The construction of the Rs 2400-crore Dhamra port project, which is a 50-50 joint venture between Tata Steel and L&T, will go ahead as planned despite objections by environmental group Greenpeace International which says the project could hurt the local ecology and breeding of turtles.
A decision to complete the port project by March 2010 was taken at a meeting convened by Orissa chief secretary Ajit Tripathy on Tuesday. The port, when completed, will be the deepest port in eastern India with an 18-metre deep draught capable of handling super cape size vessels with a capacity of up to 1,80,000 tonnes.
Santosh K Mohapatra, CEO of Dhamra Port Company Ltd, who attended the meeting, told Hindustan Times, "We will go ahead with the port project. In fact, construction has already begun and we are keen to complete it by March 2010."
A new railway track to Dhamra will be built for movement of cargo to the port. "Out of 62-km of railway track, land acquisition for 52-km of track has already been completed. After the monsoon, construction will gather pace", Mohapatra said.
A senior Orissa government official present at the meeting told HT that Greenpeace objections were not discussed at all. The official added, "Greenpeace is raking up an old issue. The National Environmental Appellate Authority has already observed that the area between the low tide line and high tide line in the area to be covered by Dhamra port project, being made of clay soil and sticky, could never be a breeding ground for turtles".
Greenpeace, however, in a report released in May this year had stated that the Dhamra port is going to be located in an ecological sensitive area, 5 km from the Bhitrarkanika Sanctuary and less than 15 km from Gahirmatha nesting beaches, the world's largest mass nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles. Greenpeace raised apprehensions that the project would pose threat to turtles.
According to Greenpeace, there is evidence of turtle movement near the Dhamra river mouth and Kanika Sands, close to the port site and the proposed shipping channel. Greenpeace had alleged that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done for the project had serious flaws.
On Sunday, the vice-chancellor of North Orissa University Sudarshan Nanda alleged that the Greenpeace-funded research project on Dhamra prepared by the university was modified to sustain the environmental objections, while there were no references against the establishment of the port in the original report.
However, it is not known why the North Orissa University took nearly one month to refute the Greenpeace report. Greenpeace, however, stands by its report.
The Dhamra port will be the first of its kind in eastern India with berthing facilities for cape size vessels within the port harbour. The master plan provides for 13 berths capable of handling more than 80 million tones of cargo. The port will mainly cater to the steel and aluminium industries being set up in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.