There is little enforcement of environment protection laws, including pollution control, inadequate monitoring on the ground and unsatisfactory measures for grievance redressal.
This conclusion for Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil was a severe indictment of the state government.
At least 15 power plants and one nuclear power plant are proposed in Ratnagiri, while 49 mining leases are proposed in Sindhudurg. According to a recent study by the Bombay Natural History Society, there is not a single square kilometre free of pollution in the 200-km stretch from Dabhol to Sindhudurg.
The Gadgil report said policies are not in tune with sustainable development. For instance, mango and cashew orchards promoted through the Employment Guarantee Scheme don’t exist anymore. Even land use policies were ignored.
“Development policies seem to be headed in an environmentally and socially unsustainable direction,” said the report.
The committee said decision makers are unaware of ground realities. It found that the Ratnagiri District Environment Committee, which is supposed to monitor the ecological impact of projects, doesn’t even exist and the study group to monitor chemical effluents at Lote near Chiplun has not met for two years.
Industries Minister Narayan Rane said: “It’s a wrong impression that projects are pushed at the cost of the environment. We are doing our best to find a balance. Where are the power projects in Sindhudurg? The focus is still on horticulture.”
The report said most environment impact assessment reports are flawed, but are accepted anyway. This could lead to unacceptable environmental costs.
“Most projects in [Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg] have Central clearance. The state holds public hearings and these reports are submitted to the Centre. It’s unfair to blame the state alone,” said a state official on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
While supporters of industrial projects cite job creation as an important advantage, the committee found otherwise. For instance, while industries at Lote employ 12,000 people, an estimated 20,000 jobs were lost in the fishing community due to water pollution.