The biodiversity report prepared by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) formed the basis for the 35 environmental conditions set by the environment ministry while giving the green nod for the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Ratnagiri district on Sunday.
The report submitted to the union environment ministry recorded the presence of plant and animal life — on land and marine — both at and around the plant site. It has also mapped 407 hectares of mangrove vegetation around a 10km radius of the nuclear plant as well in some of the affected villages.
The BNHS report contradicts the official environment impact assessment (EIA) report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and made public in April.
The NEERI report had described the land surrounding the nuclear plant as “rocky and barren land with no habitation and vegetation” and hence ruled out any adverse ecological impact in the area. The same area was surveyed during the monsoon by BNHS, which found 134 species of plants on the plateau.
“This is a specialised ecosystem. During the summer, these species lie dormant. But there is a flush of growth after the first showers,” said Deepak Apte, deputy director, BNHS. “These are critically endangered and endemic species found only in the plateaus.”
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh told the Hindustan Times in an email that the green safeguards were made part of the environmental approval after serious consideration of the BNHS report. He, however, refused to comment on the NEERI report. “I have said whatever I have had to say in my (environmental clearance) note. Nothing much to add,” he said.
In July, the BNHS conducted a rapid impact assessment of the biodiversity of the region. They found the Madban plateau to be rich in plant and animal diversity with very good marine diversity in adjacent sites of Ambolgad and Kasheli (See Box).
“If BNHS could find 1,000 plant species, I don’t see a reason why NEERI couldn’t even find 500 species,” said a scientist requesting anonymity. “If the proponents of the plant assign agencies to conduct EIA, the report cannot be objective. The NEERI report was flawed and baselines used were very low,” added the scientist.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which is building the Jaitapur plant, had commissioned NEERI to prepare the EIA report in 2005.