Centre defers proposal to dredge Daman ocean floor
This development has come to light just a few days prior to a hearing of the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) on February 13, when the quasi-judicial body is expected to deliver a significant ruling on the permissibility of the port in the ecologically fragile Dahanu taluka
Mumbai: In a significant development that could further delay the implementation of the proposed Vadhavan Port in Palghar district, the union environment ministry has deferred a proposal by the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA) seeking an amendment in Terms of Reference (ToR) for the project.
This development has come to light just a few days prior to a hearing of the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) on February 13, when the quasi-judicial body is expected to deliver a significant ruling on the permissibility of the port in the ecologically fragile Dahanu taluka.
Hindustan Times was the first to report on JNPA’s request, wherein it sought permission to dredge up 200 million cubic metres of earth from the ocean floor off the coast of Daman to reclaim land for the port, instead of the originally sanctioned plan to quarry 80 million cubic metres of murrum soil (fragmented rocks) from seven identified hillocks in Palghar district.
In a meeting of the MoEFCC’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on ports and harbours on January 12 -- minutes of which were accessed by HT on Wednesday -- it was noted that “the instant proposal cannot be considered... as (its) entire scope and configuration has changed.”
This has brought some relief to locals and environmentalists who have been campaigning against the project. JNPA has now been instructed by the Centre to revise their pre-feasibility report (PFR) for Vadhavan Port to include its “current scope of the work”, which the EAC will review “so that additional ToRs can be considered for the project in due course.”
“By all indications, JNPA will now have to go back to the drawing board and submit a fresh proposal for environmental clearance. One hopes that the EAC has understood the need for a more holistic impact assessment, keeping in mind that fisheries in the area will be disproportionately impacted. The kind of dredging JNPA wants to carry out near Daman isn’t a small modification in their plans, it has much wider implications for fishing, not just near the project site but also 60kms away,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust (CAT) and former invitee of the DTEPA.
“The chairman of the DTEPA conducted a site visit to the area in November without other members, but we have not seen any report of the same. Another site visit to Vadhavan was to be conducted in December, but it has not happened. It is extremely concerning that a hearing of all DTEPA members is being called for the first time just now. All members have not yet visited the area together, or deliberated on the environmental impact of the project at length in any official capacity,” Goenka added.
An official with JNPA who is privy to the matter, said, “The revision in ToR is required because we have changed the design of the port substantially. For example, it was initially supposed to be 1km from the shore, but now it is 5km from the shore. The marine borrow pit near Daman is ideal to obtain material for reclamation because the sand quality has been tested and found to be very suitable. The area will be replenished over time by silt which comes from the Narmada and Tapi rivers, so it is a much eco-friendlier option than quarrying hills in Palghar that will be lost forever.”
The official also added, “The MoEFCC’s decision to defer our request will delay the environment clearance, which we were hopeful of getting by May or June this year. Some more time and energy will have to be spent on updating the project’s pre-feasibility report, but we will do it and carry out whatever additional studies are mandated by the Centre.”
JNPA had raised this request with the MoEFCC on December 6 last year. A copy of their letter was shared with Hindustan Times by the city-based non-profit Conservation Action Trust (CAT), which has been urging authorities to reconsider the need for this port in light of the ecological damage it will cause.
CAT has sent the MoEFCC a detailed response to this development, pointing out that a “cumulative impact assessment study of the existing and proposed activities in the region, including the backup facilities for the operation of the port, has to be carried out”. The port will also require “construction and widening of roads, railway lines, storage facilities, residential accommodation, water pipelines, garbage disposal facilities, loading and unloading areas for trucks, truck-washing areas, dhabas, tea shops etc that will be located in the area.”
For example, the existing facilities of JNPA at Nhava Sheva are still expanding, with new infrastructure being developed several years after the port was launched in 1989. The same is also likely in the case of a port at Vadhavan, it was pointed out by Prasad Khale, senior conservation officer at CAT.
More importantly, he emphasised that there are already multiple statutes issued by the MoEFCC, the Supreme Court and the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) which prohibit such a port in the Dahanu eco-sensitive zone. There is also a 1996 report by NEERI on the basis of which the SC upheld the Dahanu Notification prohibiting any change of land use in the region.
“There is no way, therefore, that the port can be permitted at Vadhavan or anywhere within the limits of Dahanu Taluka and its buffer zone,” Khale had written to the MoEFCC earlier this month.