impact on the tidal water current, and destruction of mangroves, if any, in and around the Salaya Creek.
The order came in response to an application by the Salaya Fishermen’s Association, which claimed that Essar had undertaken “illegal” constructions by Essar encroaching upon the protected the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of the Salaya Marine National Park and Sanctuary, resulting into destruction of mangroves, obstruction to inter-tidal water in Salaya Creek, which is harmful to environment and biodiversity.
The Essar Bulk Terminal, however, said that it did not carry out any illegal construction.
Appearing on behalf of the Salaya Fishermen’s Association, advocate Asim Sarode submitted before the NGT that the notification dated August 22, 2013 declared an area admeasuring 326.26 sq.km around of Salaya Marine National Park and Sanctuary as ESZ, of which 208.58 sq km was towards landward side, 105.14 sq km towards seaward site, and 12.54 sq km area was covered by rivers.
Hence, Sarode argued, the communication dated April 28, 2014 by the chief conservator of forests, Marine National Park, Jamnagar, was “not a complete disclosure of the facts”, and that the Essar Bulk Terminal had not produced any layout or sanction-plan for the construction of the project.
On examining the letter, NGT decided to ascertain the exact location of the Essar Bulk Terminal where the proposed marine facilities, including conveyor corridor and jetty, were being constructed.
A preliminary examination of the letter suggested that the nearest point of the ESZ from the jetty was just 150 meters, and the distance of 4.6 hectare forest land diverted for the purpose was approximately 1.9 km from the nearest point of national park and sanctuary.

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