Tata's Damra Port, a big project in Orissa, escaped environmental action as Environment minister Jairam Ramesh took a lenient view despite his ministry officials reporting environmental violations.
"Had the construction (of the port) not commenced, we could have taken a decision unequivocally not to let the project proceed at the site whose forest status in disputed," Ramesh said, in a file noting overruling the view of his ministry officials that action should be initiated against the project proponents.
The ministry's regional office at Bhubaneshwar had found that the land on which the project was being developed was "unsurveyed, unclassified and undemarcated" and as per records should have been classified as forestland. The Orissa government had strongly refuted the claim but admitted that the land was unsurveyed and unclassified.
Damra port project is a joint venture between Tata Steel and Larsen and Turbo (L&T) situated between Haldia and Paradeep and will be deepest ports in India with a capacity of more than 100 million metric tonnes per annum.
The construction started in 2007 and the port is expected to be functional soon. While its near completion was considered, the goodwill of Tata Group of Companies in corporate social responsibility also played a role. "I have been conscious of this fact also," the noting said.
The noting was basis of the ministry's affidavit in the Supreme Court that no action is being initiated against Tata 's Damra Port project, which had hit headline for being close to endangered ridley olive turtle sanctuary in Gahirmatha, Orissa.
Convinced that there was ambiguity over status of the land, the minister, however, refrained from blaming the ministry officials for granting approval without considering the key fact. "I was persuaded that at the time of granting approval the evidence may have been insufficient or inadequate to insist on clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980," an official said.
If the project would have come for approval now, the minister made it clear that the forest clearance would have been required. "Today, we will have no option but to insist on clearance under FCA," the noting, quoting the minister said.
Finally, Ramesh said it was not open and shut case, which has been made worse by incontrovertible fact that the land used by the port is unsurveyed, unclassified and undemarcated.
In a related development, the Delhi High Court on Friday refused to grant an interim injunction against NGO Greenpeace India
Vindicating Greenpeace India's stand, the Delhi High Court today refused to grant an interim injunction to TATA Sons against Greenpeace India's 'Turtle vs TATA' pacman style game. The game was launched in 2010 to as part if the NGO campaign against the port project said to be sensitive to the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles.